Holon’s Hayden Dalton excited to be back -interview

After a tumultuous season that led him to Israel, American forward reflects on lessons learned.

 HAPOEL HOLON’S Hayden Dalton (left) defends against Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Lorenzo Brown in a preseason game between the two Israeli title contenders (photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)
HAPOEL HOLON’S Hayden Dalton (left) defends against Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Lorenzo Brown in a preseason game between the two Israeli title contenders
(photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

Hapoel Holon welcomes Oostende from Belgium to open up its home FIBA Champions League slate on Tuesday after having won its first game of the continental season last week in a tight 84-81 overtime victory at Legia Warsaw.

Guy Goodes’s squad has plenty of familiar faces in the lineup that won the Israeli league this past June, as well as having advanced all the way to the BCL Final Four.

One of those players is versatile forward Hayden Dalton, who joined Holon at the end of January and made his debut in the Champions League at the start of February, but really made his impact in the Israeli Winner League finals when the Purples took home the championship.

Dalton began last season in France playing for JL Bourg, then moved to San Pablo Burgos in Spain, and finally found his way to the Holy Land just a few months later in what was a whirlwind tour of Europe.

Just as the new campaign is upon us, The Jerusalem Post spoke to Dalton about his past, present and future, but had to begin the conversation with what was a crazy 12-month stint that saw him somehow inexplicably become a champion in Israel.

“Just being on three different teams in one season was crazy,” Dalton began. “This summer, I reflected on how thankful I was to be with Holon and have the success we had with the Israeli championship and having gone to the Champions League Final Four. The season was stressful, but it ended in amazing fashion.”

“This summer, I reflected on how thankful I was to be with Holon and have the success we had with the Israeli championship and having gone to the Champions League Final Four. The season was stressful, but it ended in amazing fashion.”

Hayden Dalton

Dalton, who averaged nine points and five rebounds in 10 Israeli league contests, was brought on board by Holon as somewhat of an insurance policy if a player or two would end up getting injured, which is exactly what ended up happening when center Steve Zack went down with an ankle issue late in the season.

Dalton was not even expected to dress, let alone score crucial points down the stretch in the most critical games of the campaign.

“I can’t explain it. I was just happy that I was ready to help the team win and that is what we did. The Jerusalem series was crazy, to win two away games, and then to win the finals, I was happy to be healthy and, as they say, when you get the opportunity, you’ve got to take it.”

Holon advancing to the Champions League Final Four

One of the most exciting moments in Israeli hoops last season was Holon advancing to the Champions League Final Four in Spain, where it eventually fell in the semifinal round to powerhouse Tenerife. But for Dalton that wasn’t even the most surprising part of the weekend, which really occurred before the action on the court began as his family showed up unannounced to shock the 6-foot-9 big man.

“[Holon Team Manager] Nir [Oron] is always helping out and my mom tried to reach out to some people on Instagram to find a way to surprise me. It was amazing to have that happen and it was my mom’s first time seeing me play abroad, so it was special. I had no idea that they had been planning it, it was great.”

Over the summer, Holon decided to bring Dalton back into the fold and the Parker, Colorado, native was more than happy to return and is definitely ready to get the 2022/23 campaign underway.

“I’m just excited for the season to begin. We won last year so there are big expectations, but we’re not worried about that. We’re happy to have some of the guys back and we added some new guys. We’re a new team and we are learning from each other. We are working day by day to get better and we want to do the best that we can. We have a lot of potential and I think we can be successful.”

Of course, Dalton and Holon will need to re-focus on the goals ahead as they will look to repeat as champions and also try to take that next step in European play.

“Both the players and coaches don’t want to think too much about that, but we can learn from last season and take each day as it comes and be the best that we can be. We saw last season that this is what brought us through the good and the bad. So we are planning to do that this year, planning on working each day to do the best that we can.”

Goodes will be entering his first full season as Holon’s head coach and for Dalton, that’s good news, as he enjoyed playing under the bench boss.

“He’s a very good coach and has a similar style to Coach [Oren] Amiel. Both are very intense when they need to be, but also very realistic where they are not just yelling and screaming all the time and cussing us. He tells you what you need to hear and he is honest. As a player, you can appreciate that because some coaches will say one thing and mean something else, or try to play mind games. He is honest and straightforward, that is why he is successful and we were successful last year.”

Dalton is among a number of players who have returned to Holon and having that base back in the saddle will be critical to how things will play out on the floor.

“With Joe [Ragland] and Chris [Johnson] those are the two leaders of the team. Joe is the point guard and is vocal while Chris sets the tone as a hard worker with a dog mentality, but he does everything. Having those two guys at the head, we can follow their lead along with the guys that have been here before. You can see during the games and everyone respects them, so that’s a good start.”

One of the players that won’t be back this year for Holon is veteran forward Guy Pnini, who signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the offseason.

“I always considered Guy like a player-coach because of his experience and playing at such high levels. He’s just a very smart guy and sees the game very well whether he is on the court or off of it. He was always helping us and giving guys little pointers. He was like our second assistant, telling Joe this or me that and just helping out as much as he could, so we will definitely miss him in that area and aspect.”

Dalton enjoyed playing basketball in his youth and was influenced by his father and also admired Boston Celtics great Larry Bird, but he also came from a family that very much enjoyed another sport as well.

“I played volleyball when I was growing up and my whole family did as well. I played club volleyball very seriously and that was my first sport. When I was 15 years old, I grew a lot and changed over to basketball. I think that I could have made it as a professional volleyball player, it’s a great sport. I never was one to have a dream about being a pro basketball player. I was just trying to enjoy each moment and follow whatever God would lead me to.”

Dalton rises through the ranks

Dalton attended the University of Wyoming after having spent a year honing his skills at a junior college in the state. Once he joined the Cowboys, he met a player in Jeremy Lieberman who made his name for the USA Maccabiah team in 2017 along with his trainer, who also has worked with the likes of NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard.

“Since I started playing basketball at a late age at 15 years old, there wasn’t much interest in me, so I started at a junior college [Central Wyoming College] for my first year. From there, I tried to play and make it to a D1 university, which ended up being [the University of] Wyoming. The fans there are amazing and everyone loves you as it’s the only top-tier university in the state.

“I can attribute a lot of my skills to Jeremy and his trainer, Clint Parks. I met them at Wyoming and they were always the first ones in the gym and the last ones to leave. I joined them in my second year and they taught me the value of hard work. I don’t know if I’d be here today if it was not for them.”

Those sessions with Parks and Lieberman paid off for Dalton as he was able to really expand his game.

“My overall versatility as a shooter was the most important thing I gained. Every team knows that and I can help just by them knowing that. My ability to guard every position, from guards to bigs, is a big strength. I played the 3 [small forward], but can play the 4 [power forward] also, and in the finals, I was playing the 5 [center] as I was able to help with whatever and whenever.”

“It was thanks to a lot of reps over and over, plus I owe a lot to Jeremy and Clint. After all those reps and hard work, there was a point in college when I gained the mental side of the game by knowing that I can make those shots. At first, I didn’t have the confidence and it was all about the mental side of being confident, knowing that I can shoot and that I am good at it.”

 After college, Dalton began his professional career overseas with the Bakken Bears, which he felt was a terrific starting spot.

“It was the perfect place for my first year as a pro as they really take care of you. The Danish guys really helped out and everyone speaks English, so it was an easy transition. It was a great place to use as a trampoline to make the next step in my career.”

Dalton’s next stop was in the Czech Republic and Nymburk, where he played under Israeli coach Oren Amiel.“He’s one of my favorite coaches, a great guy and a great coach who is very intense. We had two very successful years there. Israel was discussed a lot and he would always say that it’s sad as a lot of issues begin when the Arabs and Israelis try to show love to one another and then something bad happens, which tears it apart.”

Over the course of his career, Dalton has played with a number of players who are either currently in Israel or had been just last season, such as Deishaun Booker, Zach Hankins and Retin Obasohan.

“I stay connected with all those guys and now that Booker and Hankins are in Israel, we will for sure connect and have fun competing on the court. They are good players on good teams, so I’m sure we will have good games and it’s exciting to play against guys that I know.”

Having played in the Czech Republic also meant that Dalton had the opportunity to share the court with a number of players who represented the country at the most recent Eurobasket that took place just last month. Czech captain Vojtech Hruban, Jaromir Bohacik, Martin Peterka and Martin Kriz were all former teammates.

“The Czech Republic has a really good team and when all the players are there, I love watching those guys play. Neno Ginzburg is a good coach and it’s a cool connection that he is also Israeli. I have a special place in my heart for them. I’m always cheering for them as they are always the underdog.”

One of the ironic things that occurred to Dalton last season was that when he was with Burgos, Tyrus McGee was also there and he ended up with Holon as well.

“It was a blessing from heaven and when everything was going bad, he said I would love it in Holon, that they would take good care of me and that I was really lucky. A few days later he contacts me and says, hey, I’m coming too! It’s funny as to how it all happened.”

Dalton has been enthralled in his time in Israel, with so many things to see and do, which he has immensely enjoyed.

“Its history, the religious history – Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth. It’s truly an amazing place, just being in the Holy Land, along with the food and the weather, especially for someone coming from Colorado and snow in the winter, whereas here it’s nice all year round. There are a lot of different things that I enjoy.”

As for goals this upcoming season, Dalton is going to try and get the most out of every single opportunity that he and the team gets.

“I want to just enjoy the season, being able to play professional basketball. I’m not one to say ‘win this and that,’ but just I want to enjoy each day and be with guys I like and to be in a place like Israel is amazing. I just hope to enjoy every moment and get what I can. As a team, it’s about getting the most out of our potential.”