The Friday Interview: Hapoel's coach stays focused on success

Shamir discusses unemotional approach to basketball which won cup.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Two weeks to the day after his team won an historic second consecutive State Cup final thanks to a fourth quarter comeback of epic proportions, Dan Shamir relaxes quietly in the audience at Beit Hanassi. Sitting alongside President Shimon Peres on a small stage at the front of the room are Hapoel Jerusalem's captain Erez Markovitch, chairman Danny Klein and the club's financial backer Arkadi Gaydamak. The gathering of a hundred or so people has been organised to congratulate Hapoel on it's impressive achievement, coming back from 22 points down to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv. But rather than taking the limelight Shamir prefers to stay in the background. The coach speaks matter-of-factly on his feelings about the morning with The Jerusalem Post. "For any Israeli it is a great honor to be here. It is our second time and every time it is a new honor and we are very pleased to be here," Shamir says. Although Hapoel did not have to play Maccabi in last year's State Cup competition, beating Bnei Hasharon in the final, Shamir insists both achievements are significant. "I don't think it is bigger than last year. You cannot compare the titles and I've been part of winning the Euroleague a few times with Maccabi and winning cups here and every achievement is big in its own way," he insists as he begins to think back to the run to the cup final. "The cup final two weeks ago was an amazing game and the whole road to the cup was very tough. We beat Bnei Hasharon with injuries in the quarterfinal, the game against Holon in the semis was one of the toughest and both emotionally and physically we were exhausted at the end. Obviously, winning the final after being down 18 [points] by the end of the third quarter was unique, special and very satisfying." Since taking over from Erez Edelstein nearly two years ago at the helm of the club he grew up at, Shamir has become a controversial character, driven towards making Jerusalem the number one challenger to Maccabi Tel Aviv's never-ending dominance. Considering that he previously spent a number of years working as a deputy coach at Maccabi, Shamir clearly knows what he is up against. Last year Jerusalem came within a second of winning the league title for the first time, before Jamie Arnold scored a last gasp lay up to give the championship to the yellows. Ironically, Arnold moved across to Hapoel in the summer and has become the driving force in his new team's quest to overcome the odds. Jerusalem does not want to be second best for much longer. "The cup even now is history. It is not on our minds any more," Shamir stresses, while looking around the emptying reception room. "We are pleased to be here because it is a very special experience for everybody in the organization and it is very important, but for us - the players and the coaches - the cup is not on our minds any more. We have to separate. On a day-to-day basis we have our work to do and winning the cup belongs to the history books." Shamir's "work" continues on Sunday night at Maccabi Rishon Lezion in the BSL. Hapoel is currently in fifth place in the league and it is time for the team to step up a level if it is to make it into the final four again. Next up will be the massive game in Turkey in the second leg of the ULEB Cup last 32 against Besiktas. Although nearly every Hapoel game is full of emotion, especially the home matches at the packed Malha Arena, Shamir takes what some have described as a scientific approach to coaching. "I wouldn't say it is scientific," he says when questioned on his style of managing the team. "As a coach I approach the game focusing less on the emotional part of it and more on what I can control and what I need to repair and doing my part of the job. "I'm not saying there aren't other aspects to it and some people put more of the focus on the mental side and the by-products of the game, but this just isn't my approach. I know there are a lot of emotions and asides because the game is very emotional, but my approach is to deal with what I can do to influence the game." The issue of player confidence is always important and Shamir says he does what he can to help. "Sometimes what I can do for the team is on the emotional side but most of the time it is down to preparation. We spend a lot of time using scouts and we break down the information. "We analyze every part of the game - we can analyze statistics, videos and we prepare. It is a major part of what I do everywhere I've been. In Maccabi and in Jerusalem." With Gaydamak's backing Shamir hopes that he can turn the tables on his former club and move up a notch, relying on his depth of analysis as well as quality players such as Markovitch, Dror Hajaj and Timmy Bowers. He knows it will take time but right now Shamir is focused, as always, on the next game.