Israel hits the gym ahead of EuroBasket qualifying campaign

National team coach Arik Shivek looks to lower expectations for Omri Casspi.

Israel held its first training session of the summer on Wednesday to prepare for the EuroBasket 2011 qualifiers, and national team coach Arik Shivek looked to lower expectations for Omri Casspi, saying that the Sacramento Kings forward is “one of the national team’s leading players but should not be expected to carry the side on his back.”
When the qualifying games begin in a month, Israel will play the first of its eight qualifiers in Group A away at Italy on August 2 and will end its campaign on the road against Montenegro on August 29. Israel’s group also includes Latvia and Finland.
The winners of the three qualifying groups and the two best second-place teams will qualify for the European Championships automatically, with the six best remaining teams to compete in the additional qualifying round, the winner of which will earn the final spot at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania.
Casspi was among several Israel players to miss the side’s first training session on Wednesday after receiving a special exemption, as he is currently preparing for the start of the NBA summer league with the Kings.
Also missing was Maccabi Tel Aviv forward David Bluthenthal – who will be playing for Israel for the first time – as well as forward Lior Eliyahu and centers Yaniv Green and Ido Kozikaro.
Much will be expected from Casspi this summer after an outstanding rookie season in the NBA in which he averaged 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds.
However, Shivek was keen to take some pressure off the Yavne native on Wednesday by saying that he will not be the out-and-out star of the team.
“There will be a lot of pressure on Omri after his amazing season inthe NBA,” Shivek said of Casspi, who missed last year’s EuropeanChampionships to prepare for the NBA draft.
“Some people expect him to score for Israel double the amount he scoredin the NBA, but it doesn’t work that way. Omri will contribute his partwhen he needs to, but he will not be scoring 40 points a game.”
Despite a tough draw, Shivek is confident Israel can achieve its goal and qualify for the EuroBasket tournament.
“It is no secret that our one and only aim is to reach thechampionships,” he said. “We are facing strong teams. Montenegro hasyet to lose an official game, Italy is a good team and Latvia andFinland will also give us a tough time. We will give our all on courtto achieve our goal.”