Modest men make their mark

Alberman and Tucker are the Post's basketball and soccer MVPs for the 2007/08 season.

gal alberman 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gal alberman 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
It is said that nice guys finish last, but this clearly is not the case with The Jerusalem Post's MVPs for the Israeli basketball and soccer seasons which ended last week. You will struggle to find two more affable and modest professionals in Israeli sports than Betar Jerusalem's central midfield power force Gal Alberman and Hapoel Holon's inspirational small-forward P.J. Tucker. But while they may be nice guys off the field and court, Alberman and Tucker were anything but nice to their opponents on them, battling in each game as if their lives depended on it and scoring crucial goals and points for what turned out to be the best teams in each of their respective leagues. Both were not only the key players on the teams that won the championships in basketball and soccer last month, but gradually rose to the top as the outstanding performers over the long season. Alberman was a known quantity going into the 2007/08 campaign, having played for Betar in the previous two seasons. This season he was able to build on his foundations and managed to iron out his previous inconsistencies to become the crucial element in the center of the park for Jerusalem. Tucker, on the other hand, arrived in Israel practically fresh out of college and burst on to the local basketball scene with an impact few expected. His season averages of 11.3 points per game and 8.2 rebounds combined with his Final Four stats of 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds illustrated the way he tore apart many of Holon's opponents on the way to a historic BSL championship win on May 29. Talking to the Post in the Holon locker room as his teammates celebrated the incredible last second win over Maccabi Tel Aviv last Thursday, the 23-year-old Tucker remained composed and, as always, paid tribute to the other members of Miki Dorsman's side. "It means a lot, it really does, but I swear I do it for my teammates," Tucker said when asked how he felt being named the Post's season MVP. "These guys come in every day, making sure to give me the ball when I need the ball and making big shots when they need to step up. These guys are unbelievable, man. People said we couldn't do it because we've got a lot of young Israelis, and these guys are unbelievable, man. Unbelieveable. It's all about them." The man who made the number four shirt his own over the 27-game regular season and the two games of the Final Four said he never expected to win such accolades when he arrived in Israel from the NBA's Toronto Raptors. "You can't think about that kind of stuff. I just come out and pour my heart out, put it on thon the line and see what happens," Tucker said. "Sure, once you get here in September, you think about winning it all. You prepare and condition during the year to win it all. We worked hard all season to get to this point, and we got chance to win it." The former Texas star then explained his attitude. "We know that once we get in between those court lines, we turn around and become animals. You have to be an animal. It's not about just making shots but doing all the little stuff: rebounding, getting on the floor, hustle plays." Dorsman's team overcame massive adversity over the course of the season, no more so than in November when the teams fans were banned from four home games after a supporter threw a firecracker onto the court in Jerusalem which blew off two fingers from a security guard's hand. The Holon crowd is known as one of the most vociferous in Israeli sport, packing out the home arena with just under 2,000 people creating an intimidating atmosphere unlike any other in this country. The fans were given a lot of stick for their aggressive attitude, but Tucker said they helped the team to the league title. "Did you see the crowd tonight?" he asked. "There's nothing like our fans. We love them to death, they always come out and support us and we try to get wins for them." Alberman has now all but completed a move to German Bundesliga team Borussia Monchengladbach, but said he will never forget the season he won the league and cup double with Betar, the first time the team has achived such a feat. "We are all happy to be in the history pages of the club, we all deserve it, and I'm sure none of us will ever forget this week," he told thePost while celebrating with the team after beating Maccabi Netanya to clinch the Israeli Premier League last month. Reflecting on winning the Post's season MVP award, Alberman spoke in a similar manner to Tucker. "First of all, I'm very happy that I can help the team. That's the reason I'm here," he said. "There is nothing like winning individual awards, it gives any player the greatest feedback. I'm very happy, but to me, the team's accomplishment is no less important." Like Holon, Betar went through a rollercoaster season before taking the title. The team's fans were also banned from two games at the end of the season after storming the pitch with three minutes left of a game against Maccabi Herzliya. Betar was also punished later for curses against the prophet Muhammed chanted at Bnei Sakhnin fans at the State Cup semifinals. Alberman insisted, however, that the team was not distracted by these events. "These things only strengthen us. The more they attack us, the stronger we become. And after all we've been through, I think next season the team will be much stronger," he said.