Blue-and-white not looking for excuses ahead of qualifiers

Israel hosts Montenegro on Sunday in first of six qualifiers over 18 days which determine if Israel advances to the European Championships.

Omri Casspi was superb in Israel’s 94-86 victory over Latvia in Bamberg last night, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds. (photo credit: GERMAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION)
Omri Casspi was superb in Israel’s 94-86 victory over Latvia in Bamberg last night, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Despite being forced to play its home games in Cyprus and having to run for cover time and again during training sessions, Israel guard Yotam Halperin admitted there will be no excuse should the national team fail to qualify for EuroBasket 2015.
Israel hosts Montenegro in Nicosia on Sunday in the first of six qualifiers over 18 days which will determine if the blue-andwhite advances to the European Championships for a 12th straight time.
All three of Israel’s home games were moved abroad by FIBA Europe due to the security situation in the country, but Halperin is confident the team should nevertheless secure its progress.
“It is a shame we are not playing in Israel, but if we don’t qualify after six games that will just be a meaningless excuse,” said the Hapoel Jerusalem guard.
“Despite all the problems that we have had - and I don’t remember a campaign with this many problems before even playing the first game - we still need to advance from this group and continue the national team’s long tradition of qualifying for the European Championships.”
Israel will be facing Montenegro for a third straight qualifying campaign, with the blue- and-white winning just one of the previous four meetings over the past four years.
Montenegro is expected to be Israel’s main rival for first place in Group B, even though it will be playing without NBA stars Nikola Pekovic and Nikola Vucevic, as well as the nationalized Tyrese Rice.
The Netherlands and Bulgaria are Israel’s two other opponents in Group B, with the seven group winners, as well as the six-best second-place finishers, to advance directly to next summer’s tournament.
“Montenegro has caused us a lot of problems in the past,” said Halperin. “This is an excellent team with very experienced players.
We didn’t have long to prepare for the qualifiers and we encountered many problems along the way. However, we need to make sure we are ready to play good basketball on Sunday, the way we did in recent warm-up games.”
Following the first qualifier against Montenegro on Sunday, Israel will play three consecutive road games versus the Netherlands (Aug 13), Bulgaria (Aug 17) and Montenegro (Aug 20).
It will then finish the campaign with two home encounters in Cyprus against the Netherlands (August 24) and Bulgaria (August 27), In other basketball news, Maccabi Tel Aviv completed its roster for the upcoming season with the signing of American forward Nate Linhart on Thursday.
The 27-year-old played in Venice, Italy last season, averaging 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while hitting 40.8 percent of his three-point attempts.
Linhart, who signed a three-year deal, is set to come off the bench and will be expected to try and help compensate for the loss of three-point specialist David Blu, who retired after last season.
With Linhart’s addition, the reigning Euroleague champion has bolstered its roster to include 11 senior players.
Jeremy Pargo and Yogev Ohayon will be the team’s point guards, with Marquez Haynes and Sylven Landesberg to share duties at shooting guard while also playing at small forward.
Devin Smith is set to be the team’s starting small forward once more, with Linhart to help in that position, while Brian Randle and Guy Pnini will play as power forwards.
Randle can also play as center, although Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Alex Tyus and Jake Cohen are supposed to be the team’s main big men.
Overall, only six of the players who helped Maccabi to the Euroleague title last season will be back for 2014/15, with the yellow-and-blue losing three key members in Tyrese Rice, Ricky Hickman and Blu, as well as coach David Blatt, who left for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and was replaced by long-time assistant Guy Goodes.