Israeli basketball teams are back on the court in Europe as both Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon will be in action on Wednesday night.
Jerusalem faces Prometey from Ukraine in FIBA Champions League Play-In Game 1 action as the winner of the best-of-three series will advance to the Round of 16 group stage.
Holon, under the direction of new head coach Guy Goodes, will look to stave off elimination in Turkey where it will play Game 2 of its series against a banged-up Besiktas, to whom the Israeli side lost Game 1 last week.
The Reds will have home court advantage in their series, which in itself is a minor miracle after beginning the regular season 0-3 before coming back to win three straight continental clashes under interim head coach Yotam Halperin.
One of the anchors of Jerusalem’s arsenal is veteran Israeli center Itay Segev, who returned to the Holy Land after a challenging season abroad at Gravelines in France, where he suffered all campaign from an injury. Now back in familiar territory, the big man is looking to make an impact with his new club and took time out to talk to The Jerusalem Post.
“I believe that there is something very special here with a bunch of really great people,” said Segev. “I also feel a connection to the fans and that is really exciting. Hapoel Jerusalem is one of the biggest clubs in Israel with a wonderful history, and also expectations. I want to be a part of a winning franchise, that’s why I came on board.”
The 26-year-old started playing basketball thanks to his brother and slowly but surely fell in love with the sport. Having grown up in Kfar Tavor, a small town in the Galilee, is a point of pride for Segev, who looked up to Michael Jordan as a role model.
“Not so much as to Jordan’s game, but the way he faced a crisis and the entire mental makeup of his game. That was a real influence on me.”
Segev attended the Hapoel Emek Izrael youth department, as well as the basketball academy at the Wingate Institute, before making his way to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I had a wonderful time playing ball in my youth which means I didn’t exactly have a normal childhood. Most children who are playing basketball at a young age don’t. But I am so happy and thankful for every stop I made along the way as they each helped mold me.”
As a youngster, Segev was actually a guard and not a center, but he explained it was just a matter of finding his strength and then focusing on that.
“I just went with the flow of my career and understood where I was more likely to make an impact. But at the end of the day, I just want to play basketball and I don’t really care at which position.”
In the 2012/13 season, Segev was a member of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s senior squad under the direction of legendary coach David Blatt.
“That was not simple,” the center said. “I came into a team with players who already had a very rich history and a club that had a lot of pride, and the situation did not make my life easy. But this was a very, very important experience. Being coached by David Blatt as a child was very interesting and there are some things that I learned during that time which I have taken with me throughout my career to the present day.”
After a couple of seasons on loan with Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, where he was able to continue to develop and take his first real steps in the Premier League, Segev was back with Maccabi in 2015 where he earned the most improved player award.
However, the following campaign was one of the yellow-and-blue’s toughest as the club attempted to compete amid a difficult playing field against teams with more money.
“The Euroleague changed somewhat and clubs began really investing much more and Maccabi needed to acclimate to the new situation,” noted Segev
In the summer of 2017, Segev was appointed as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s new captain, but midway through the season under new head coach Neven Spahija, he asked to leave due to diminishing minutes.
“This was a very emotional time and to be named captain, it was just like experiencing a childhood dream. But I believe that I was just not ready for something like that and perhaps this wasn’t an ideal situation for both sides.”
Although there were some rocky roads during the campaign, it did end with a championship and experiences that will last a lifetime.
“I used to joke with Regev Fanan, the strength and conditioning coach, that one season at Maccabi was like seven just as in ‘dog years.’ But all in all, I was able to really experience it all and it was the biggest educational and maturation process that I had gone through.”
The next year it was off to Maccabi Rishon Lezion and then to Nahariya, where Segev had the opportunity to play an integral part with both clubs, helping them advance to the State Cup Final and also the League’s Final Four.
From there it was off to France and Gravelines for Segev, while a pair of other Israelis – Toner Ginat and Rafi Menco – followed his lead and signed with Metropolitans and Chalon, respectively.
“I felt that this was my time and that I was ready to make the jump to Europe. I had a good offer from a big club, but unfortunately things didn’t go as planned due to a very early injury and it was tough to get back to where I wanted to be as I was on the shelf for half a year.
“But I want to thank them so much as to how they took care of me and treated me at the highest level. Whatever I needed they were there for me and I want to wish them all only the best.”
Segev has yet to participate in an official FIBA international tournament, but that may be in the offing after he became a regular during the Eurobasket 2022 and World Cup 2023 qualifying campaigns.
“I would love to be a part of that and it would be a big honor for me to represent the country. I really hope that the staff will consider my inclusion in that roster. I will do the maximum and I hope that will be good enough.”
At the end of August, Goodes will look to maneuver the blue-and-white through the Eurobasket group stages in Prague all the way to the final stages, which will take place in Germany. “
We have a great staff and incredible quality, so I hope that we will be able to advance out of the group stages in this summer’s Eurobasket. I can’t wait.”
As for goals ahead, Segev just wants to win.
I want to collect as many championships and trophies that I can along with going as far as I can. But most of all to be happy while doing so.”