Gabriel “Gaby” Chachashvili is one of the hottest names in Israel basketball.
Hapoel Galil Elyon’s 22-year-old center is in the midst of a terrific rookie season as his newly promoted club notched a guaranteed playoff spot in the Israeli league and will participate in the Balkan League Final Four, which gets under way Friday afternoon up north in Nahariya.
Galil Elyon will take on Nahariya in one semifinal and Maccabi Haifa play BC Balkan in the other, with the final slated for Sunday night
Just ahead of the Final Four and the postseason push, Chachashvili (pronounced Cha-Cha-Shvili, like the Latin rhythmic dance) spoke with The Jerusalem Post about his young career along with the ups and downs along with the current campaign.
“I’m very, very happy with my first season with Galil Elyon, which is back in the top league for the first time in many years,” he began. “We were thrilled after defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv to get into the postseason, then we punched our ticket to the Balkan League Final Four and as things were coming together we signed DJ Kennedy. I believe that we have a chance to go far in the playoffs, but right now we are taking it one game at a time and not thinking too far ahead.”
Not only has Galil Elyon downed Hapoel Holon twice in the past month as well as Hapoel Tel Aviv, the Galilee side did this after a tough period in which it sustained six straight losses. But with the arrival of Kennedy from Prometey due to the conflict that is currently going on between Russia and Ukraine, Chachashvili believes that he is one of the reasons for the squad’s success.
“There is no question that DJ joining the team has had an impact. We raised our level of aggressiveness and we have been focusing on what we are doing and are in our control in order to change the situation that we were in. We lost league games just like every other team and the staff and management weren’t under pressure as they were calm and looked at things proportionately. That allowed us to continue on without pressing.”
Chachashvili, who now stands at 6-foot-9, only began playing basketball at the age of 15 after having played as a central defender with the Hapoel Nazareth Elite soccer team.
“In ninth grade, I began to watch basketball and I saw Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs as well as Maccabi Tel Aviv playing in the Euroleague and I fell in love with the sport. Soon enough I was playing basketball with friends and found that it was more fun than soccer. This was after I had grown and had gotten taller so it was a natural fit.”
Having grown up in Nof Hagalil, Chachashvili moved from the town’s youth department to Hapoel Emek Izrael, where he helped the team win the 2017/18 State Cup by defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv while earning MVP honors as the top youth player.
In the summer of 2018, Chachashvili was part of the Israel Under-20 squad, under the tutelage of Ariel Beit Halachmi, that won the European Championship held in Germany. While his numbers were a modest 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, the experience was second to none.
“It was amazing and it was the year after the team had taken second place in Greece. No one gave us a chance and in fact we probably also had doubts, but game by game we were looking better and better. Everything came together under Ariel and it was something really special especially to be able to win the title in Germany.”
Yovel Zoosman was named the tournament MVP and today plays for ALBA Berlin while the other star of that team was Deni Avdija, who is playing with the Washington Wizards in the NBA.
“Those two players are extraordinary,” noted Chachashvili. “I think that as time goes by Deni will keep getting better and better and it will be even easier to see what he can do on the court. You can see his development from the first season to the second and I believe that he will keep improving and we will see how good he really is.”
During the 2018/19 season, Chachashvili took a step in his development that we don’t see every day when he took part in the “Get Better Academy” in Prague which plays in the second division in the Czech Republic.
“I tasted what it was like to play abroad at a very young age,” he commented. “It was a great place which I very much enjoyed and I made a ton of friends. I learned a lot from the coaches who were at a very high level. I wanted to make this move instead of trying to play in the Leumit League or working with a coach here and a coach there in my development. This was a great opportunity and it was the right place for me at the right time.”
In the summer of 2019, Chachashvili was slated to be one of the key components with the Under-20 team, which was looking to repeat as the European Champion, with the opportunity to also play in Tel Aviv. However, he tore the cruciate ligament in his knee and the meniscus during an exhibition game against Bulgaria that kept him on the sidelines for an entire year as he watched his teammates led by Avdija win the title.
Last season, Chachashvili decided to sign with Galil Elyon, which was playing at the time in the Leumit League.
“I had a number of options and I had a good conversation with Barak Peleg the head coach, CEO Nir Wasserman and my agent Matan Siman Tov, which was very helpful. I knew that this was the right move for me about 30 minutes into our conversation as they really wanted me and that they would also let me play and make mistakes.”
Galil Elyon earned promotion after defeating Hapoel Afula and then went on to win the league championship over Netanya as Chachashvili averaged 7.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in his first year with a senior team in Israel.
“It was very exciting to see the Kfar Blum arena going bonkers and the fans going crazy. To win the series over Afula is something I will never forget, it was such a high and I was so happy that we were able to do it.”
This season, Chachashvili’s first in the top league has seen him be able to adjust to the various attributes associated with a better league.
“The size and athleticism is much more significant, but I don’t feel that I have had to make many adjustments. Over the summer I worked with Guni Izraeli on my outside shot in order to add an element to my arsenal along with also learning how to play with another big on the floor at the same time. At the end of the day, basketball is basketball and while there will be differences in every league the changes for me have been minimal.”
Chachashvili usually is in the starting lineup and has been averaging 7.5 points, (56.1% from two, 41.7% from three, 69.6% free-throws) 5.1 rebounds (fourth best Israeli) along with 1.4 assists in 22.4 minutes per game. There is no question that the big man is one of the top rookies this season.
One of the unique qualities of Chachashvili is that he can do so many different things on the court, from dunking, rebounding on both sides of the floor, passing the ball, picking up steals and being a top shot blocker.
“My athleticism is one of my biggest advantages and the ability to jump, move from side to side and being able to defend all of the positions from 1 [point guard] to 5 [center] on the floor. I am also able to run faster than the opposing center while moving quicker on the pick and roll. I’m also very intense and can use my physicality as an advantage.”
Galil Elyon has a full-fledged staff that includes not only head coach Barak Peleg, but also a top flight assistant in Avishay Gordon, who guided Hapoel Gilboa/Galil to the league finals last season. In addition, Yonatan Alon serves as the sports director and he ended last season on the sidelines at Hapoel Jerusalem.
“One of the advantages with the staff is the level of experience that they bring to the table. Both Avishay and Barak were former players and Yonatan has a tremendous amount of know-how about basketball. In fact, it’s crazy how much basketball he has in his head. There is a ton of experience on the staff and they work on so many aspects on a day-to-day basis on small things, tips here and there and all of the adjustments that need to be made playing in the Premier League in order to improve. I don’t take it for granted what we have here.”
Nimrod Levi, one of Chachashvili’s teammates, has been having a banner year thus far in the Galilee and has been one of the club’s consummate professionals as its captain who could also be selected as the Israeli of the season.
“I didn’t know Nimrod before this season, but I can say that it’s not just the numbers that he is putting up but it’s his maturity and mentality which is something that I have not been exposed to before. When I am on the floor with him I know that almost every shot of his ends up in the hoop. It’s the confidence that he shows us all of us on a day-to-day basis.”
Galil Elyon is a club that works a tremendous amount in developing young Israeli players, which include not only Chachashvili but also Itay Moskovitz, who has been given a chance to gain experience on the job.
“The team really wants to help in developing Israeli players and that is one of their goals and central missions. Another thing is that there is magic in the Galilee which is something that just can’t be explained. It’s something that has to be experienced.”
The club also took a step this season into Europe as it is participating in the Balkan League in addition to the domestic competition and punched its ticket to the Final Four.
“We really want to win the title and this has been a terrific competition. We aren’t going to the Final Four to lose. The Balkan League has helped us in many ways this year and it’s contributed to my development as it has allowed me to play more games and ones that are a different style as well. I can’t remember the last week where we only played once which is good. I would much rather play twice a week as it can also lift us up during times when we need it and get us on a roll.”
Chachashvili was also called up to the Israel National Team, and while he wasn’t in the squad for all of the games he was dressed for the home game against Germany though he didn’t play during the recent World Cup qualifying windows.
However, the center is hopeful that he will be a part of the team that heads to the Eurobasket in Prague this coming year.
“I still can’t get over that I was selected to be a part of the team and that I had this amazing experience which is one that I believe will continue. Of course, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t play, which is natural, but the main goal is to get to the World Championships. Guy Goodes, the coach, felt that it was right not to play me and that is fine. The goal isn’t me playing or not and I am not worried. I want to be a part of the squad for the upcoming qualifying window and for the Eurobasket later on in the summer.”
Many teams have made a note in the scouting books about what Chachashvili can offer them on the court and there’s no question that the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon are all interested in the budding Israeli, but right now his focus is on the here and now.
“I don’t know what will be next season and I don’t want to think of that while I am in the middle of the current campaign. We still have the playoffs, the Balkan League Final Four so I will just wait until the summer to see. Of course it would be great to be a part of the best there is to offer and it’s like a dream, but practically right now I am looking at what is right in front of me and not so much the future.”
As for his career goals, Chachashvili is looking to be the best that he can be as he works his way up the ladder of success.
“I want to realize my potential and continue to enjoy what I am doing which is the most important thing as this has been the key to my development in basketball and in life as a whole.”