Israel basketball moves in on Olympic pre-qualification

With victories over N. Macedonia and Czechs, Israel is close to advancing in Olympic qualification.

ISRAEL’S ROMAN SORKIN has played a key role in both blue-and-white wins – over North Macedonia and the Czechs – at the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament. (photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)
ISRAEL’S ROMAN SORKIN has played a key role in both blue-and-white wins – over North Macedonia and the Czechs – at the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament.
(photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)

Israel moved ever so close to punching its ticket to the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Final Four in Poland as it downed the Czech Republic 80-67 on Sunday night.

Riding incredible clutch shooting from both Bar Timor and Yam Madar, the blue-and-white improved to 2-0 with one group game remaining against host Estonia on Tuesday.

The Israelis pounded North Macedonia 86-65 in their first game as Roman Sorkin dominated from both inside and outside the paint to lead five players in double-digit scoring.

Coach Ariel Beit Halachmi’s squad sits atop its group with a 2-0 record while the Czechs are in second at 1-1, Estonia is in third place also at 1-1, and North Macedonia is last with an 0-2 record. Israel is in the driver’s seat and can clinch first place with a win against Estonia or a loss of up to seven points.

Should Israel lose to the Estonians between 8-23 points, it will finish in second place and if it loses by 24 points or more it will miss out on the Final Four in Gliwice.

 A basketball passing through a hoop. (credit: Yahoo Sports)
A basketball passing through a hoop. (credit: Yahoo Sports)

The semifinals are slated for Friday against the top two teams from the group playing in Poland that consists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Portugal and the host Poles, while the final will be played on Sunday for a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympic qualifiers next summer.

The blue-and-white controlled the pace of Sunday’s contest from the get-go thanks to Timor and Madar as it grabbed a 44-31 lead at halftime. Veterans Martin Kriz and Vojtech Hruban tried to keep the Czech Republic close in the second half, but once again the dynamic duo of Timor and Madar came up big to polish off the victory.

Madar scored 27 points and added five assists, Timor scored 22 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists while Sorkin chipped in with 11 points in the win. Kriz scored 16 points and Hruban added 13 points for the Czechs in the loss.

“I think we played really, really well,” Beit Halachmi said. “We played a great first half and we are playing as a team and defending well. But we have to look forward now to the next game and not worry about the point differential. The guys understood the level that they would need to play and they raised it by playing an incredible defensive game.”

“We played great back-to-back games and these results will really help us going forward,” acting captain Timor said. “We came in very focused and many guys here are hungry to succeed. We played great defense and we will stay modest and now get ready for Estonia.”

Madar also chimed in.

“I’m very happy that we have been able to play a pair of really good games. We are in a very good spot to advance to the next stage and that is what our direction is after doing what we needed to in the opening games.”

Success despite a rocky start for Israel

Israel entered the tournament without a number of their regular players due to injury or other commitments, including Deni Avdija, Yovel Zoosman, Rafi Menco, Tomer Ginat, and Tamir Blatt to name a few, and so far the group that Beit Halachmi has put together has done a more than admirable job to get the blue-and-white into prime position to move on in the competition.

It’s been real teamwork for this team who have definitely erased the letter “I” from their lexicon as the bench boss didn’t want to even comment about any single player’s performance.

“We are a team and these guys want to prove themselves and everyone is really enjoying being here. Everyone who plays relies on his teammates. This is a team game and each one of us is playing well thanks to the other players,” Beit Halachmi said.

However, it was clear as day that the head coach has been able to receive stellar play from both veterans and youngsters alike thus far, whether it has been the likes of Timor or Madar just to name two.

Timor, who had not been part of last year’s Eurobasket squad under Guy Goodes and was not counted on by the previous coach Oded Katash, has been arguably the most important player for Israel since coming back into the fold over the course of the past half a year. Under Beit Halachmi, Timor knew that in order for Israel to be in the position it is in now, he had to raise the level of his game.

“I felt that I needed to give more of myself after the exhibition games and we looked at videos and did some extra preparation with the staff and now with the results so far I’m happy that we are pushing ahead with all of our strength.”

Madar also has taken on a critical role for Beit Halachmi’s side as the guard, who is beginning his first season with Fenerbahce and his third overall in the Euroleague, agreed that it’s a true “all for one and one for all” effort under the coach that had won back-to-back Under-20 European Championships in 2018 and 2019.

“The guys want to be here with each other and play with one another,” Madar explained. “Everyone is happy for each of our personal successes and there is a good atmosphere in the National Team camp which is important for the upcoming games. It’s just fun to be here. Our goal was to have a good tournament and we want to go to the next stage, but now after two good games we need to do that in the third.”

While the Israelis are just inches away from the next round, Beit Halachmi is well aware that they have still not reached the promised land as they still have to play the hosts who will throw everything they’ve got to head to Poland.

“Estonia is playing at home and the arena will be full and they have some very good shooters. We can relax tomorrow with an off day and then prepare properly for that game.”