J’lem, TA renew rivalry in fresh venue

Country’s most storied franchises, Maccabi and Hapoel, face off for Winner Cup in capital’s new arena.

Maccabi Tel Aviv player Yogev Ohayon  (photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
Maccabi Tel Aviv player Yogev Ohayon
(photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
Before they get their seasons well and truly underway next week, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv meet for the first time at the new Jerusalem Arena on Thursday night in the final of the pre-season Winner Cup.
The new BSL campaign doesn’t begin for three weeks, but Jerusalem and Maccabi already face significant games next week.
Jerusalem plays CEZ Nymburk of the Czech Republic in the first round of the Euroleague qualifiers next Wednesday and will need to win three games in as many days to advance to the regular season of continental basketball’s premier club competition.
The eight teams in the qualifiers will vie for a single spot in Group A of the regular season alongside Real Madrid, Efes Istanbul, Zalgiris Kaunas, Nizhny Novgorod and Dinamo Sassari of Italy.
The seven remaining sides will be handed a berth in the Eurocup regular season.
The qualifying tournament will take place in Ostend, Belgium between September 23 and 26. Should Hapoel beat Nymburk, it will play the winner of the game between Russian power-house Unics Kazan and Basket Zielona Gora of Poland in the second of three possible rounds.
Maccabi will fly to South America next week to face Liga de las Americas champion Flamengo in the 2014 FIBA Intercontinental Cup. The two-game series will be played at the Gimnasio Maracanazinho Arena in Rio de Janeiro, with the opening encounter scheduled for Friday, September 26 and Game 2 set to take place two days later.
The Intercontinental Cup, which dates back to 1966, was dormant for nearly two decades before its revival last season, when then Euroleague champion Olympiacos Piraeus defeated Pinheiros Sky for the cup.
The yellow-and-blue will then travel to the US where it will face the Cleveland Cavaliers and former coach David Blatt on October 5 before playing the Brooklyn Nets two days later.
However, before Jerusalem and Maccabi move on to their missions abroad, they will want to cap their preparations with a morale-boosting triumph on Thursday.
Both sides had little trouble advancing to the final. Jerusalem beat Hapoel Holon 86-61 in the quarterfinals on Monday and overcame Hapoel Tel Aviv 89-70 in the semis a day later. The yellow- and-blue cruised to a 73-58 victory against Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the quarters before defeating Ironi Ness Ziona 106-90 in the semifinals.
Jerusalem is hoping to claim its first Winner Cup since 2009 when current Maccabi coach Guy Goodes guided it to the title. Maccabi has since won the past four installments of the competition.
Despite its relatively impressive form at this stage of the season, new Jerusalem coach Danny Franco still feels his team is far from ready for next week’s Euroleague qualifiers.
“We are improving with every day, but overall we are extremely behind in our preparations,” he said. “We couldn’t tell foreign players to come here while there were rockets falling and we had several players with the Israel national team until the end of August. We will try to prepare the team the best way possible for next week. It is important for this club to reach the Euroleague.”
Only six senior players are back from last season, with Jerusalem bringing in three new Americans, including last season’s BSL MVP Donta Smith, and Tony Gaffney and Joseph Jones, who only arrived in Israel last Wednesday.
Sylven Landesberg led Maccabi to the win in the semis with a career-high 36 points, hitting 13-of-15 field-goal attempts, including six three pointers.
Maccabi will be without the injured Devin Smith and Brian Randle once more on Thursday, meaning Landesberg should have another opportunity to prove his worth.
“Goodes spoke to me before the season and told me he expects a lot from me and I know I need to work hard to achieve that,” said Landesberg, who spent much of the past two seasons on the Maccabi bench.
Former Maccabi forward and current Jerusalem star Lior Eliyahu can’t wait to play in front of a sold-out crowd in the first showdown between the teams at the new arena.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of fans and we want to win this competition,” said Eliyahu. “It may not be the championship or the State Cup or even the Euroleague qualifiers, but it is a title and we want to take it.”
Thursday on TV: Winner Cup final: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Hapoel Jerusalem (live on Sport5 at 8:45 p.m.)