Israel takes care of business in Minsk

Israel beat Bulgaria 72-69 on Sunday, ahead of EuroBasket 2011 qualifiers.

omri casspi 311 (photo credit: AP)
omri casspi 311
(photo credit: AP)
Israel capped a successful weekend of warm-up games ahead of next month’s EuroBasket 2011 qualifiers on Sunday, beating Bulgaria 72- 69 in Minsk, Belarus.
Yotam Halperin led the national team with 22 points and was selected as the MVP of the four-team tournament, which Israel ended with a solid 2-1 record.
Arik Shivek’s team lost 80- 71 in overtime to Belarus on Friday, before beating Ukraine 73-65 on Saturday and getting the better of the Bulgarians on Sunday.
Guy Pnini scored 15 points against Bulgaria and ended the tournament as Israel’s top-scorer, averaging 17.4 points over the three games.
Elishay Kadir was another player who impressed in Belarus, scoring in double-figures in each game.
Kadir made the most of the absence of Yaniv Green, Lior Eliyahu, Ido Kozikaro, David Bluthenthal and Omri Casspi, who have all yet to join the side in training.
Green, Eliyahu and Bluthenthal will all link-up with the team in Israel during the coming week, with Casspi to join the national side after the end of the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas next Sunday.
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.
The national team’s group also includes Latvia and Finland.
Casspi is currently training with the Sacramento Kings after going through an intense five-week workout program under trainer Joe Abunassar in Las Vegas.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” said Casspi, who averaged 10.3 points for the Kings and played in the Rookie Challenge during the NBA’s All-Star weekend last season.
“I weigh 224 (101 kilograms) now, 15 (7 kg) more pounds from last year. I feel like I can defend better the threes and the fours in the post.”
Kings coach Paul Westphal hopes the improved fitness of his Israeli forward will help him down the line.
“You have to find a way to stay sharp and stay aggressive for 82 games,” Westphal said.
“He knows what the problem is, and now he’s got to find the solution.”
The Kings play their first summer league game on Monday against the Detroit Pistons and Casspi is hoping to show plenty of improvement from his play in the competition last year, when he averaged 8.0 points and made only 29.5 percent of his shots.
“I’m very excited to wear the Kings jersey again,” Casspi said. “After last year with the bad summer league that I had, I’m excited to play a little bit better.”