Yogev Ohayon's performance against Serbia Tuesday night, in which he scored 19 points, pulled down seven rebounds and grabbed three steals, signified the coming of age of this 10-year veteran with Israeli national teams of various age levels.
Ohayon debuted for Israel as a 15-year-old with the cadet team in 2002. Roni Busani, his coach at the time, remembers him as a cut kid who was quite unripe. "He didn't have a hair on his body," he told Haaretz. "He began as a back-up guard and was starting by the second game."
Then, too, Ohayon was a well-rounded player - averaging 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and three steals a game his first season.
Two years ago, when Arik Shivek took over as national men's team coach, Ohayon was just another player on the team. He scored a total of 17 points in the qualification round, equivalent to what he scored Tuesday night, and 11 points in EuroBasket 2011.
Handing the reins over to Yogev
Shivek says Ohayon got playing time but that the national team is not the place to develop a player. The national team, he says, receives athletes who are ready to play and takes the ones who are in the best shape.
This summer, the story is completely different. Ohayon averages over 30 minutes a game, scoring 11.2 points per contest and controlling the pace of each game.
"Even before the campaign I decided to give Yogev the reins," says Shivek. "He progressed a lot this year at Maccabi (Tel Aviv ) and he's playing with more confidence. He also has more experience. He played a season in the Euroleague and showed that he can compete against players at this level."
Ohayon played well against Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos in the Euroleague, giving him a lot of confidence, notes Shivek. "Now he's playing like he did in high school," he adds.
The question then is why it took until his eighth season in the league and fifth with the men's team to come into his own?
Nati Cohen, who coached him on the Hapoel Galil Elyon youth team and at Emek Hahula High School, says that since moving up to the men's level, Ohayon has always had a coach or someone else telling him how to play the game. "You don't need to limit Yogev," he says. "He lives on instincts. Put him into a hierarchical system and he starts to hesitate and lose himself."
Cohen says that over the past year Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach David Blatt and Israel's Shivek have given Ohayon the confidence to play like he did on his youth teams. "He has the mandate to do what he wants," he adds.
Getting better all the time
Ohayon is not only doing what he wants, he's better at what he does, according to other former coaches. Yaakov Gino, who coached Ohayon for Israel at the under-20 level and brought him as a starter to Nahariya, notes that the guard always had good control of the ball and ability to take it inside, but has recently improved his ability to finish plays. "Some still don't respect his shooting, and we saw how he punished the Serbs," Gino says. "I didn't think he'd reach this level."
Busani says Ohayon's shooting improvement is the result of a lot of hard work.
Blatt says that at Maccabi, Ohayon found a way to exploit his advantages and not to dwell on his weaknesses. He says Ohayon was given clear guidelines about what he could and couldn't do, but was also given leeway so he wasn't sent to the bench for every mistake he made. Ultimately, adds Blatt, Ohayon suited Maccabi's speed and aggressiveness.
Barring any surprises, Maccabi will have to get by this season without Ohayon, who signed with Lokomotiv Kuban.
Even after Ohayon played 36 minutes against Serbia, Cohen says there's nothing to worry about him for tonight when Israel hosts Montenegro. "His ability to recover is tremendous," Cohen says. "He has another dose of energy in his body."
Both teams acknowledge Israel has improved
Luka Pavicevic, the head coach of Montenegro, said ahead of tonight’s game that he has followed Israel since the two teams met at the beginning of the EuroBasket qualification campaign and can say that the team has picked up its game recently. He said he expected it to be particularly difficult in the confines of Yad Eliahu.
“We did a good job in the first round despite missing three top players, and we need now another two wins to advance to the European championship,” said the coach whose team is 5-0 so far in Group A.
Montenegro had a balanced attack in the 75-69 win on August 15. Suad Sehovic earned a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Taylor Rochestie and Blagota Sekulic also had twelve apiece. Vladimir dasic added 10 points in the victory.
Israel’s assistant coach Oded Katash said everyone on the team knows what they need to do. “Even if we beat Montenegro we haven’t done anything because we also have to beat Estonia,” he said.
Katash explained Israel’s decisive defeat of Serbia by saying it is very Israeli to only wake up after being slapped on the face, but that the national team showed it has character and a lot of talent.
“Now we have to show we have more character than we displayed at the begining,” he added. “Everyone remembers the loss in Montenegro and you don’t have to say too much about the game.”
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