Personnel changes abound as Lubin hopes to guide Israeli champs through to Euroleague.
By ALLON SINAI
Four months after claiming the BSL championship in stunning fashion, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil will embark on a new era on Tuesday night when it hosts Serbia’s Hemofarm Stada Vrsac at Nokia Arena in the first leg of the Euroleague’s first qualifying round.Gilboa beat Maccabi Tel Aviv in the BSL title game in May to claim the second championship in club history, but the team has gone through a complete overhaul since.Triumphant coach Oded Katash left for Hapoel Jerusalem, with his assistant Lior Lubin promoted to run the side.Gal Mekel, Guni Izraeli, Avishai Gordon and Dagan Yavzuri are the only players remaining from last season’s roster, with Gilboa choosing to rebuild around young recruits.Only three of Hapoel’s players are older than 25, and combined with the fact that Lubin – who turned 33 this past Sunday – will be making his headcoaching debut on Tuesday, Gilboa finds itself facing an uphill battle.“It is too early in the season to predict the strength of the teams,” Lubin said on Monday. “Vrsac has experience at these levels and its coach has been here before.I’m very excited ahead of this match. It is a great honor for me and for the club and the players. We are trying to remain positive despite our injuries. We will suffer from Izraeli’s absence, but I believe the other players will fill his shoes.”With a return leg in Serbia still to come on Friday, Gilboa would love to claim a significant victory in the first leg. However, after the changes of recent months, the hosts will be happy to settle for any kind of win on Tuesday.For that to happen, Lubin’s deep frontcourt of Warren Carter, Tyler Wilkerson, Leo Lyons and veteran Ido Kozikaro will have to give the tall Serbians a fight under the baskets. Mekel will have the responsibility of dictating the team’s play, with playmaker Jack McClinton and Rodney Green to help in the backcourt.Like Gilboa, Vrsac is looking to reach the Euroleague group stage for the first time in club history. The Serbian league runner-up has also gone through wholesale changes in the summer.The Israeli champion will have to keep a close eye on big men Milivoje Bozovic and Jerome Jordan, in addition to Milan Macvan – Vrsac’s biggest star – who played for the Serbia national team in this month’s World Championships.Veteran playmakers Miljan Pavkovic and Bojan Krstovic will handle the ball for the Serbs, with guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid – the team’s only American – set to debut for head coach Zeljko Lukajic.With Gilboa needing to come through three home-and-away ties to make the group stage, no one at the club is currently thinking of joining Maccabi Tel Aviv in the regular season, with the yellow-and-blue guaranteed a place in the groups thanks to a longterm agreement it holds with the competition organizers.However, Kozikaro is at least hoping the Euroleague qualifiers will help Gilboa gel ahead of the upcoming season.“We're going through a rebuilding process,” Kozikaro said. “We have a young team and our foreigners are inexperienced. I hope that doesn’t cost us.”
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