Basketball / Israel in Europe / Do it again
After winning the Balkan League, Gilboa plans to stick around next season.
Gilboa/Galil sees the franchise's first European trophy in historic terms, albeit in the third-tier Balkan League.
"It's a European title in every respect," said team captain Avishay Gordon, after Monday's dramatic overtime win in Gan Ner over Levski Sofia. "We made history for Gilboa as well as Israel. It's not on the level of the state championship, yet it is still exciting."
Gordon says he finds it regretful that people tend to disregard the competition.
"Two very good teams reached the final who could have participated in the Eurocup," he says.
Gordon recalls that at the beginning of the season Gilboa set the goal of reaching the final fours in the Super League, the State Cup and the Balkan League. "We missed out on the cup because of an embarrassing loss to Hapoel Tel Aviv, and I saw how nuts the guys were in the Balkan semifinal against Hapoel," he says. "We played at home in the final and really wanted to win."
Gilboa owner Haim Ohayon says he was surprised by what he saw in the final: "We didn't expect that level of basketball. We thought we'd have an easier time. The Bulgarians stepped up their game. It's a Euroleague-level team. It was almost impossible to beat them."
Barak Peleg, the team's assistant coach, says he was not surprised by how well Levski played. He asserts that the team trailed for most of the game because it didn't prepare for the final as it should have, thinking everything would work out. "It dawned on us in the second half that we had time to set things right," he says.
Coach Lior Lubin gives credit to his players for rallying from a 13-point deficit in the final quarter. He says that during the time-outs the coaching staff tried to shake the players out of their gloom. "We tried all kinds of defenses and we tried to get them to change the rhythm," he says. "During the final five minutes the players realized it was time to pick themselves up."
Gilboa's success this season was not just on-court but also within the organization. Shai Stricks, the league CEO, says he is pleased with the way Gan Ner hosted the playoffs. "The Final Four was organized exceptionally well," he says. "All the association heads of the participating teams were there. The teams got everything they expected, and 2,000 spectators came to the arena."
Peleg, the assistant coach, says it was worthwhile even though the level of play in the league was not particularly great outside the Final Four. "We traveled to away games against teams we didn't know with a certain style of play," he says. "We didn't know where we were going, but we learned along the way. We gave minutes to the younger guys who don't play much in the local league."
This season was the first in the Balkan League's four-year existence that Israeli teams competed. Hapoel Tel Aviv, which was in the National League this season, wanted to accumulate European experience. Gilboa passed on the Eurocup and Euroleague qualifiers to join the Balkan League.
Ohayon says that not only is he not sorry about the decision, he plans to keep Gilboa in the league another season. "It's one of the competitions that better suit us. We've had our fill of the Euroleague and the Eurocup," he asserts, adding that the team had to deal with threats and fines in the other competitions and could have saved itself the grief by joining the Balkan League sooner.