Basketball / Playoffs / Hot and cold Limonad
Ashkelon's struggling captain has chance to lead team into Final Four.
Ashkelon visits Ramat Hasharon Wednesday night in the decisive Game 5 of their Super League quarterfinal series. Ashkelon faces an uphill battle against a higher seed and historical odds. Only one visiting team has won a Game 5 playoff since Israel's top-tier basketball league adopted the best-of-five format 22 years ago.
Wednesday's is the tenth such contests.
Raviv Limonad hopes to take Ashkelon into the Final Four, but the national team member who returned from Europe this season was not been on top of his game in the playoffs.
He averaged 12.8 points per game - third in the league among Israelis - and dished out 4.3 assists per game. But these numbers have dropped to 10.5 points and 1.8 assists during the quarterfinals.
"Without Raviv, we wouldn't be here," says former team official Shimon Amsalem. "If we reach the Final Four, he will have a central role to play in it.
After several years of journeying from Hapoel Jerusalem to Maccabi Tel Aviv, France and Spain, Limonad is trying his hand at being the star of his team. Off the court, however, the 27-year-old team captain has had his share of issues. He had a number of run-ins with Ashkelon head coach Arik Alfasi this season, culminating in an incident after the team lost at home to Bnei Hasharon.
Alfasi showed the team the game video in which Limonad made a bad play. Limonad told the coach that if he kept up showing his mistakes, he would leave. Alfasi ordered him to sit down and then showed another error and Limonad got upset.
Amsalem says Limonad is a little different from the others and needs encouragement.
The team suspended Limonad, who mised the all-Star game. Alfasi said he did not want Limonad to come back, but the player returned after a week. He apologized and was fined NIS 10,000.
Even after the incident Limonad continued to serve as team captain. But he apparently still does not get along with the coach.
A close associate of Limonad says the player does not like the way his coach lets the foreign players do whatever they want and feels Alfasi takes out all his aggression on him.
Alfasi is not the first coach to get into a tussle with Limonad. Two years ago, Limonad criticized national team coach Shivek for not playing him in one of the European Championship qualifiers.
Shivek released the roster for the national squad ahead of this summer's European Championships about 10 days ago. Limonad, who left the team after a few days last summer, was not on the list. But Shivek added him on Sunday after the two spoke.
"Raviv called me and told me he wants to be on the squad," says Shivek. "I believe in giving people a second chance."
The renewed call-up did not put Limonad at ease. That same day, after putting Asheklon up by eight in Game 4, he head-butted Rishon's Eyal Schulman and was ejected.
Shivek said he did not like what he saw but did not change his mind. "Raviv made a bad mistake," he says. "I expect national-team players to play well for their teams, and no less then that - behave well on the court. But you have to give people additional chances in life."
The Israel Basketball Association fined Limonad NIS 12,000 for the incident, and he will face a disciplinary panel within Ashkelon on Thursday. "Raviv will be fined," vowed Yossi Dahan, Ashkelon's owner, who said he would blame him for blowing a whole season if the team loses tonight. "I think the reason the players feel that everything is permissible because of the way coaches act on the sidelines, charging the atmosphere," he says. "But nothing justifies the behavior of a veteran player like Limonad. He'll pay for it."