Israel looks to shed selfish ways to rebound

Finger-pointing mars blue-and-white’s preparation for crucial qualifier at Iceland.

Lior Eliyahu 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Lior Eliyahu 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
As if the shortcomings shown by Israel on court in its two disparaging defeats to Montenegro and Estonia in the EuroBasket 2013 qualification weren’t bad enough, the national team’s players have spent the last few days cowardly pinning the blame on each other for the blue-and-white’s 0- 2 start to the campaign.
While the seven-point loss at Montenegro was no disaster, even though the national team squandered an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, the home defeat to Estonia on Saturday could prove to be the first nail in the coffin of Israel’s hopes of qualifying for an 11th straight European Championships.
Israel held a comfortable 13-point halftime margin in Rishon Lezion before allowing the mediocre Estonians back into the game, essentially gifting the visitors the win with careless defense and selfish play on offense.
The national team’s two consecutive defeats to start the 10-game campaign mean it can no longer afford any more slip-ups, starting with Tuesday’s game at Iceland.
However, Israel will first need to overcome the infighting in the roster which reared its ugly head following the loss to Estonia.
One player, refusing to be named, claimed after the defeat that “some players on this team have too much ego” and “some players don’t speak to their teammates nicely”.
The main target of that criticism was Omri Casspi and the Cleveland Cavs forward answered back in typical fashion ahead of the team’s departure for Iceland.
“It was obvious that some players would begin to criticize their teammates because that always happens after a defeat,” Casspi said.
“Ego problems? That isn’t the reason the Estonians scored 50 points in one half.
“We are playing lazy defense and rebounding poorly.
“There are too many players who are talking and too many players who aren’t listening to the coach.
“They should be working harder.”
Nevertheless, Casspi is confident the blue-and-white can turn matters around with victories over Iceland tonight and Slovakia on Friday.
“I know what potential this team has,” he said. “Our fate is still in our hands.”
Forward Lior Eliyahu insisted that the national team shouldn’t be washing its dirty laundry in public, but one of the biggest rifts in the roster is believed to be between the Maccabi Tel Aviv player and Casspi.
“I sat with Lior and we spoke throughout the flight,” said Casspi, who also denied reports in the US that he is set to leave the Cavs.
“We used to be best friends and we are still friends now and will remain friends after this.
“There are no divisions in the roster and I can’t understand why people are trying to create false disputes.”
The person responsible for refocusing the players and ensuring they are ready to get their campaign up and running with a win in Iceland is coach Arik Shivek and he is confident any differences will be forgotten with a victory on Tuesday.
“Iceland has a very similar style to Estonia and they gave Serbia a tough time,” Shivek warned.
“The defeat to Estonia was like a knife to the heart and people took it really badly.
“We need to claim a win to release some pressure and gain some confidence.
As soon as we win no one will care about any off-court issues.”