The Israel State Cup semifinals will be front and center on Thursday evening as arguably the top four teams in the country will be tipping off for the right to play for the coveted trophy.
Hapoel Jerusalem will play Maccabi Rishon Lezion in the first clash beginning at 6:30 p.m. while Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Hapoel Holon in the nightcap, slated to start at 9:30 p.m., with both games being played at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem head coach Dainius Adomaitis and his Rishon counterpart, Guy Goodes, along with veteran players Idan Zalmanson and Nimrod Tishman, respectively, spoke about the upcoming challenge that both teams are facing.
Jerusalem comes into the clash after falling in its last two league games while also losing in the Champions League and Balkan League, which ousted it from continental competition.
In addition, guard Chris Kramer suffered an injury that will keep him out of action for an extended period of time, adding to the Reds issues entering the contest.
“We are coming into the State Cup match after a few bad games, but we have a good group of guys and we will lay it all out on the line,” said Zalmanson. “We know the importance of the game, and the biggest challenge for us to get everyone on the same page. We feel that we are improving and in one game anything can happen. We will come in with the right mental state.
“After our last loss we had a talk between the players and we are looking at this as a key game to change our season and at Jerusalem we fight for titles. It’s a knockout game and we have a long history with Rishon, but we do see this as super critical for us to turn around our campaign.”
Adomaitis explained that in order to get things going for Jerusalem, practice will be key.
“The most important thing is to make improvements in every practice and we will give it all for 40 minutes. Basketball is simple, if you want to make changes you have to practice and the details as to how we execute them. We have spent time in the practices on these things, but what worries me most is that we have to many ups and downs in the games. It’s a process and I believe in the guys. We need to change some of our bad game minutes to good ones.
Tishman has been a part of Rishon Lezion for a number of years and understands the magnitude of the game for the club.
“We may not be in the best shape, but we know how to put things aside and look ahead to the cup,” said the veteran guard. “We have been in these types of games over the past few years and I hope that with that experience we can use that to our advantage and despite being an underdog there are always surprises in cup games.”
As for Goodes, he feels that the team can put aside any past issues and move ahead without a problem.
“This is a big challenge and we know that we have to play 40 minutes. Despite the issues we have had this season we are putting everything aside to do the best we can and play our best basketball. We have to come in mentally focused, each and every one of us. Jerusalem has some advantages over us in certain positions, but we will know tomorrow for certain if we can flip the switch.”
The second game, between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Holon, will see the league’s two Greek coaches on the sidelines as Ioannis Sfairopoulos will look to win his first cup in the Holy Land while Stefanos Dedas is in search of his first title in the country.
In addition to the bench bosses, the yellow-and-blue’s Yovel Zoosman and Holon’s Guy Pnini also spoke about the battle for the title and a trip to the finals.
“It’s true that since I’m at Maccabi we have yet to win the cup despite winning the league title,” said Sfairopoulos. “The cup is a surprise competition and each team has a 25% chance to win. We have to follow our plan and we respect Holon, which is a team that we are familiar with. We have to stick to our plan and play a totally different game than we did in the last two games against them. Maccabi hasn’t won the trophy in a few years and we always have the motivation to win as that’s the DNA of the club.
“Personally, facing Stefanos is something that I’m very happy and proud of that a colleague of mine from Greece is on the other sidelines, but it’s not a battle between the two of us; rather it’s a battle for the clubs as they will always be here and we will not.”
Dedas also looked ahead to the importance of the game, which will be the first time that Holon will have five foreign players registered, the same as Maccabi, in a move that was spurred on by the fans who helped raise funds to pay the league fee for the right to add an additional import player.
“We are a very ambitious club and we want to be in the Final Four of every competition that we are playing in. We have two steps to take and we are playing Maccabi, which is the strongest team in Israel. We know it will be difficult, but we have to have confidence and be humble. We have to use our strengths and cover our weaknesses. Having five foreigners can give us some better rotations, but mentally we don’t have to worry about the psychological side and not have to sit a player out anymore.
“As for playing against Ioannis, it’s really a battle between the clubs. Ioannis was the first to believe in my talent as a coach, but we are here to watch two clubs who are ambitious and hungry. I’m not even thinking about this as a Greek derby.”
Zoosman is ready to go, but is also aware of the challenges that a team like Holon will present.
“The games between Holon and Maccabi have been very tight with good offense and the keys have been rebounds and defense. Every game is one in itself and what was, was. We are looking at this game to bring our energy and aggressiveness.”
Pnini, who has won cups with both teams, is very aware of what the atmosphere will be like despite the lack of fans in the stands due to the coronavirus. But he also recognized what those same supporters were able to do in support of the team to be able to add the fifth import player.
“I’ve been in these types of games with both teams and they are always pressure packed matches. We will have to be focused from the first minute and we have the belief and confidence as per our results this season.
“It was amazing that during these difficult times everyone is trying to help the club and register five imports. We know how passionate the fans are who donated and contributed to this cause to help management. We all want to be one team on the court and having just four imports dressing always left someone out. Now as a club we are complete.”