Dzikic taking no prisoners in Jerusalem

Hapoel’s Serbian head coach has a unique style, clearly shown as he is implementing culture change in the capital.

 Aleksandar Dzikic is a demanding coach, but the Hapoel Jerusalem players are seemingly buying into his system, if the preseason results are any indication. (photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)
Aleksandar Dzikic is a demanding coach, but the Hapoel Jerusalem players are seemingly buying into his system, if the preseason results are any indication.
(photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

There’s no question about who’s in charge at Hapoel Jerusalem.

If anyone had any doubts that head coach Aleksandar Dzikic wasn’t going to be the most dominant personality for the Reds this 2022/23 season, you certainly hadn’t followed the Serbian bench boss throughout the years.

Dzikic arrived in the Israeli capital after years of coaching throughout the continent in various different competitions and has always been known for his straightforward and up-front style, which was on full display when Hapoel Jerusalem got by Hapoel Eilat 82-74 in the quarterfinals of the Winner Cup preseason tournament.

The capital city Reds eventually fell for the first time in preseason play when they succumbed to Hapoel Tel Aviv 76-71 in the semifinals up in Hadera where the Winner Cup is taking place, but what was clear was that most players who hadn’t put in 200% effort in the previous game did just that this time around.

Dzikic will accept no excuses, which was clear as day, and those who don’t follow his lead will quickly find themselves in trouble.

  Big man Itay Segev (right) (credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY) Big man Itay Segev (right) (credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Who is Aleksandar Dzikic?

The 51-year-old Serb, who has been in charge of teams in his home country, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Lithuania and Slovenia, will expect and demand every single player dive for loose balls, go for the 50/50 ones, box out on rebounds and just show an all-around effort on every single play, no matter what the situation is. With the Jerusalem bench boss, there will be no nights off anyplace and anytime.

“We are trying to achieve a certain level of performance and level of energy and level of focus,” Dzikic said. “Some teams have more talent than us and some less, but in order for your talent to become a factor you simply have to expend energy on both ends of the court and I believe that kind of approach is contagious. It’s super hard to see your teammate fighting, taking a charge and diving on the floor and you not wanting to do the same.”

It’s super hard to see your teammate fighting, taking a charge and diving on the floor and you not wanting to do the same.”

Aleksandar Dzikic

Jerusalem’s choice of preseason opponents prior to the Winner Cup was interesting, as in previous years the Reds would travel abroad and face various European clubs ahead of the new season. But this year, Dzikic wanted to try something a bit different and stay home in order to play Israeli teams to give the Reds a good base for the campaign ahead.

Eilat, who the Reds happened to play in the Winner Cup, was also one of their opponents during training camp and there was certainly a method to his madness in staying domicile.

“During the summer when we were preparing the preseason opponents, I wanted to have Eilat as the first game we played. I have a lot of respect for this team and coach and wanted to face them because they are a tough team. We decided to stay here and play as many games as possible and play Israeli teams as the competition in the domestic league here is different. We have nine new players on the squad and for now, it’s been a good move that we are playing in Israel and didn’t go abroad.

“Even though we haven’t lost a game [before Hapoel Tel Aviv], I don’t mind if we would lose as I’m looking at the big picture. All the teams that we played in the preseason are different and this one, Eilat, was physical and played switching defense. I liked the fact that in every game we have played so far someone else has stepped up. I’m not sure why some people underestimate Eilat as they are a very good team, physical and tough.”

Dzikic, who as a foreign coach has no alliance with one player or another, doesn’t care what passport each one may carry. Whether it’s American, Estonian, Israeli or any other, the Jerusalem coach wants players who will give it their all, game in and game out.

Dzikic's squad

One of those players is Or Cornelius, who has worked himself up the ladder in Israeli basketball. The 24-year old started his career at Maccabi Rishon Lezion, moved to Ness Ziona, spent last season with Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and moved to one of the country’s biggest teams in Hapoel Jerusalem for the new season.

So far under Dzikic’s tutelage, Cornelius has been superb on both sides of the court. Offensively, he has been hitting his shots from deep, while also playing stellar defense, recording an incredible score of 8 in the Eilat game in the recovery statistic, which measures defensive prowess. The next best player scored a 3 in this category to give an indication as to just how incredible a performance the guard had, which is definitely something that the coach made sure to pay attention to.

“As long as Cornelius is fighting and playing defense, he’s going to play for me and he knows it,” Dzikic said. “He is one of the guys who accept my coaching, some other guys are having problems with it and he’s one of the guys who isn’t having problems with it. I like his initiative and I believe he will be an important piece for us this year.”

“As long as Cornelius is fighting and playing defense, he’s going to play for me and he knows it.”

Aleksandar Dzikic

There was no question as to which players accepted Dzikic’s coaching and those who did not in the Eilat game. Veterans Oz Blayzer, Itay Segev and Khadeen Carrington gave it their absolute all. Zach Hankins – who was spotted having a one-on-one talk with the coach by the bus outside of the arena just before the team left to go home – and Noam Dovrat, who played an uninspired 12 minutes, could have done better. But Dizkic also knows that they have the potential to turn it right around and set things on the correct path.

“Carrington stepped up against Eilat and the next time it will be Dovrat, after that [Levi] Randolph, after that Zach [Hankins] or somebody else. Dinos [Carrington] played well and probably the next team will try something else and try to put more attention on him. He accepted his role, with Cornelius starting, and it’s partially Dinos’s team because he accepted coming off the bench. But it’s early and easily this could become an issue during the season which is something none of us want, but we will try to fight it as a team.”

In fact, in the defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv Hankins played incredibly inspired ball, grabbing rebounds from the outset at a phenomenal clip as he finished the game with 14 boards, six of which came on the offensive end. While Hankins still is not producing points offensively, Dzikic is not concerned and was actually a bit cryptic when asked.

“I’m not concerned because we know what is happening and we know what’s going on with Zach and that is something that we will fix with time. He is an important player for us and obviously, in the Basketball Champions League, we will have one more player that we missed [in this game]. The guys wanted to win and they were trying. The effort was there now we have to build on that. It’s super easy to find the bad things at the end of September, but that is not going to be our approach.”

With Dzikic, it’s his way or the highway, and if one looks at his record as a head coach it’s hard to argue with his methodology as he has been successful throughout his career. There’s no reason to think that this won’t be the case with Jerusalem, especially when the veterans have totally bought into his style.

With the new season about to begin just as we celebrate the High Holy Days, a new start and new beginning with new hopes are on the horizon with Aleksandar Dzikic leading the way for Hapoel Jerusalem.