Hap Jerusalem hopes home sweet home

Jerusalem set to host Russian side Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd.

 Hapoel Jerusalem’s forward Donte Smith (photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s forward Donte Smith
(photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
After suffering a frustrating defeat in its Eurocup regular season opener last week, Hapoel Jerusalem will be desperate for a win when it hosts Russian side Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd on Wednesday night.
Jerusalem continued its encouraging start to the local BSL season on Sunday, edging Hapoel Tel Aviv 81-80 to improve to 3-0 in the Israeli league for the first time since the 2004/05 campaign.
However, despite leading by as many as 11 points in the second quarter of its Eurocup opener in Turkey against Banvit Bandirma, Jerusalem ultimately dropped to an 80-76 defeat.
With nine more games to play in the regular season and four of the groups six teams to advance to the Last 32, Hapoel still has plenty of room for error. Nevertheless, a victory on Wednesday is vital for Hapoel, with Volgograd regarded as one of the weaker teams in Group E, which also includes Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius of Lithuania, Partizan Belgrade of Serbia and CSU Ploiesti of Romania, as well as Jerusalem and Banvit.
Volgograd is built around seven American players, with only two Russian players taking part in last week’s 81-75 home loss to Ploiesti.
Volgograd’s roster includes several familiar names to Israeli basketball fans, with D.J. Kennedy, who played for Hapoel Holon last season, leading the team with 19 points last week, while Romeo Travis, who starred at both Barak Netanya and Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the past, finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds.
“Ploiesti is a really good team, but we weren’t able to make adjustments throughout the game,” said Volgograd’s Ukrainian coach Valentyn Berestnyev. “Slow pace is not our nature, we simply needed more speed and transition. Unfortunately, at the end of the game we had a chance to win, but made some unforced mistakes. We are still in search of our game and hope that we’ll find it soon.”
Jerusalem will need to make sure Volgograd doesn’t do so in the the new arena, which will host its first continental game on Wednesday.
After beating its first two BSL opponents on the road by an average of 19.5 points per game, Jerusalem had to dig deep to overcome Hapoel Tel Aviv in its first local league encounter at the Arena.
Nevertheless, coach Danny Franco was delighted with his team’s performance.
“I think this was our best BSL game of the season,” he said. “Hapoel Tel Aviv played an almost perfect game. We entered this encounter on the back of the defeat in Turkey and we were very focused. This was the kind of game which makes the team better in the long run.”
Jerusalem didn’t really require Donta Smith to be at his best in its first two BSL games, but he was sensational for the side on Sunday, finishing with 23 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
“After the defeat in Turkey Donta decided to shoulder more responsibility and he was superb,” Franco explained.
Despite coming off the bench, Bracey Wright has been Jerusalem’s most consistent player so far this season, scoring 19 points in the team’s first two BSL games before netting 14 against Banvit and 13 points versus Hapoel Tel Aviv.
“We could not play exactly the way we wanted. Banvit did not play so well, but they played well enough,” Wright said. “Although we had a chance at end of the game, we couldn’t do it because of the many turnovers. Hopefully we can bounce back and play better in our next game.”
Also Wednesday, Hapoel Holon hosts Bnei Herzliya in BSL action.
Hapoel Jerusalem vs Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd (live on ONE at 8:30 p.m.)