Israel eyeing fresh start under Katash

Blue-and-white roster assembles for first time under new coach ahead of World Cup qualifying

The usually ston e-faced Oded Katash had a little smile during yesterday’s press conference in which he was unveiled as the new head coach of the Israel national team. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The usually ston e-faced Oded Katash had a little smile during yesterday’s press conference in which he was unveiled as the new head coach of the Israel national team.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Israel national team coach Oded Katash held his first training session with the new-look blue-and-white roster on monday, facing the challenging task of molding together a team by the start of World Cup 2019 qualification on Friday.
Israel faces Greece, Great Britain and Estonia in Group H, with the top three to advance to the second round. Israel hosts Estonia in Tel Aviv on Friday before visiting Greece next Monday.
Katash called up a 14-man squad, but had to make changes to the roster before he even had a chance to meet the players for the first time.
Joe Alexander and Tamir Blatt both suffered injuries during Hapoel Holon’s overtime win at Maccabi Ashdod on Saturday night, although the latter still has an outside chance of recovering in time for the games.
Avi Ben-Shimol, who leads the BSL in assists (8.3 per game), and Tom Ma’ayan were called up on Sunday as late replacements.
Alexander is set to be out for up to six with an ankle injury, while Blatt should be back by the time the BSL returns from the international break in a couple of weeks, if not sooner. The 20-year-old guard, who is the son of coach David Blatt and is regarded as one of the future stars of Israeli basketball, looked to have suffered a serious knee injury when he fell awkwardly during an overtime win on Saturday. however, an MRI revealed he didn’t suffer any ligament damage and he is set to only face a short absence.
Katash’s roster includes six players who were also part of Israel’s disappointing Eurobasket campaign: Gal Mekel, Bar Timor, Oz Blayzer, Idan Zalmanson, Richard Howell and Shawn Dawson. Blatt and Alexander were among four players to receive their first call ups together with Ben Altit and Joaquin Szuchman. Katash stood by his word of significantly dropping the average age in the roster by also summoning youngsters Tomer Ginat, Rafi Menco and Yiftach Ziv, with Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Jake Cohen returning to the blue-and-white after three years. Golden state Warriors forward Omri Casspi is not available to play in the qualifiers this month and next February due to the ongoing NBA season. Mekel will replace him as captain.
The first round of qualifying will run until July 2018, with the second round to be played between September 2018 and February 2019.
All results from the first qualification round are carried over to the second round, with the top three in the second round to secure a berth in the World Cup.
“I’m excited. I feel like I’m part of an experiment,” said Katash.
“This is very challenging and I hope we will achieve our goals.”
Mekel, who is playing for Gran Canaria in Spain this season, is confident the new players on the roster will be able to fill the shoes left behind by the likes of Yotam Halperin and Guy Pnini, who were told ahead of the campaign that their services will no longer be required.
“To be the captain of the national team is something that stays with you for the rest of your life,” said Mekel. “It is amazing that I have been part of the national team for nine years. I will try to help as much as I can with my knowledge and experience.
“Israeli basketball has a bright future,” he added. “The team has the most suitable coaching staff for this changing of the guard. players who had less significant roles will have to step up and take on more responsibility.”
Jake Cohen will miss Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague game against Barcelona on Thursday to play for the national team, but Katash said that the reason he didn’t call up any other players from the yellow-and-blue had nothing to do with the conflicting schedules.
“We called up the players we thought could help us,” noted Katash. “We have a broad outlook and are not just thinking about the upcoming games. We are not entering the games in an ideal condition, but we will do our best.”