Sinai Says: Naor riding Ussishkin back to prominence

The early signs are very encouraging.

Matan Naor could have easily played in the BSL this season.
At 29-years-old he’s still in the prime of his career, and as a former Israel international he received plenty of offers ahead of the season to display his skills at the top level.
However, Matan Naor is not like any other basketball player. Naor follows his heart rather than his wallet. The material aspect of the world doesn’t appeal to Naor the way it does to most of his colleagues, who often behave like goods in an auction, doling out their services to the highest bidder.
Instead of following the money, Naor chose to join third-division Hapoel Ussishkin, set up by fans of Hapoel Tel Aviv after the demise of their beloved club.
He may be overqualified for a Liga Artzit club, but Naor is enjoying his basketball more than ever. He may have taken a 50 percent salary cut, but Naor signed a three-year contract with the aim of returning to the BSL in the 2011/12 season, this time as an Ussishkin player.
Naor fell in love with the fans of the now deceased Hapoel Tel Aviv when he played at the club in the 2003/04 season and he has every intention of taking their new endeavor all the way to the top.
The early signs are very encouraging.
Formed in the summer of 2007, Ussishkin has gone from strength to strength and seems to be well on its way to promotion to the National League at the end of this season.
Ussishkin was established after Hapoel Tel Aviv, which for years was considered one of the top clubs in the country, was on its way to relegation to the third division and the team’s home court, Ussishkin, (named after the street where it was located) had been demolished by the Tel Aviv Municipality.
A supporters’ trust was created and the team began its life in the fifth tier. Membership was set at an annual fee of NIS 300 and hundreds of fans joined. Legendry singer Arik Einstein became the club’s 1,000th member three weeks ago.
The team, which attracts in excess of 1,000 fans to its home matches – more than several BSL clubs – won all its games in its debut campaign in the fifth division and also easily gained promotion to Liga Artzit last season.
The side continued to strengthen itself ahead of the current campaign, most notably with the addition of Naor. Once more Ussishkin is proving to be head and shoulders above its opponents and currently leads Liga Artzit North with 12 victories in 12 games, winning by an average 30 points per contest.
The future is looking very bright for the fan-run club, which now also owns the name and heritage rights of Hapoel Tel Aviv after the latter was officially liquidated last December.
Naor’s decision may seem risky to some, but choosing to go with his instinct rather than his agent is nothing new to him. After helping the national team advance to the European Championships in September 2008, Naor decided to travel throughout South America, missing the first six months of the season. He eventually returned to play for Ironi Nahariya in the closing stages of the season, but after a short stint at the northern club elected to move on to Ussishkin.
Naor has seemingly intertwined his destiny with that of Ussishkin, one of the better things to have happened to Israeli basketball in the last few years. If the early signs are anything to go by, Naor will not only have the last laugh, but he will have a smile plastered on his face throughout the entire journey.