Although the final score may indicate a one-sided blowout, it was anything but boring in Hapoel Tel Aviv’s 107-69 victory over Ironi Kiryat Ata this week in Israeli basketball’s Winner Cup preseason tournament.
In fact, it was a chance to see the return of the Reds’ prodigal son, Tomer Ginat, along with the 2022/23 top-tier newcomer.
The contest was also an opportunity to see some new players in action that arrived in Israel for the season to come whether it was from the NBA, G-League, Australia, Europe or the youth league as everyone wanted to make a good first impression in front of an impressive 3,000 fans at the Drive-In Arena.
Ginat was the catalyst for so many supporters coming out to the Winner Cup first-round contest, a competition that in the past would have not been such a great draw. But with the offseason signing of arguably the best Israeli available, Hapoel Tel Aviv made it known that it is going to be a serious player this coming year, be it domestically or in the EuroCup.
However, Hapoel isn’t just Ginat, but a variety of players who have honed their skills in various locales. That includes veteran point guard Xavier Munford, who arrives from Australia while also having had NBA, EuroLeague and G-League experience, big man Chris Horton coming over from a few seasons in France, Jaylen Hoard, who also spent time in the world’s best league, plus holdovers J’Covan Brown and JP Tokoto, who will provide some solid expertise.
Danny Franco’s Reds also have one of the best Israeli contingents in the league to go along with Ginat in Bar Timor, Idan Zalmanson, Gil Beni, Adam Ariel as well as youngsters Lotan Amsalem, Eyal Harel and Ilay Dolinski.
When looking at the personnel above, there is no question that Hapoel Tel Aviv will make some waves this season. However, the attention-getter will no doubt be Ginat, who decided to come home after spurning Maccabi Tel Aviv’s offer after a couple of years abroad in France.
The red side comments
“It was great to have Tomer Ginat back here at Hapoel,” Franco said. “There are not many Israeli players who have his standing as both a person and player.”
Ginat also spoke about his triumphant return to the club that he had starred with between 2016-2020.
“It was really exciting to be back and it took me some time to get used to that. But it was great and a lot of fun and most importantly we won the game.”
“It was really exciting to be back and it took me some time to get used to that. But it was great and a lot of fun and most importantly we won the game.”Tomer Ginat
The fans were so excited to welcome Ginat back that many wore shirts that had a quote, “Love Never Fails” in Hebrew that the forward had used himself when announcing that he decided to return to play with Hapoel.
“It’s great in my eyes, it’s a privilege a huge privilege and I hope that this line will prove to be true very, very soon. It’s very important that the fans support us the way they do as they have really been with us for a while no matter what the game is and where it may be.”
Still, to see so many fans come out spoke tremendously of the support the club gets.
One of Hapoel’s key players will be Munford, who can score from inside, shoot the three and dish the rock, while also being a terrific defender.
Franco spoke about Munford bringing an aspect that the club lacked last year.
“I want him to be that ingredient that we were missing from last season and take the pressure load off of J’Covan and help manage the game. He’s another quality player and person and has an elite understanding of the game. Having two quality players who have a very high basketball IQ will help us succeed.”
Ginat, who just recently joined the squad after representing Israel in the Eurobasket group stage in Prague, also spoke about the high hopes he has for Munford.
“He’s very talented and can help us a lot so while I joined the team a bit late, I was able to see him and can say that he can and will take us to a very good place. We are still trying to come together as a team both on and off the court.”
Another player that arrived at training camp with a short-term contract but earned a full-year deal just days ago is Jaylen Hoard, who has been so impressive that the Reds had really no choice but to keep him.
“We very much like him and he’s a rookie in Europe,” an excited Franco commented. “He hasn’t played in European ball and doesn’t know the league, but he has really become a part of this team very quickly. He came here as a question mark and he really became one of us that we couldn’t give up on him. He could be the steal of the season.”
"He (Jaylen Hoard) has really become a part of this team very quickly. He came here as a question mark and he really became one of us that we couldn’t give up on him. He could be the steal of the season.”Danny Franco
The 27-year-old Ginat grew up in the north of the country near Nahariya, where he played as a youth. From there, the Israel National Team stalwart moved to Kiryat Ata from 2014 to 2016 before making his way to Hapoel Tel Aviv.
At Kiryat Ata, Ginat was given a chance by the then coach Sharon Avrahami who also brought him to Hapoel when he took the position there in 2016. For Ginat to play against Kiryat Ata and Avrahami was quite an emotional moment.
“Kiryat Ata is a place that is very close to my heart and it’s the place that first gave me the opportunity. Sharon Avrahami was my coach there so this was somewhat coming full circle for me. I hope that they have a successful season, their first in the Premier League.”
Sharon Avrahami's comments
Speaking of Kiryat Ata, on the other side of the court, Avrahami is once again in charge of the club that looked exactly like a squad that had just earned promotion. The veteran head coach made it crystal clear as to what the goal is for the upcoming season.
“For the club’s first season in the Premier League, the goal is to stay in the league as we moved up a league more as a surprise. So the main goal is definitely to stay in the league; anything after that would be great.”
“For the club’s first season in the Premier League, the goal is to stay in the league as we moved up a league more as a surprise. So the main goal is definitely to stay in the league; anything after that would be great.”Sharon Avrahami
While the goals of the two teams are quite different, they are still a bit alike as both will be entering a new competition, with Kiryat Ata in the top domestic league and Hapoel Tel Aviv in the EuroCup.
Each will certainly have growing pains and both will be on a rollercoaster with many ups and downs as they try to find stability. That will no doubt be a challenge, but the immediate mission right now according to Ginat is the next contest on his team’s schedule.
“We are turning our attention to our next game on Saturday night against Bnei Herzliya in the quarterfinals. We have a lot of work to do.”