Growing pains could be 1st step toward success

Sinai Says: Israel’s stars are only now entering their prime and the next few years could be golden ones for the national team.

ARIK SHIVEK 390 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel’s performances in its seven EuroBasket 2013 qualifying games to date have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, including everything in between.
The only common denominator between the blue-and-white’s displays over the past three weeks is that they have left Israel fans scratching their heads time and again, trying to understand what they had just witnessed.
After all, how can you explain squandering a 17- point lead on the way to a humbling home defeat to Estonia, a team Israel went on to thrash by 31 points on the road two weeks later? And what about that win against Serbia? Serbia has struggled by its standards in the last couple of years, but how on earth do you rationalize a convincing win against the finalist from EuroBasket 2009 when you remember how badly Israel faltered in the closing stages of both its games against Montenegro, twice squandering promising fourth-quarter leads.
The result of all of this is that the national team enters its final three qualifiers over the next week with its fate still in its own hands, but nonetheless praying that results in other groups go its way.
Home wins against Iceland and Slovakia followed by a road victory against Serbia in Belgrade will guarantee Israel automatic qualification from second place in Group A.
But the blue-and-white doesn’t really believe it can beat the Serbs on the road, meaning it will require some favors to make sure it is one of the four best third-places teams from the six groups which will also progress to the European Championships.
The blue-and-white should never have found itself in this situation.
Even the Israel squad which reached the EuroBasket 2003 quarterfinals (the blue-and-white’s best finish in the last 30 years) was nowhere near as naturally gifted as the current national team.
Omri Casspi has admirably put his disappointing season with the Cleveland Cavaliers behind him to play better than ever before for Israel, averaging 19.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, impressing with his accuracy from both two-point range (66.7 percent) and from beyond the arc (53.1%).
Lior Eliyahu will never be one of the world’s greatest defenders, but he remains a constant threat on the offensive end, registering 16.3 points per game.
One of the biggest questions ahead of the campaign was would Yogev Ohayon be able to build on his breakout season at Maccabi Tel Aviv? He has answered with an emphatic yes, and has been nothing short of sublime, averaging 10.7 points, 5.4 assists and a team-best 6.7 boards.
The addition of the nationalized Alex Tyus (10.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg) has also strengthened the team’s play, giving Israel a threat in the paint it hasn’t possessed in many years.
However, while Israel’s big three together with Tyus have done their part, the blue-and-white has received little to nothing from the remainder of its roster, which includes the talented Yotam Halperin, Guy Pnini, Raviv Limonad, Gal Mekel, Elishay Kadir and Yuval Naimi.
Halperin and Pnini have simply underperformed, while the rest have had few opportunities to prove their worth, with coach Arik Shivek only using a very short rotation in most of the qualifiers.
Shivek’s decision has not only frustrated many of the players, but may well have also hurt the side’s chances of closing out games.
Israel held fourth-quarter leads before dropping to all three of its defeats, with fatigue surely being a factor when you take into account that the 10-game campaign is played within less than four weeks.
Nevertheless, Israel has still got every chance of reaching the European Championships for an 11th straight time.
Plenty of mistakes have been made this summer, but they will be far easier to correct at EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia.
While the blue-and-white players have exhibited many frailties over recent weeks, they have also shown vast promise.
Israel’s stars are only now entering their prime and the next few years could be golden ones for the national team.
This summer’s growing pains have been maddening at times, but as long as Israel manages to overcome them, the future looks to be bright.