It’s now or never for Hapoel Jerusalem

Despite perfect record in BSL, Reds toil at 1-5 in Eurocup with crucial duel at Volgograd on tap.

Hapoel Jerusalem's Joseph Jones (with the ball) and Derwin Kitchen (photo credit: ODED KARNI)
Hapoel Jerusalem's Joseph Jones (with the ball) and Derwin Kitchen
(photo credit: ODED KARNI)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s Eurocup campaign will be as good as over should it fail to beat Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd in Russia on Wednesday night.
Despite winning just one of its six regular season games to date, Jerusalem is still alive, with four of Group E’s six teams to advance to the Last 32.
Jerusalem is currently in fifth place, two games behind CSU Ploiesti and Volgograd, with only four regular season games to play, including Wednesday’s trip to Russia.
After losing for the third time at home last week (82-78 to Banvit Bandirma) to fall to 1-5, Hapoel will have to do all the hard work on the road if it has any intention of reaching the next stage.
Jerusalem plays three of its final four games away from home and can scarcely afford another slip-up.
Hapoel extended its perfect start to the BSL season on Sunday, beating Maccabi Rishon Lezion 72-64 to improve to 8-0.
However, coach Danny Franco admitted that his players already had one eye on the encounter against Volgograd even prior to the Rishon game.
“There isn’t much to say about this game,” said Franco. “All the players were happy with the way we beat Rishon, but they were already thinking of the game against Volgograd. We will do whatever it takes to get this win as it can open the door for us.”
Jerusalem led by as many as 12 points late in the third quarter of its first meeting against Volgograd in Israel, only to capitulate in the fourth frame and allow the unfancied visitors to eke out a win.
Volgograd has since signed German coach Dirk Bauermann and American guard Randy Culpepper, who has averaged 19.3 points over the team’s past three Eurocup contests.
“When I took over this team, almost a month ago, I found many players who had no trouble getting to the basket, but who had no care of developing a scheme based on tactical offensive basketball,” said Bauermann after Volgograd beat CSU Ploiesti 96-79 last week. “I tried to change their conception about basketball.
We won a very important game against Ploiesti, but this success will not help us with anything unless we impose ourselves against Hapoel.”
Center Pops Mensah-Bonsu is set to make his debut for Hapoel on Wednesday after joining the team last week. The 31-year-old Brit, who played 61 games in the NBA for five different teams between 2006 and 2011, was acquired by Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer of 2012, only to be waived a month later after failing his medical.
Mensah-Bonsu’s move to Olympiacos during the summer was also called off due to injury concerns, but he showed he can still play at the Euroleague level last season, averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game at Galatasaray of Turkey.
Franco believes Mensah-Bonsu can help the team even in limited minutes.
“We expect a lot from him and I think he can make a difference even if he plays 10-15 minutes,” said the coach.
Mensah-Bonsu hasn’t played in a game since June, but is hoping he can already make a contribution on Wednesday.
“It is difficult to gauge because the only way to tell if you are in shape is when you play in a game,” he explained. “We tried to simulate a game in practice and I was able to keep up. I’m in pretty decent shape but we’ll see how it goes on Wednesday. I’m looking forward to it. I think I will be able to keep up with the guys.”