Rehashing Israel’s doomed Eurobasket

Blue-and-white management and players left searching for answers after early elimination.

 ISRAEL’S TOMER GINAT reacts dejectedly after Israel’s Eurobasket loss to the Czech Republic, which sealed the blue-and-white’s fate of being sent home early. (photo credit: DAVID W CERNY/REUTERS)
ISRAEL’S TOMER GINAT reacts dejectedly after Israel’s Eurobasket loss to the Czech Republic, which sealed the blue-and-white’s fate of being sent home early.
(photo credit: DAVID W CERNY/REUTERS)

Disappointing is perhaps the best way to describe the end of Israel’s Eurobasket campaign.

While the blue-and-white started out the competition well with a pair of wins, the writing was on the wall and the warning signs should have been blaring loudly over the month leading up to the tournament.

The two victories – an overtime conquest of Finland and a by-the-skin-of-their-teeth triumph against Holland – were definitely not the greatest of performances by the national team, but as they say, a win is a win.

However, Israel came into the game against Poland perhaps a bit too confident and its poor play was exposed as it fell to Igor Milicic’s squad yet again in what seems to be a frequent occurrence.

Next up was a loss to Serbia in which Guy Goodes’s players gave absolutely everything they had and played arguably their best game. But playing against the host Czechia, in their own home arena together with a revitalized Tomas Satoransky, while being led by their veteran captain Vojtech Hruban and big man Jan Vesely, was just too much for an Israel team that was fractured from the get-go.

There were many factors at play. From Deni Avdija, who was playing injured after saying he had been taking injections; to one starting lineup after the next; to not starting off games with energy, desire and drive; to just the total opposite of what was supposed to be after the 2017 Eurobasket in Tel Aviv that saw Israel finish with an even worse record. Ultimately, looking back, things just fell apart the minute that Oded Katash’s contract was not renewed by the Israel Basketball Association last year.

That’s not to say that Goodes is not a good coach – he certainly is and just won the Israeli league championship along with taking Hapoel Holon to the Basketball Champions League Final Four. But everyone has to take some sort of responsibility for this colossal failure and that should begin with the top.

From the chairman, to the heads of the association to the staff and players, everyone should be held accountable. Everyone needs to take a hard look in the mirror and reflect on this disastrous performance, no one should escape unscathed. Will that happen? Probably not, the coach will pay the price as will some players, but that will probably be it.

Goodes himself isn’t too worried as to what his national team future is.

“The last thing I’m worried about is my status and the only thing I really worry about is what is above. From our side, the coaches, this was a very hard tourney, had a lot of emotions and it wasn’t easy.”

On one hand, Goodes did try to change things up, but he was starting from deep in a pit, so to speak. Some of the players arrived late to training camp, Avdija came down with COVID which also put a wrench into Israel’s plans, and playing two games against a very weak Romania side just ahead of two disastrous World Cup qualifiers also didn’t help matters.

From beginning to end this was one mishmash of a campaign for Israel. There’s no way around that.

Add the fact that Israel began every single game like it was sinking in quicksand and that’s never going to help.

“I don’t have the answer as to why we started each game slowly and we tried to do things as we changed lineups,” added Goodes. “But most of the games we were behind we didn’t play well defensively in the first half, man-to-man and everything. At the end of the day we needed to play better one on one defense. If we were able to stop things maybe we would have been better.”

The players also really didn’t have many answers as to why things went south very quickly

“We came into an all-or-nothing game and we let them get into the rhythm,” noted Tomer Ginat. “It’s still too early to know exactly what didn’t work. But the next time, we will make a greater effort to be better.”

“I think we didn’t play our game at the end of that first half,” Nimrod Levi explained. “This is what lost the game for us, but I do think the guys gave it their all on the floor. It’s sad that we will not advance, but I think we fought hard.”

If you look at a team like Czechia, with its Israeli coach Neno Ginzburg, it was clear as day that there was a proper gameplan in place and that he knew exactly what to expect from his players no matter what condition they were in due to injuries and the like.

They had a true captain that led them in every sense of the word in Hruban, who not only came up huge in the Israel game with 25 points, but also throughout the entire tourney averaging 15.2 points while shooting 45% from beyond the arc.

Add to that a player like Tomas Satoransky, who was a hero in the game against Israel by almost notching a triple-double while playing on a bum ankle. What more can you ask of a player?

“It’s very under-appreciated what he has done,” Hruban said of Satoransky. “He did a lot to get back on the court and he shows his heart as to how much he wants to play for the team.”

Ginzburg also reflected on the Barcelona guard’s contribution.

“I’m in basketball for 45 years and I’ve never seen a player like this play. Most players would say thanks and go home. He wouldn’t give up and if you would see his ankle, it’s incredible. This is an example for kids and how a professional should act and that what he brings is more than points and assists.”

As for Ginzburg himself, while it was emotional to have to play against his country of birth in the Eurobasket, there was no way that this would cloud his feelings towards where his loyalty lies.

“If it’s not them, it’s me, so better that this was the result. It’s sport and there are always tough feelings, but I had to do my job and this is where I earn my living and coach. Israel is a good national team and sometimes it just comes down to bad luck. You know I like Israel, but it’s sport and you need to do the best to win with a lot of pressure and this is sports in the end.”

Yes, it’s certainly sports in the end and Israel once again came up short in a situation that should have and could have ended up a lot better for the blue-and-white. However, the sad part is that the sports side of Israel’s story is only one piece of the pie.

There are four more games in World Cup qualifying coming between now and February and it’s unclear if Goodes will continue, and even if he does in the short term, who knows what will be after this quartet of contests?

There is uncertainty that is clouding what many thought was going to be a golden generation for Israeli basketball after winning two straight Under-20 European Championships in 2018 and 2019 along with losing in the final in 2017. In order for Israel not to blow this opportunity, changes have to be made swiftly to not lose out on a talented group of players that have potential to reach some of the highest of heights that have been seen in Israeli hoops.

Goodes explained that Israel is going through a change of the guard and maybe that is what may be holding the team back.]

“We have two generations, the old guard and the new guard and the older guys have really worked hard with the younger players, but we need to improve going forward.”

While you have the new – Avdija, Yam Madar, Rafi Menco, Ginat, Roman Sorkin along with others, as well as the old from Gal Mekel, Guy Pnini and Jake Cohen.

Israel needs to really see how best to continue the program that began under Katash in 2017. Or perhaps the program is scrapped and gets restarted from scratch as the chances of advancing to the World Cup are slim to none.

Let’s see what may happen over the coming days and weeks, but the entire basketball association needs to do some serious soul searching in order to get the house in order.