Interim coach Yotam Halperin working wonders with Jerusalem

An Israeli basketball lifer, Hapoel’s interim coach has resurgent Reds flying high locally and abroad.

 AFTER STEPPING down from the front office to the sideline a month ago, Hapoel Jerusalem interim coach Yotam Halperin has turned around the club’s season. (photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)
AFTER STEPPING down from the front office to the sideline a month ago, Hapoel Jerusalem interim coach Yotam Halperin has turned around the club’s season.
(photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)

Hapoel Jerusalem put together what was arguably its best game of the season this week in demolishing Pinar Karsiyaka in Turkey by 20 points in a dominant 85-65 performance.

Interim coach Yotam Halperin has done wonders since taking over behind the Reds’ bench for Oren Amiel, who has since found employment with Bamberg in the German BBL League, and looks to continue his winning ways not only in Europe but domestically as well.

The victory not only kept Jerusalem’s Champions League chances alive and well, but it also gave it the opportunity to take one of the two automatic places in its group to advance to the second round despite sporting a 2-3 record overall.

In two weeks, the Reds will play at Manresa and a win in Spain would do the trick and avoid having Halperin’s team participate in the play-in tournament by finishing the group stage in second and not in third.

Halperin, who was thrust into the role after moving down to the sidelines from the front office, was selected in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the then-Seattle SuperSonics and he has always been ahead of the curve both on and off the floor.

 AFTER PARTING WAYS with Oren Amiel late last week, Hapoel Jerusalem GM Yotam Halperin stepped down from the front office to the sidelines, taking the reins as interim coach (credit: Courtesy) AFTER PARTING WAYS with Oren Amiel late last week, Hapoel Jerusalem GM Yotam Halperin stepped down from the front office to the sidelines, taking the reins as interim coach (credit: Courtesy)

While he never did make it across the ocean to play in the world’s greatest league, the 37-year-old former point guard had a storied career as a player and it now seems that he has started off on the right track as a coach after spending the last couple of seasons as the team’s Sports Director.

Born in Tel Aviv, Halperin began his basketball career with Maccabi Tel Aviv as he helped lead the youth club to back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002 while also having made his senior team debut at the age of 17 during the 2001/2002 campaign.

After capturing a pair of Euroleague titles with the yellow-and-blue, Halperin moved to Slovenia to play with Union Olimpija and then returned to Maccabi for another two years before heading out to Europe once again.

Next up were three seasons with Greek powerhouse Olympiacos followed by a year apiece with Spartak St. Petersburg and Bayern Munich before he returned to Israel, where he signed to play with Hapoel Jerusalem from 2013-2018. With the Reds, Halperin helped captain the club to its first two Israeli League titles, in 2015 and 2017.

Right before the start of the 2018 campaign Halperin announced his retirement as an active player and headed up to Jerusalem’s front office, where he remained until Amiel was dismissed earlier this season.

Halperin had mixed feelings when he took over the club from Amiel and expressed his sentiments after winning his first Israeli league game over Hapoel Holon back on October 31.

“I’m happy about the win and I have to say that I have a lot of mixed feelings as the club went through a lot,” said Halperin. “Whoever hasn’t been a player or a coach will never understand what it’s like. I’m very happy as to how the players came into the game, but again it is very hard on me that we had to part ways with a good person as the responsibility was not just his but all of us.”

Since then, Hapoel has gone 4-1 in domestic action and 2-0 in Champions League play, but most importantly the players themselves have bought into Halperin being the steadying force, the man in charge and the one who can guide the team to the promised land.

Retin Obasohan, for one, is a guard who Oren Amiel brought to Jerusalem over the summer after having had him on hand at Nymburk for a couple of seasons. He was probably the most unsettled player over Amiel’s departure, but the Belgian international – who has perhaps been Jerusalem’s best player this season – had nothing but positive things to say about what Halperin brings to the table.

“The difference is that we believed,” explained Obasohan. “When things don’t go the way that you want them to it’s hard to believe in the process. We have to work hard every day no matter what. Halperin inspired us.”

With the team buying into Halperin’s methodology, it was clear that against Karsiyaka Jerusalem knew exactly what it needed to do as it played almost perfect basketball. Smooth passes, proper cuts, screens and handoffs working like a well-oiled machine. Jerusalem finally looked like a team winning in a very, very hostile Turkish environment.

It’s clear that Halperin, who has earned all of his professional coaching licenses, should have the interim tag removed swiftly as he has earned the trust of the players and fans alike.

In fact, some of Halperin’s former coaches and teammates spoke to The Jerusalem Post about his ability to succeed behind the bench, including veteran coach Simone Pianigiani, who led Jerusalem to the 2016/17 championship and saw his team advance to the EuroCup semifinals that same campaign.

“I can only say positives about Yotam’s chance to be a great coach as he is a person with all of the qualities,” noted Pianigiani. “He was a player with a very high basketball IQ, so he knows the game. He is an intelligent and good person and has the personality to credit his players. He was also positive with all of his teammates when he was a player.

“He has to put his knowledge on the court whether it’s practice or schedule. He can be a great coach as he also has all of the in game qualities, knows how to teach and has leadership qualities. He is a very high level person and this is what is most important.”

EJ Rowland, who shared the backcourt with Halperin on many occasions back in 2015/16, shared his thoughts as well.

“Yotam was a smart player that had a good feel for the game, so it’s not surprising that he’d be a good coach. He also had a long career and played at high level teams, so the players should respect him and they should relate to each other well.”

Big man Ronald Roberts, who was on the receiving end of many Halperin’s passes, discussed why he feels his former teammate will succeed.

“That position definitely fits him. When I was playing with him, he was just the ultimate veteran teammate. Besides him being a great human being, he just had a lot of basketball experience and a lot of knowledge to share from playing in top leagues. He was an extension of the coach with his calm demeanor and his professionalism was one of the best I honestly have seen in one of my teammates.”

With Jerusalem playing its best basketball of the season and in first place in the Israeli league, management should take the next step in righting the ship, which has been off course since the start of the pandemic back in March 2020.

Not only should management officially appoint Halperin as its next coach, but it also must finish cleaning up the roster and offload players who the coach feels are not contributing while bringing in a player or two to help bolster the efforts.

Thon Maker has barely seen the floor since joining the team during the offseason, while Anthony Bennett is not playing enough minutes to warrant a roster spot when Jerusalem needs to add players who can make an impact, especially foreigners whose role is to upgrade the roster and move the needle.

The club brought back forward Suleiman Braimoh, who had played with Jerusalem for the past two seasons, after he began the campaign with San Pablo Burgos and Braimoh  made an impact almost immediately with his desire and effort. But Braimoh is not enough should Jerusalem really want to take that next push, which it is right at the doorstep of doing.

With Halperin doing a terrific job thus far, there is no reason to look outside of the organization or outside of the box. Sign him up for the balance of the season, see how things go and allow him the bandwidth to make the necessary moves for the Reds to succeed.

Anyone who has watched the club religiously over the past number of years can see that Halperin has all of the ingredients to handle the role and that he is in the right place at the right time.