Sinai Says: Back to square one for Israeli hoops

There is no bigger patriot than Sherf and Israeli basketball needs a man of his authority and personality to rescue the future of the sport in this country.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli basketball faces the worst crisis in its history, one having little to do with the national team's woeful EuroBasket campaign. Tzvika Sherf's men went winless in the European Championships last week for the first time in 25 appearances, but the three defeats in three games in Poland are only the tip of the iceberg threatening to sink local hoops. Each of the country's three youth teams failed miserably in their respective European Championships this summer, proving beyond a doubt that something is rotten at the foundations of Israeli basketball. Israel's Under-20 and Under-18 teams were relegated to Division B after they both finished in 15th place out of 16 teams, with the Under-16 side just avoiding demotion by ending its tournament in 13th place. The collapse of the Under-20 team is perhaps the most worrying because it affects the immediate future of the senior side. Furthermore, it illustrates exactly what has gone wrong and what can be put right with the nation's younger teams. After all, in 2000 and 2004 the Under-20 team reached the final of the European Championships. There is no reason these achievements should not be repeated in the not too distant future. A combination of causes has brought about Israeli basketball's disastrous summer and correcting them is by no means impossible. While talented coaches used to begin their careers at the youth level, these days, many just coach in the senior leagues straight away. This means that not-so-gifted coaches are the ones teaching the players of tomorrow. Just as significant, the success of a youth coach should not be measured by the amount of wins or titles his team collects, but by the number of capable players he has managed to develop for the senior side. Another problem is that Israel's top youngsters are playing in far too many games. Beside their national team duties, the players also play in the High School league and the Youth league, leaving them with no time to focus on the fundamentals and causing irreversible damage to their game. Despite failing to advance past the first round for the first time in eight championships, the senior side will be able to rely on the likes of Lior Eliyahu, Yotam Halperin, Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel for many campaigns to come and could well achieve success in coming years. However, there is a sharp and sudden drop in talent and depth in the younger teams, which does not bode well for the chances of future squads and leaves Israeli basketball bosses with no option but to implement a comprehensive rebuilding plan. The establishment of a basketball academy at the Wingate Institute in recent months is a move in the right direction, but more can, and must, be done. Sherf might not like the next idea, but he is the man who should lead the revolution in Israeli hoops. The Israel Basketball Association will likely choose to replace him as national team coach anyway, meaning he will have plenty of time to correct all the wrongs which have set Israeli basketball back a generation. Sherf can work with IBA officials to make sure the country's top talents play less games and can keep a watchful eye of how Israel's next stars are being groomed. The 57-year-old veteran has seen and done it all and will make the necessary changes if he is given the power to do so. There is no bigger patriot than Sherf and Israeli basketball needs a man of his authority and personality to rescue the future of the sport in this country. Otherwise, we just might find it is too late.