The stars of the future shine

Maor Buzaglo and Yuval Naimi chosen as Post's young players of the season.

Buzaglo 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Buzaglo 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Yuval Naimi wasn't even supposed to play for Ironi Ashkelon this season. After two mediocre years at Givat Shmuel, the 22-year-old was looking forward to making a return to Hapoel Jerusalem, the club he supported as a child. Jerusalem's coach at the time Dan Shamir had other plans, however, and stocked up on players in Naimi's position, forcing the point guard to go on exile once more. Shamir would live to regret his decision as Naimi blossomed at Ashkelon and Hapoel fell to pieces as the season progressed, missing Naimi's quality in the backcourt. Naimi led relegation favorite Ashkelon within one game of the BSL Final Four, putting up very impressive numbers throughout the campaign. The playmaker began the season with a 25 point performance against Maccabi Rishon Lezion and never looked back. Naimi averaged 14.4 points and 3.8 assists per game in 32.3 minutes on court this season, failing to reach double-figures just three times in 27 league games. In the 2005/06 season, Naimi caught basketball fans attention for the first time when he scored 20 points or more in three straight games. He failed, however, to perform consistently and faded back into obscurity. This season, Naimi showed that he's capable of playing at his very best week in week out and proved that he's one of the league's better point guards. Naimi is still under contract at Jerusalem and he's set to finally return to the Malha Arena this summer. Jerusalem is still searching for a coach, but whoever guide's the team next year will surely not repeat Shamir's mistake of passing on Naimi last year. Maor Buzaglo was always tipped for success. As a teenager playing in the Maccabi Haifa youth system his talent was obvious and he was chased by European clubs throughout his teenage years, even spending a few months training with perennial French champion Lyon. Last season Buzaglo was farmed out on loan to Hapoel Petah Tikva, and while he showed glimpses of brilliance in his 24 appearances, Hapoel was relegated and Buzaglo moved on. This season, however, has been a different story. Since moving to Bnei Sakhnin and linking up with Armenian striker Ilya Yavruyan, the 20-year-old Buzaglo has more than fulfilled his promise, becoming the super star player in what may have otherwise been an average team. Sakhnin had only been promoted from the National League in the summer, but Buzaglo's stunning runs and turns of pace inspired the Arab team to rise to the top third of the league standings for much of the season and challenge for a UEFA Cup spot. That it would have been disappointed with a fourth place finish shows the ambition of the club, much of which was powered by Buzaglo who scored nine goals and passed 12 assists in the 33 games he played. Sakhnin was the only club which didn't lose any of its three league games against champion Betar Jerusalem and Buzaglo was essential in the two wins the northern side achieved at Teddy Stadium in the capital. In January he scored a stunning last minute goal to give his team a 1-0 win over Jerusalem and just last weekend scored the opener in a 2-1 win. His fearless attitude, which could be compared to that of England striker Michael Owen when he burst on to the scene back in 1997, attracted the interest of Israel national team coach Dror Kashtan, and Buzaglo made his debut for the blue and white in the Euro 2008 qualifying win over Russia in November. But it wasn't all plain sailing for Buzaglo. He suffered his fair share of setbacks, including missing a crucial penalty in the shoot out Sakhnin lost against Betar in the early rounds of the State Cup. However, while he also lost some of his form around the middle of what proved to be a long season, Buzaglo showed his maturity by returning to the fore in the last round. He is expected to transfer to Alex Shnaider's Maccabi Tel Aviv in the coming days and could very well use the big stage to establish himself as one of the best players in the country.