Sinai Says: New Israel coach Edelstein must overcome murky basketball politics to bring success

Edelstein’s first mission will be to lead the blue-and-white to EuroBasket 2015 qualification.

Erez Edelstein (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Erez Edelstein
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Barring any unexpected developments, Erez Edelstein will officially be named as the new coach of the Israel national basketball team on Wednesday.
Had this appointment not been under the jurisdiction of the Israel Basketball Association, we would already be congratulating the 52-year-old on his new role after he was unanimously recommended for the position by the IBA’s professional committee last Thursday.
However, since he was endorsed for the job last week, Edelstein has refused to comment on the matter, let alone answer questions regarding the national team. He knows all too well that when it comes to the IBA, you don’t count your chickens before they are hatched, as you may wake up to discover that the chickens you thought were yours have not only been snatched away, but have also left you covered with feces.
The shambolic process that will in all likelihood lead to the appointment of Edelstein as coach is the perfect example of that.
Edelstein always seemed like the frontrunner for the position after it became apparent that Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt would turn down the opportunity. Blatt looked to be the perfect man for the job. He has recorded remarkable success at every level over the past decade, including with the Russia national team for seven years, winning an Olympic bronze medal in London 2012, as well as leading the side to the European title in 2007 and a bronze medal in EuroBasket 2011.
However, Blatt told IBA chairman Dan Halutz that due to the uncertainty regarding his future at Maccabi he can’t commit at this time to spending the entire summer with the national team.
The role was also offered to former Maccabi coach Pini Gershon, who hasn’t coached since being sacked by the yellow-and-blue almost four years ago. He rejected it, claiming he has other commitments.
That left Edelstein as the favorite, although the rebuffs from Blatt and Gershon renewed Arik Shivek’s hope of being handed a contract extension despite the mediocre results he recorded with the side over the past four years.
Israel reached the past two EuroBasket tournaments under Shivek’s guidance, but failed to progress past the first round in both championships, finishing bottom of Group A with a humiliating 1-4 record last summer.
Halutz ultimately decided that he wanted to start afresh with a new coach and Edelstein, who has recorded tremendous success with Hapoel Tel Aviv over recent years and has long been considered as one of the country’s top coaches, seemed like the natural successor.
That was before the dirty world of politics entered the fray last week.
Halutz denies any such claims, but how else can you explain his decision to dramatically turn his back on Edelstein and offer the job to Tzvika Sherf just days before the professional committee was scheduled to rubberstamp the chairman’s choice? Sherf is undoubtedly one of the greatest coaches in Israeli basketball history.
The 62-year-old won 10 local championships during his time with Maccabi Tel Aviv, also leading the side to three European finals.
He has also guided the national team over a total of 13 years through three tenures, the first of which began in 1984, with the last ending in 2009.
So how did Halutz go from wanting to start anew to giving the post to the man who has held the role of Israel coach longer than anyone else in history? It is believed that the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv chairman and IBA vice-chairman Shimon Mizrahi, who often develops an automatic dislike to anything connected with Hapoel Tel Aviv, objected to the appointment of Edelstein and, combined with the political benefit Halutz was set to reap from handing the position to Sherf, led to the latter receiving and accepting the role.
A year-and-a-half ago, Sherf decided to enter the murky arena of IBA politics.
He was named as the head of the Oz faction, which won nine seats on the board, but he lost in a bid to be named as chairman of the IBA. He also came up short for a second time when he attempted to inherit former IBA chairman Avner Kopel’s position last August, with former IDF Chief of Staff Halutz ultimately being voted into the job.
Sherf remained in the opposition, but Halutz nevertheless offered him the role of the head of the professional committee.
Four months ago, Sherf caused a new storm of controversy when he wrote to the IBA complaining about irregularities in the association, prompting Halutz to demand that he withdraw the letter he sent. When Sherf refused to do so, the new chairman canceled his appointment.
An outraged Sherf went on to blame Halutz for not telling the truth and slandering the Oz faction before stating, in a letter sent to the media, that he has no trust in the chairman and that Halutz has no trust in him.
But somehow that thorny relationship has miraculously changed, so much so that Halutz decided Sherf is the best man to coach the national team.
Unfortunately for Halutz, Sherf, who currently coaches Maccabi Rishon Lezion, was unwilling to resign from his position on the IBA board in order to get the job, agreeing only to take a leave of absence during the campaign itself.
Therefore, he withdrew his name as a candidate hours before the professional committee convened, effectively leaving Edelstein as the last man standing.
“David Blatt said that at this time he can’t accept the job, Pini Gershon claimed that he has other commitments and Tzvika Sherf withdrew his name this morning,” an IBA press release read.
“The IBA thinks that all the candidates with whom it met were worthy and the choice was made between good alternatives,” was the not-so-ringing endorsement Edelstein received from his new employer.
Nevertheless, Edelstein’s appointment should finally be made official on Wednesday, bringing to an end a shameful farce that further tainted the IBA’s reputation and caused the coach unwarranted embarrassment.
Edelstein’s first mission will be to lead the blue-and-white to EuroBasket 2015 qualification. Israel will face Montenegro, Bulgaria and Netherlands in Group B between August 10 and 27, with the seven group winners, as well as the sixbest second-place finishers, to advance directly to the tournament in Ukraine.
Edelstein has proven throughout his career - and perhaps more than ever in his time at Hapoel – that he can get a mediocre roster to play better than the sum of its parts. That is exactly what he will need to achieve with the current Israel squad as it aims to regain its pride following poor showings in the past three European Championships. Edelstein has rightfully earned his opportunity, overcoming obstacles he never deserved to face. A complete overhaul of the IBA is required in order to rout out the rotten running we have experienced in recent weeks. However, assuming there isn’t another disgraceful twist on Wednesday, Edelstein can finally turn his focus to what he does best, coach basketball.
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