Blue-and-white braces for busy beginning

Casspi & Co. set to open against Great Britain, followed by Ukraine and France.

Omri casspi 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Israel Basketball Association)
Omri casspi 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Israel Basketball Association)
After missing the past two European Championships, Omri Casspi will finally make his EuroBasket debut on Wednesday afternoon.
Israel faces Great Britain in its Group A opener in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and the blue-and-white’s brightest star will finally have an opportunity to shine on continental basketball’s biggest stage.
The 25-year-old forward, who joined the Houston Rockets two months ago after two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, chose to skip the 2009 tournament after being selected in the NBA draft. He was forced out of the championships two years ago through injury.
This summer’s tournament couldn’t come soon enough for Casspi and he is eager to get the championships underway on the right foot.
“We are very excited ahead of the opener, but I feel no pressure,” said Casspi on Tuesday. “We will enter every game with the aim of winning it, including against France, but Wednesday’s first game is especially important. We will have to be aggressive and play our brand of basketball which includes a lot of movement.”
Following its game against Great Britain, Israel will play Ukraine (September 5) and France (September 6) before having a one-day break ahead of its final group contests against Belgium (September 8) and Germany (September 9).
The top three in the group will advance to the second round. Israel hasn’t progressed past the first group stage since EuroBasket 2003 and has failed to win a meaningful encounter in the past two championships.
Arik Shivek’s side has also won just three of its eight warm-up games and traveled to Slovenia without Dallas Mavericks guard Gal Mekel and with starting center Alex Tyus struggling with injury.
“Tyus is a very important player, especially against Great Britain, but we will have to use him sparingly,” said Shivek.
“There are two basic elements to focus on in this game, defending in transition and defensive rebounding. We have made all the preparations and we are ready.”
Apart from Tony Parker’s France, the 2011 runner-up, Israel believes it can compete with every other team in the group.
However, if the build up to the championships has proven anything it is that the blue-and-white is also capable of losing to any side, something everyone on the team is well aware of.
“Clearly we believe we can succeed in these championships and advance to the second round,” said Guy Pnini, who will celebrate his 30th birthday on Wednesday.
“In order to progress we need to beat Great Britain. We are a very experienced side and we will be mentally ready.”
Great Britain will have inside information on Israel, with Maccabi Tel Aviv assistant coach Guy Goodes also holding the assistant’s position with the Brits.
On paper, Britain has one of the weakest rosters in the tournament, with Chicago Bulls forward Loul Deng skipping the championships.
Ukraine is guided by former NBA coach Mike Fratello, but is also a team the blueand- white will be optimistic of beating.
No one is realistically expecting Israel to get the better of France on Friday, but the national team will be more than happy to settle for two wins from its first three games.