Commentary: Eye-opening and embarrassing experience

Israel’s marquee basketball clubs Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem underwhelm in European action

Hapoel Jerusalem forward Donta Smith (right) and Maccabi Tel Aviv swingman Devin Smith (left) (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem forward Donta Smith (right) and Maccabi Tel Aviv swingman Devin Smith (left)
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Israeli basketball awoke to a depressing morning on Thursday after both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem saw their Eurocup campaigns end in shameful fashion the previous night.
Maccabi needed a win over mediocre Russian team Nizhny Novgorod at Yad Eliyahu Arena in order to secure its place in the round of 16.
However, after already being sent packing from the Euroleague prior to the Top 16 for the first time in club history earlier this season, the yellow-and-blue lost a fourth consecutive game in the Eurocup on Wednesday, capitulating in overtime on the way to a 95-84 defeat, adding another sad chapter to a depressing campaign.
Maccabi, which was crowned as European champion less than two years ago, was playing for plenty of pride, as well as a place in the next round, entering the game on the back of its worst-ever defeat in local action, a 35-point humbling at the hands of Maccabi Haifa in the BSL on Saturday night.
Pride was the only thing on the line for Jerusalem against Gran Canaria in Spain after already losing all hope of progressing to the next round two weeks ago following its fourth straight defeat to start the Last 32.
However, rather than ending its campaign with a morale-boosting win, the reigning BSL champion humiliated itself in Spain, losing 108-61 to end Group H at 0-6 with what was its second heaviest defeat ever in European action.
Coaches and players at both Maccabi and Hapoel were lost for answers, apologizing to their fans for their dismal continental campaigns.
“We have failed,” said Maccabi guard Gal Mekel. “We left everything on court, but when things don’t go your way they don’t go your way. This has been a tough week, but we need to lift ourselves. We have failed in this competition but next week we have the cup. We have to lift ourselves and try and compensate the fans next week.”
Following the exits of Tel Aviv and Hapoel, Maccabi Rishon Lezion is the last remaining Israeli side in continental competition after advancing to the Europe Cup round of 16. Rishon visits Ventspils of Latvia in Game 1 of the best-of-three series on Wednesday.
With no more European games to play this season, Maccabi will need to quickly turn its focus to the State Cup semifinal against Ironi Ness Ziona on Monday, with the final to be played three days later.
Jerusalem doesn’t even have a cup game to look forward to after being surprisingly knocked out by Maccabi Haifa in the round of 16. Next up for Jerusalem, which leads the BSL standings with a 14-4 record, is Sunday’s league game against Hapoel Eilat.
After playing in the Eurocup in each of the past seven seasons, Jerusalem is set to take part in a new continental competition in 2016/17, with FIBA to launch its new Basketball Champions League.
With the Euroleague to change its format next season to include only 16 teams, one of them being Maccabi, FIBA has plenty of backing from the clubs disappointed to be left out of the competition, including Jerusalem, and the Champions League will include 32 sides. Jerusalem is set to be one of them.
The Champions League will begin with a group stage of four pools with eight teams each, with the top four to advance to the next round. The round of 16 and quarterfinals will be played in a home-and-away format, with the title to be decided in a Final Four finale, just like the Euroleague.
Maccabi is guaranteed at least 30 Euroleague games next season, with a round-robin regular season of 30 rounds to be followed by best-of-five playoffs, with series winners advancing to the Final Four, at which the champion will be crowned.