Israel’s senior hoopsters gear up for games

Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament on tap • Will Deni play? Any U20ers on National Team?

 DENI AVDIJA (left) talks with Israel head coach Ariel Beit Halachmi this week during the opening practice for the National Team at Tel Aviv’s Drive-In Arena. (photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)
DENI AVDIJA (left) talks with Israel head coach Ariel Beit Halachmi this week during the opening practice for the National Team at Tel Aviv’s Drive-In Arena.
(photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

The Israel National Basketball Team opened up training camp this week ahead of the Olympic Pre-Qualifying tournament that will take place in Estonia in mid-August.

The blue-and-white will be pitted against Macedonia, Czech Republic and host nation Estonia in group stage play, when it will vie for one of the places that could lead it to the 2024 Paris Games.

Should new head coach Ariel Beit Halachmi’s charges finish as one of the top two teams in round-robin play, they will then advance to the next stage in Poland where they would play for the one allotted place for the eight teams that are participating in this competition.

Should it win the competition, Israel will play in the Olympic Qualifiers the month prior to the opening of the Games next summer.

 Tomer Ginat Israel basketball interview by Joshua Halickman on Page 11 – Picture of Israel forward Tomer Ginat (credit: Dov Halickman)
Tomer Ginat Israel basketball interview by Joshua Halickman on Page 11 – Picture of Israel forward Tomer Ginat (credit: Dov Halickman)

Just as training camp opened up, both Beit Halachmi and team captain Tomer Ginat spoke about a myriad of topics, from the availability of the only Israeli in the NBA in Deni Avdija of the Washington Wizards, the possibility that the pair of Under-20 stars Noam Yaacov and Danny Wolf will be on the final squad as well as the challenge that they have in front of them.

“I want to credit the Under-20 team for their achievement,” Beit Halachmi began. “They brought a tremendous amount of pride to our sport and to our country. As for me, I’m very excited as this is my first campaign and I can’t wait to begin."

“We want to play Israeli basketball with positive and solid play. We only have a small number of players from the squad that was here last summer and it’s also a young squad. We want them to play together, be able to record some good results and represent us with pride.”

Israel in international competition

Ginat also chimed in about beginning again ahead of the upcoming tournament.

“It’s always great to be here and to represent the Israel National Team especially as we start a new campaign. We are all excited to be here with coach Ariel Beit Halachmi, who many of us worked with in the past. The Under-20 team showed us all what it’s like when a team plays together and many of us can learn from their success.

“We also have to really give credit to the soccer team that made it to the Olympics, which is something everyone wants to be able to experience, that’s no secret. We have a long campaign in front of us and we have to take it practice by practice and we need to do the best we can with the squad that we have.”

As for Avdija’s availability, Beit Halachmi hopes that despite the Wizards forward having picked up an injury, he will be able to join the Israel National Team.

“From Day 1, Deni has wanted to be here and he is here. But he has an injury that is concerning his team and is not able to practice. His doctor from the United States came here today to check it out and we hope that it’s not serious and that we can get him back. We want him to be healthy as that is the most important thing, it’s important for me to say again that Deni wanted to be here and part of the team from the start.”

Yaacov and Wolf, who were both selected for the Under-20 Team of the Tournament after Israel took home the silver medal, could find themselves together again very quickly on Beit Halachmi’s senior squad just ahead of the competition.

“Noam’s is someone that we invited to a national team camp a long time ago. The squad has a lot of guards and he will have to battle for his place to be on the final roster. Danny was a surprise. I was able to see him in two practices and was impressed as he did a great job in the tournament. We want to invite him to join us, but he has to be able to settle things with Yale University. He’s definitely worth a chance. Israeli basketball can really benefit from him being with us but we need to see what will be for this summer.”

With or without the aforementioned players, Israel will have a tough time in such a tournament as it will have to not only get out of its group but then head to a different country for the final stages.

“That’s how it is,” explained Ginat. “The schedule is set and we have a long way to go until we get to Poland for the final stages of this competition. We have plenty of work to do and we need to win the three games in front of us in Estonia first and then we can continue on. We will know how to deal with everything that we will need to contend against.”To prepare for the upcoming competition, Israel will play in two preparation tournaments in Hungary on July 28 against the host and the following day versus Iceland, while the following weekend the blue-and-white will play in Latvia against Holland on August 4 and then versus Ukraine the next day.

While these exhibition games are not against particularly high-level national teams, which was the same case last summer ahead of the Eurobasket, Beit Halachmi is content with the opponents who will help the team prepare in earnest for the tournament.

“It wasn’t easy to get these exhibition games,” the bench boss explained, “Many teams are playing in the World Cup, so it was tough. I believe that we did the best that we could and I can’t say that they are the top, but we have games that we can at least test ourselves. It was very tough to get exhibition games with some of the top teams and I’m very happy with what we were able to put together.”

There are a number of senior national team members who are not on the team primarily due to prior commitments that made them unavailable for the upcoming games. Beit Halachmi discussed the issue and would rather focus on who is with the team instead who is now.

“In my eyes, it’s an obligation to be an Israel National Team player and I have said this in the past. I want to focus on the players who are here and not the ones who are not. I know it’s not easy to give up one’s summer, but everyone who is not here has their reasons and you need to ask them why."

The ultimate goal is to qualify for the Olympics, but as Beit Halachmi knows it is still a long way off.

“As for the upcoming campaign, we want to finish in first place. It’s not an easy tourney to play in with eight teams and we want to make it to the Olympic qualifying tournament next summer. We haven’t been to the Olympics in basketball since 1952 and we would like to change that.”