When Simmy Reguer was named the interim basketball coach of Ironi Hadera in mid-January, it was the biggest news to hit Israel's National League in some time. The second division is better known for teams on the treadmill between promotion to or relegation from the top flight, then as a place for high-profile coaches, but Reguer's return would have been cause for excitement any place and under any circumstances.
Reguer's return to coaching after a hiatus of more than 10 years and his recent return as color commentator on Channel 5's NBA broadcasts is a happy occasion for the local basketball world, as well as the basketball loving public. His broad knowledge, wit, animated, opinioned style and unique point of view enrich the Israeli basketball scene.
While in America these days it's in vogue to bring veteran coaches out of retirement, Reguer's appointment to the Hadera job was accidental. Hadera's team owner Shaul Ben-David was out of a coach and out of money, and asked Reguer to do an old friend a favor. Reguer had assumed that his 18-year coaching career was over in 1992 when he left Ironi Ra'anana, fed up with the intrusiveness and poor decision-making that he saw as prevalent in Israeli basketball. "I decided to help Shaul when he agreed not to interfere and also I couldn't turn down a friend," says Reguer.
Even though Hadera is 0-5 since Reguer took over, he feels it's great to be back. "I love working with young players and I also love the competition." Reguer has always been a hands-on coach, who gets on to the practice court with his players. The new job is also, "getting me a lot of exercise and helping me lose some weight," adds Reguer.
Although the American-born Reguer was a player for seven years in the Israeli league and a long-time successful coach, for top clubs like Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem he's best known in Israel for his NBA broadcasts.
Reguer has done more to Americanize the basketball experience for the Israeli public then any other figure. His heavily accented Hebrew, frequently interspersed with English, an intimate knowledge of the U.S. basketball scene and a familiarity with it's slang and jargon, gives his viewers a hip, informed, insider's look at the NBA game.
For more than 10 years he teamed up with Ofer Shelach, and the duo became an "institution" that approached cult status. Young Israelis tuned in, just as often for the repartee, as for the game.
Reguer's trademark saying, "rak reshet" - a Hebrew version of "nothing but net" - has even seeped into everyday Israeli slang.
Despite the glitter of the NBA and broadcasting, developing young Israeli players and coaches, through his former basketball camp and his ongoing connection with America's famous Five Star Basketball Camp, is what's closest to Reguer's heart.
Simcha Reguer was born 58 years ago, in the Washington Heights section of New York City, the scion of a long line of rabbinical scholars. His grandfather was a Talmudic scholar and chief rabbi of the Beit Din (religious court) of Brest, Poland. His father taught for 40 years at New York City's prestigious Yeshiva University. Reguer thought he was totally breaking the mold by deciding not to go into the rabbinate and by rejecting orthodoxy, but in some ways continued the family tradition, as an educator in his chosen field of basketball.
For eight years, Reguer ran a basketball camp in Israel, based on the model of the Five Star Camp. Officially it was only for players, but Reguer used some of his time to teach his coaches and helped develop some of the best upcoming young coaching talent in the country. He even succeeded in bringing over famous American coaches like Hubie Brown and John Calipari to lecture.
The camp was hardly a walk in the park. Reguer teaches students and young players that only through hard work can they improve. After the camp, Reguer would take a group for additional sessions at Five Star.
Five Star is a mecca for basketball education. More then 300 NBA and college coaches have attended throughout the years as well as countless NBA players. Reguer's long-time association with the camp has provided him with a connection to the highest ranks of American basketball, which he has used to improve Israeli basketball. Reguer has helped scores of talented young Israelis get placed in American high school and college basketball programs, most notably Doron Sheffer and Amit Tamir.
Ironi Hadera's players are still in the process of adjusting to their new coach. "We didn't know anything about Simmy as a coach," says forward Itzik Cohen, "but we all knew him from the NBA broadcasts and were very excited about his coming. I figured, in any case, it would be a real experience and it certainly has been."
Just what that experience is was hard for Cohen to define. Reguer's coaching style is intense, animated and bellicose. "I can't really say," answered Cohen. "It's just Simmy."
What Cohen can recognize, though, is Reguer's dedication to detail. "Simmy's like an old-fashioned coach. There are certain things that are important that he wants to get across, and he'll drill them over and over again until we get it right. He believes that it's the little things that win ball games." On Hadera's present losing streak, Cohen says, "it's never easy losing but I think we are slowly getting there."
Former Maccabi Tel Aviv stalwart Willie Sims undoubtably knows Simmy better then his current players. Reguer was Sims' first coach when he came to Israel in the early 1980s. "Simmy is a good coach who really knows the game and I'm glad he's back in coaching. He works his players hard but he's out there sweating with them and works as hard as they do. He screams a lot but that's just his way and the older players realize he's only doing it to make them better."
Highly critical of local basketball's internal politics, the short sighted management of many of the top teams and the lack of vision of the league in general, it's important that Reguer's different vantage point gets to be voiced. According to Sims, "often Simmy is just misunderstood, probably because his thinking is so American."
Reguer claims the aim of his NBA broadcasts is not to educate the public but to show that "you can laugh while watching. It doesn't have to come with politics like Israeli basketball. It's just fun and entertainment."
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