Local Hoops: New Hapoel coach Erez raises confidence

Any slip-up by new J'lem coach against Bnei Hasharon would have been met with knowing nods by journalists and fans alike.

Hapoel Jerusalem 224.88 (photo credit: Roi Levy [file])
Hapoel Jerusalem 224.88
(photo credit: Roi Levy [file])
Any slip-up by new Hapoel Jerusalem coach Ziv Erez against Bnei Hasharon on Monday night would have been met with knowing nods by journalists and fans alike. Dan Shamir's former assistant is not widely assumed to have the necessary calibre of skills to turn around the faltering performances of Hapoel, after being sacked from several top tier posts, including at Ramat Hasharon where he lost five of his first six games. However, after one game of his career as head coach of Jerusalem, Erez has given his team a lifeline in its race to reach the Final Four and salvage a season that had been seriously derailed under Shamir. Indeed, watching Jerusalem and Bnei Hasharon on Monday one would have been hard pressed to point to the team which had fallen by the wayside, struggling under the weight of expectations. Hapoel made easy work of dispatching its fellow Final Four challengers, ultimately winning 77-69. Full of confidence in the opening quarter, the performance spoke volumes of the statement which Erez's new side wished to impress on its higher placed opponent. It would have been easy for Erez to have made a statement about how he was breaking with mistakes made earlier in the season when he spoke to The Jerusalem Post after the game, but instead he praised Shamir for what he achieved at the club. "I don't think anything [went wrong under Shamir]. But sometimes a team can lose its momentum and Shamir had bad luck that it was in his time," he said. "We needed to change the coach but I don't think it was his fault. I think he is a great coach." Shamir was often criticized for not becoming engaged enough in personal relations with players. In this respect Erev hinted that he would bring about a change in improving the psychology of the players. "We are talking a lot with the players now, but basically to win is the best solution [to improving moral]." Erez refused to be drawn on whether his side had any realistic chances of making the Final Four. "I am not looking to the Final Four," he said. "I am looking only to the Holon game [next Sunday]. We will take it game by game, then we will see. We are looking to make adjustments and improve, most of the time our concentration will only be on our own game." The prospect of playing for a permanent job next season also seems to be of little importance to Erez. "You know what, I am not a kid anymore, and I really don‚t mind whether I get the job or not," he stated emphatically. After the game Hapoel's Ramel Curry spoke of the resilience which the last week has brought out in the squad, saying that they had trained harder and longer than they had all season. "There was a sense of urgency in training, things were a little tense, everyone stepped up the last couple of days, we knew we had to win and we did," he said. "I think this sense of urgency will last. We know how important it is for us to reach the Final Four." Erez has made the best possible start, but whether he can keep his team playing at the same level will be the real key to how he is rated at the end of the season.