Hapoel Jerusalem closes in on Champions League quarterfinals

Hapoel Jerusalem’s Tamir Blatt  (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s Tamir Blatt
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of its trip to Klaipeda, Lithuania, where the Reds defeated Neptunas 86-74 on Wednesday night and took home a 12-point advantage in the Champions League round-of-16 two-game series.
Oded Katash’s squad will look to advance to the quarterfinals of the competition on Wednesday at the Jerusalem Arena. It will move on to face the winner of the Tenerife-vs-Promitheas Patras series as long as it holds a cumulative point advantage at the end of the second contest.
The Reds came out of the gates strong, which was key according to Katash.
“It was important for us to start the game with the flow and good defense,” noted Jerusalem’s coach.
Tamir Blatt had an impressive first-half display with seven assists as the 21-year old played the role of floor general to perfection. In the second half, Blatt took to the attack and ended the evening with a double-double (11 points and 10 assists) in a performance that was well beyond his years.
With Katash’s point guard running the show, Da’Sean Butler, James Feldeine, Josh Owens and Tashawn Thomas all clocked in with terrific showings.
Amar’e Stoudemire was a bit rusty after having not played in a month, but put in a strong second half and helped secure the win.
However, the players are well aware that the job is only half done.
“It’s always good to go out and win a tough road game against a really good team,” said Butler. “They play hard and rebound hard, so we will have to come out and match the intensity and try to have the same outcome as tonight.”
Veteran guard Yogev Ohayon who played key minutes when J’Covan Brown went down with an injury echoed the sentiments.
“We will have to come out and play more aggressive in Jerusalem,” said Ohayon. “Small details will decide the game and we have to keep up our intensity in the second game. We won an important game, but it was just the first of two halves.”
Sabbath-observant hoops national team in the works
As was published by Israel Hayom on Wednesday, the Israel Basketball Association has decided for the first time to set up a national team for religiously observant players.
The motivation of the IBA to form the new team is the fact that quite a few talented religious players, whom the coaches of the various national teams wanted to include, remained out of the squad primarily because a large part of the national teams’ training throughout the season takes place on Saturday.
The new team will be designated for two age groups, 13-14 and 15-16, and the final goal will be to create a national team combining players from the cadets into the younger age group (up to age 15).
The coach of the squad is slated to be Hanan Hirshowitz, who last summer completed his three-year tenure as coach of Maccabi Hod Hasharon and also the coach of basketball operations in Givat Shmuel.
Hirshowitz will work in coordination with Barak Damitzian, current coach of the under-15 national team, and also with Adi Amos, who guides the under-14 national team.
The project, currently in its pilot phase, will be overseen and managed by Pini Gershon, who has a long history of involvement with every stage of basketball in Israel.
“We did not want to miss talent that could help Israel’s teams,” said the IBA in a statement.