Everything that Hapoel Jerusalem head coach Aleksandar Dzikic touches seems to turn to gold.
No matter what move the Serbian tactician has made in the capital city over the last couple of months has turned out to be the correct one.
The Reds, who began their campaign with an 0-2 start in Israeli league play, rattled off six straight wins to not only move their record to 6-2, but they have also punched their ticket to the State Cup quarterfinals. Add to the fact that the team has been looking like a well-oiled machine after defeating the Bakken Bears in Basketball Champions League action last week – which also guaranteed Jerusalem at least a round-of-16 group stage best-of-three Play-In series – everything seems to be smelling like roses.
As they ready to play Ness Ziona on Friday afternoon, the Reds will look to continue on their fine run of late and continue their streak. Even when a shorthanded Jerusalem, which was playing without its point guards, came up against a surging Kiryat Ata team earlier in the week, Dzikic was able to figure out a way to make up for the lack of his floor generals by other means to record a 77-70 win.
The Reds lost up-and-coming national team guard Noam Dovrat for the balance of the season after he suffered an ugly knee injury in the fourth quarter of the club’s win over the Bears and then were without Speedy Smith due to an illness for the Kiryat Ata clash.
Dovrat had really started to come into his own for Jerusalem and was looking as good as ever after knocking down a huge triple to put away Maccabi Tel Aviv last week in the Israeli Classico. But as he drove into the paint his knee buckled and needed to be helped off the court. It was later determined that the 20-year-old suffered a complex injury that would need surgery, thereby putting him on the shelf for the balance of the campaign.
Smith, who has played a superb ball over the past month, was sick as a dog against the Bears but was able to put together another spectacular performance. However, the illness took a toll, and he was not available to play versus Kiryat Ata.
Serbian coach had tricks up his sleeve
But no matter, Dzikic had a few solutions right up his sleeve.
First off, Israeli forward Oz Blayzer was back and better than ever, after having suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for a month and change. In the 22 minutes he was on the court, Blayzer showed no hesitation whatsoever in scoring 11 points while diving all over the court without an ounce of fear.
“It was great to come back and play at home and I felt great,” Blayzer began. “The staff, both medical and professional, did a terrific job and gave me the time to make sure that I would feel comfortable to return. I’m happy that I was able to help the team take the win.”
Dzikic also spoke about the return of his Sabra forward.
“Blaze wanted to play against Maccabi, but he wasn’t ready. He provides a multi-dimensional attack and is someone that is not just sitting in the corner. I see him more as a cutter, rebounder and reading the attack. He helped us a lot and it was great to have another domestic player in the rotation.”
Obviously, Blayzer doesn’t solve the point guard issue, but that is where both Brandon Brown and Randolph come into play.
Brown, who almost literally just stepped off of the plane after not having played basketball for about half a year, was supposed to take a couple of weeks to get into game shape. But despite not being anywhere near being ready, he was thrust into Dzikic’s starting lineup and played 21 minutes to help out the team in the time of need.
“It brought stability to the team being able to have a point guard out there,” Randolph acknowledged. “He’s a natural point guard and it was great to have him out there and we look forward to having him for the rest of the season.”
As for Randolph himself, the swingman also played as an emergency point guard for the Reds and put in a tremendous effort. But playing the one isn’t something new for the Madison, Alabama, native in what is now as he said a position-less game to some extent.
“It’s natural to me and I grew up playing point guard, I just grew a little taller so I got pushed to the shooting guard or small forward positions. It’s a position-less game now and you have to be able to play at multiple positions and the coach called on me to handle the ball. I feel comfortable doing it.”
“There is a never-ending discussion between me and Randolph,” Dzikic said. “Because he was a point guard and he said that he could count on him as an alternative and that day came and he wasn’t bad. We got Blaze back and Brown played after five months or even more. Speedy was really sick and Dovrat got hurt so it is what it is.”
Dzikic has been able to build a solid foundation where not only do the players trust in him, they will do above and beyond what is asked because they care. They care about one another, and they care about the club.
The coach will come to the defense of his players, just as he did when asked about big man Zach Hankins and the abuse he fields in the paint.
“It’s pretty hard to find minuses in his behavior and attitude,” a content Dzikic said, happy to be queried about the center. “He is a hard-working player and energy guy. He plays hard and not dirty but for some reason, he’s not getting enough respect [from the referees] and he should be recognized a bit more.”
Or the love and care he shows to a player like Or Cornelius, who has slowly but surely climbed the ladder of Israeli basketball. Sure, Dzikic can be loud and active on the sidelines, but it’s all love, perhaps even tough love that he shows to his players.
Jerusalem will be looking to collect its ninth straight win across all competitions when it visits Ness Ziona in a pre-Shabbat Friday afternoon matinee, but that won’t be a simple matter with Elad Hasin’s team also playing solid basketball with one of the best points guards in Israel in one DJ Cooper.
Add to that Tyler Bey and Shaq Buchanan to go along with Golan Gutt and Ronnie Harrell and Nes Ziona is one tough team to handle for Hapoel Jerusalem or any other opponent, especially at home in what will be a packed Lev HaMoshava Arena.
But the bottom line for the Reds is that Dzikic has his troops in order and in line and they will do anything and everything for the cause no matter what type of issue they may have.
“We have a lot of good players and everybody stepped up,” Randolph said. “We played the way coach asked us to play and we were able to come out with the win. It’s a testament to this team, a testament to the coach and his personality. His personality trickles out throughout the team and we are fighters. We are going to play hard no matter what the score is and if you fight you are going to rack up the Ws.”