Hap J’lem tries to focus on Donetsk

With Mac TA showdown looming in league play, Reds can’t overlook Eurocup opener in Kiev.

Yuval Naimi_311 (photo credit: Hapoel Jerusalem Website)
Yuval Naimi_311
(photo credit: Hapoel Jerusalem Website)
Now that it has got its BSL season back on track, Hapoel Jerusalem sets aim on opening its Eurocup campaign with a victory when its visits BC Donetsk in Kiev on Tuesday night.
Pressure levels reached boiling point after Jerusalem began its league campaign with two defeats in three games, but back-to-back wins against Barak Netanya and Maccabi Ashdod helped steady the ship ahead of a visit to Nokia Arena to face Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.
However, before it tackles that daunting prospect, Jerusalem will be looking to get its continental campaign off to a winning start in the hope of eventually making up for last year’s disappointing regular season exit.
In fact, in three of the last four seasons, Hapoel has failed to progress past the first group stage in European competition, and coach Oded Katash knows a win on Tuesday can prove crucial in a group which also includes Cibona Zagreb of Croatia and BCM Gravelines of France.
“We are all very excited to get underway, the Eurocup is a great competition,” Katash said.
“We received a difficult draw and this is far from an easy competition. We have many players without Eurocup experience and I hope the first game goes well. We built a new roster this season and we weren’t really expecting a smooth start.”
The most recognizable name for Israeli fans on Donetsk’s roster is Ramel Curry, who played for Hapoel during the 2007/08 season.
Nevertheless, Katash believes the Ukrainians will pose a serious threat to his team.
“Donetsk is a very good team, with talented players with great skills,” he said.
“Although the game is on the road and we know their gym will be a tough place to win at, we believe in our strength and talent.
“We are facing a tough week, with the game against Maccabi Tel Aviv also on the horizon.
Maccabi prepares for its games against Jerusalem differently than it does for its other league games, but we will only turn our focus to that encounter after the game against Donetsk.”
The Eurocup’s six-game regular season will be played over the next six weeks and will finish on December 20, with the best two from each group advancing.
Games resume on January 17, with the opening of the Last 16 round, which consists of six more games for each team.
The best two teams from each group progress, this time to the two-legged quarterfinals, with the four series winners to play in the knockout Eurocup Finals on April 14 and 15.
D.J. Strawberry, who has been one of Jerusalem’s most consistent performers so far this season, averaging 18.2 points per game in the BSL, believes Hapoel is ready for the start of its Eurocup campaign.
“We are a new team and we need to take one step at a time,” he said.
“We’ve still got plenty of work to do. We need to improve, but I think we are all set for the Eurocup.”