Sinai Says: A pleasant twist of fate

Win or lose on Thursday, Holon's amazing rise from the ashes is one of the stories of the year in Israeli sport.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Less than eight months ago, it seemed quite likely that reigning BSL champion Hapoel Holon had played its last game. Owner and coach Miki Dorsman announced that he had no intention of continuing to guide and finance the club, and CEO Toby Schwartz was suddenly faced with the harsh reality of resurrecting a club in ruin, one which no one else wanted to help. Holon mayor Moti Sasson was reluctant to spend city funds on the basketball team and guarantees of donations from the likes of Arkadi Gaydamak turned out to be no more than empty promises. Remarkably, however, Holon is now just one victory away from claiming the second title in its history after advancing to Thursday night's State Cup final against Maccabi Haifa at the Nokia Arena. Schwartz somehow managed to steady the ship, raising just enough financial assistance from the Holon municipality and the league, and crucially hired the perfect man for the head coach's position. A Holon native, the 35-year-old Danny Franco has a wealth of experience despite his young age, previously guiding three different BSL teams as well as Israel's youth side. Franco immediately went to work, signing three key foreign players: Deron Washington, a 2008 second round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons, Curtis Withers, who played the past two seasons in Turkey, and Luis Flores, a Dominican-born, New York City-raised guard. Significantly, Franco complemented his foreigners with promising, albeit unfulfilled, Israeli players, including the likes of Uri Kukia and Lior Lifshitz. Together with the one remnant from last year's triumphant roster, Chris Watson, and late edition Brian Tolbert, the coach assembled a roster capable of challenging for a place in the BSL playoffs, and apparently even good enough to reach the cup final. Franco has done an amazing job ingetting his team to gel quickly and instilled in the side an unwavering fighting spirit, which was on full display in Monday's semifinal win over Ironi Nahariya and will likely play a crucial role in Thursday's final as well. "We're enjoying the moment," Franco said on Tuesday. "We never dreamed that we would reach the cup final." Watson told The Jerusalem Post that he has enjoyed having a point to prove this season, a extra motivation, so to speak. "Last year we had a great team, there's no denying that. But this year we've got a bunch of great guys and I'm actually having more fun this season earning all the wins we did," Watson said after Monday's dramatic semifinal win. "We're a little bit less talented than we were last year but we stick together and come out and fight. We heard people saying we weren't so good. But we're professional athletes and we try and come out and prove them wrong." Holon has done exactly that all season long, winning seven of its first 13 league games, and on Thursday it has a well-deserved chance to cap its unbelievable renaissance with a cup triumph. Win or lose on Thursday, Holon's amazing rise from the ashes is one of the stories of the year in Israeli sport. Moreover, it serves as a pleasant reminder that sports, unlike many other things in life, constantly offers a chance to instantly reverse fortunes. As they say, on the court (or field) you are always only one victory away from being a winner.