Joe Ragland sometimes looks like Superman.
The way he moves, the way he grooves and the way he can just take over a game and end it once and for all for his team is a sight to behold. That was the case in Hapoel Holon’s 83-73 win over Hapoel Galil Elyon earlier this week.
The 33-year-old American-Liberian point guard took the proverbial bull by the horns with his team in front 63-59 and 4:55 left in the fourth quarter and scored 13 of Holon’s final 20 points to put the game out of reach.
Galil had begun the contest in a huge hole, but slowly and surely climbed out to make it a game come money time. However, when a team has a player like Ragland – no matter what difficulties Holon may have had recently in Basketball Champions League action with a trio of absolutely devastating losses – it always has a chance.
There aren’t many players like Ragland who have the ability to just take the ball and do as they please, especially when Holon was playing with a very short rotation due to injuries. First, the Springfield, Massachusetts, native drew a foul and put in a pair of free throws, he then added a layup which was followed up by one, two, three triples and that was that.
Game, set, match.
“I told Joe to take the ball, get it over the half-court line and take care of it. Do what you need to do [to win the game].”Guy Goodes, Hapoel Holon head coach
“I told Joe to take the ball, get it over the half-court line and take care of it. Do what you need to do [to win the game],” Holon coach Guy Goodes said just out of a timeout when the score was tight down the stretch.
Boy, did he take care of that ball and do what he needed to in order for Holon to take the win over an up-and-coming Galil Elyon team with plenty of tools that can cause issues for any team in the league.
Ragland has many years under his belt, having also played in the Euroleague, but at a very young 33, he is still very capable and playing plenty of minutes while not losing a step.
But playing in both the Israeli League and the Basketball Champions League, Goodes knows that he needs to take good care of one of his most important assets in order to keep him fresh and ready to go when called upon, especially with a much shorter roster than last season.
“We really make sure that we take care of him at practice and he has various treatments. He also takes good care of himself, if it’s in ice baths and the like. We don’t have any extra and this team is different from the one we had last season when we had another import guard and seven foreigners. We have seven rotation players while last season we had more than that, nine or 10. But this is what it is for the rest of the way, as we won’t be making any changes.”
As for Ragland, the point guard spoke about his fourth-quarter heroics against Galil Elyon.
“I just wanted to be aggressive at that moment,” the guard explained. “Make sure I got the best shot for my team, if it’s me or my teammates. Give credit to [Galil] as they have always been a good team since they have been in the first division and they had a five-game winning streak. They were going to have moments when they were going to fight back and make it a game, but I’m glad we won.”
Goodes and Holon had a rough run in continental play, with a brutal overtime loss at Strasbourg, then a devastating home defeat to local rival Hapoel Jerusalem, which was followed up by a late-game collapse against JDA Dijon.
The Purples will now have three “home games” with the two French teams in Holon and a contest in Jerusalem, but just to come back from a rough set of continental clashes was not easy for the bench boss and took plenty of off-court work.
“It was a lot of mental work to prepare the team as best as possible,” Goodes said. “It’s going into their souls. Chris Johnson didn’t feel well, but I said ‘you need to play this game against Galil Elyon.’ I told him to take a break for two days and come in and that’s what he did. He has a lot of character and we have a lot of character in the locker room.”
Ragland and Johnson are veteran players that Goodes can lean on in a time of need, but they are also examples of what a professional athlete should be, teammates who many a younger player can learn a thing or two from.
That would be the case for up-and-coming Galil guard Itay Moskovits, who at just 22 years old has turned plenty of heads averaging 11.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists this season. Add to that going 39-of-41 for 95% from the free throw line and 28-of-73 for 38.4% from downtown, and you’ve got one heck of a player.
The Sabra floor general has shown that he can really play ball with the big boys and has scored in double digits in 10 out of 17 games this season. It should come as no surprise that he has been called up to the Israel National Team camp for its games at the end of the month against Finland and at Slovenia.
As to what he saw from Ragland on the court, the ever-modest Moskovits brought up a couple of points for himself and the team as a whole.
“I really liked to see how he communicates and talks to the players which is much more than just basketball talent. It’s his character and how he really controls and manages the team. We learned what it takes to be able to play against this type of quality team and what we need to do to go to the top of the league and battle for a place in the championship playoffs. We need to lift up our level of play.”
Galil Elyon is a team that has taken it upon itself as an organization to work with young Israeli players, nurture and help develop them which has been successful to date with yet another solid season. Barak Peleg and his staff have been tasked with that job and so far they have done the job admirably day in and day out.
Peleg knows that Moskovits has the potential to be a top-of-the-line player and that he is working hard towards that goal. However, as with everything it’s all a matter of time and gaining experience in order to continue to take his game to the next level.
“When you look at a player like Joe Ragland you can see how he prepares and how he plays the game with all of the experience that he has. Itay is still a youngster, a child in this regard. You all see the game, but we see the entire week, the preparation, the discussions, before and after games and practices which is really the story of a player.
“He is very special and is just at the start of his career and it’s just the beginning. One can’t look at this season as ‘the season’ because it takes years to build up and become a player from preparation to becoming a leader and beyond. This all comes down to gaining experience.”
Ragland, who is as good as it gets in the Holy Land, also sees the potential of No. 7 and that he will be a force to be reckoned with going forward.
“I like him and I love his game, love his pace and I told him that today. He has a great style and the future is bright for him.”
Holon’s coach, Goodes, had to contend with Moskovits in this game and did a good job containing him to 11 points, with him going 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.
Goodes was himself a young Israeli point guard back in the late 1980s and 1990s and for him to see a player like Moskovits coming into his own and developing into a top talent is heartwarming.
“He is a very talented kid and one can see that. He has the ability to score and really move the ball. It’s great to see a player like that who is coming into his own who played in Netanya and now Galil. He was injured and returned to play with a lot of skill. Huber is also very influential for that team when they play with the two guards. They are shooting really well from deep as well. It’s just really great to see players developing, especially Israelis.”
As Hapoel Galil Elyon continues on its mission to bring up young, Israeli, home-grown players and wants to make some noise in the upper half of the standings, Hapoel Holon is looking at the now and how it can defend its league title and make it back to the Final Four of the Champions League.
The Purples may have an uphill battle without the same depth that they had last year, but they still have that veteran know-how and oodles and oodles of experience, which has no substitute.
Ragland and Hapoel Holon will now try to exact a little bit of revenge when they visit Hapoel Jerusalem on Sunday night after their loss to the Reds in the BCL, as the name of the game for Superman is to win.
“Whoever we have to play against, we have to be ready,” Ragland said. “We play Jerusalem next and we have to handle that game first. We have to take it one game at a time. We are going to fight and continue to fight. We lost a BCL game, but we have the credentials to win and we will give ourselves the best chance to win.”