Dan Shamir thrown into the Hapoel Jerusalem cauldron
'To appoint a coach that has never guided a team before is an unusual move for Hapoel that required courage'
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Some years ago, when new Hapoel Jerusalem coach Dan Shamir lived in the US, he was asked by a future NBA trainer why he chose to become a basketball coach.
Shamir responded with all the standard answers: "I love coaching," "I love the game" and "this is my identity".
The American coach gave him a peculiar look and said, "It's your decision and I made the same choice. But be prepared to suffer. I was 31, with two girls and had no money to heat the house."
There is no need to worry about Shamir's house temperature as the salary from Hapoel should be more than enough to pay the electricity bill.
However, as many former Jerusalem coaches can testify, the job of guiding Hapoel can very quickly become a painful experience.
The pressure of coaching in Jerusalem is only surpassed in Israel by the head coaching position at Maccabi Tel Aviv and the 31-year-old Shamir will need to also cope with the added stress of being a rookie coach.
"It's a new challenge, but it doesn't concern me," Shamir told The Jerusalem Post ahead of his first season as a head coach. "I don't think about the bad things that can happen. I only think of the good.
"I think of the victories and not of the defeats. I have no worries about being a first-year coach."
Shamir played as a teenager for the Maccabi Jerusalem youth club, but soon realized that his future was on the sidelines rather than on the court. He began coaching at 17 and at a later stage, spent a year at the University of Kentucky learning from legendary coach Rick Pittino.
His professional coaching career began at Hapoel Jerusalem, where he guided the youth squad before being promoted to assistant coach in the 2001/02 season by then head coach Yoram Harush. He remained in the capital as an assistant for one more season before leaving for the same position at bitter rival Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Shamir spent three years under Pini Gershon and followed his mentor out of the club over the summer after receiving the surprising offer from Hapoel to become its head coach.
"To appoint a coach that has never guided a team before, is something that has not happened in Jerusalem in the last few years," Shamir said. "It is an unusual move for Hapoel that required courage. Nevertheless, I'm happy they decided to make the move and that they felt I'm the right man for the job."
Erez Edelstein guided Jerusalem last season to second place in the league, to the State Cup final and to the ULEB Cup semifinal, but was nonetheless sacked by the club at the end of the season.
Shamir realizes the level of expectation he faces, and that his team will need to do well on all fronts if he is to be considered a success.
"Hapoel Jerusalem always aspires to succeed in all competitions," Shamir asserts. "We are a team that competes at the highest levels and we want to do well.
"You won't hear me say that we are going to win all the titles, that is not my nature. I think that would be wrong. Our goal is to get ourselves in the position where we can win trophies.
"Jerusalem had a successful season last year, but the coach didn't continue and that's a fact. Hapoel management made its decisions and at the end of the day, that is what brought me here."
Despite never playing at a professional level, Shamir feels he is not necessarily at a disadvantage. "There are all kinds of routes that can be taken to becoming a coach," he explained. "There is no one formula to become a successful coach.
"I don't treat [not playing professionally] as a limitation.
However, someone who has been a player has an extra perspective of the game and that can be an advantage. At some stage in a coach's life, he becomes only a coach and his career as a player becomes irrelevant."
Like all of the coaches in the BSL, Shamir will need to adjust this season to a new rule that was imported from the Russian league, which specifies that each team must have at least two Israelis on the court at all times.
"The local leagues had to come up with a solution," Shamir notes. "On the one hand, limiting the foreign players hurts the teams taking part in European competitions. On the other hand, it's inconceivable that a club will play without any local players.
"The Russian rule is a reasonable solution and I'm in favor of it."
Shamir will guide Jerusalem for the first time in a league game on Sunday night and he faces the toughest possible opponent at the toughest possible venue: Maccabi Tel Aviv at Nokia arena.
Despite the dramatic changes that Maccabi has gone through over the summer, Shamir still believes that the yellow-and-blue will continue to be as strong as ever this season. "Anybody who is writing Maccabi off doesn't understand the type of players that have arrived at the team," he said.
"I know Tel Aviv well and I think a lot of people will eat their words. Maccabi has built a strong squad and I have no doubt that it will continue to be the Maccabi we know and it will continue to compete at the top of European basketball."
As far as his team is concerned, Shamir stressed that the key is patience and that his club should not be judged too early in the season. "We are only at the beginning of the road and no team is at its peak at the start of the season," he said.
"A side is shaped throughout the year from the games it plays and the challenges it faces along the way. Obviously, I'm not pleased with our current form, but no coach is at the start of October.
"We have been training together for six weeks and the team is practicing well. We are ready for the start of the BSL."
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