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They have no stars, little height, not much of a bench, no tradition nor reputation, and until now got little respect. What Elitzur Ashkelon does have is a talented young coach in Ariel Bet Halachmi, four Americans who along with Israeli point guard Avi Sucar have bought into Halachmi's system, and the second-best record in Israel's Premier League.

Ashkelon currently sports a 13-6 record, trailing only Maccabi Tel Aviv, which prompts many basketball fans to ask: who are these guys, and how have they gotten where they are?

Ashkelon is truly a team that has gone from the outhouse to the penthouse of Israeli basketball in only one season. Last year Ashkelon went bankrupt during the middle of the campaign, barely managing to finish the season and remain in the league. This year, Ashkelon has a new and improved management, and an enthusiastic fan base supporting the team.

The secret to this year's on-court success, according to Halachmi, is a "group of hungry players, out to prove themselves." They have bonded into a selfless unit that plays no-compromise defense with heart and determination, with a fluid offense that limits itself to high-percentage shots. Ashkelon at the moment has the fourth-best offense in the Premier Leaguem, and the third-best defense.

Ashkelon's only name player is Cory Carr, who played a season of NBA ball with the Chicago Bulls (1998-'99). Viewed as a potential star in the Israeli league, Carr has been here for the last four seasons with four different teams, while never fulfilling the expectations placed upon him. But Carr seems to have finally found himself and his game in Ashkelon. He is having his best season, by far, averaging close to 20 points a game, and is benefiting from being part of a balanced offense that generates high-percentage shots for him.

Power forward Omar Sneed is also averaging over 19 points a contest, and has emerged as the team's best scorer in recent weeks. He arrived in Ashkelon this summer eager to prove himself after playing lower division ball in Europe in recent years. Sneed is Ashkelon's most versatile player, a proficient scorer from outside and with his back to the basket, and has developed into one of the league's better players.

Kenyon Weaks, who played his college ball at the University of Florida, was away from competitive basketball for a year and a half due to an injury before joining Ashkelon. He plays the second guard position and is averaging 15 points a game, complementing Carr and Sneed.

Mark Dean, 2.04m, is the only true "big man" in Ashkelon's rotation. "Mark was a huge gamble who has paid off," Halachmi openly admits. The owner of a Bahaman passport, Dean was the only Bosman player that Ashkelon could find to try out at center. Dean, who played at the University of Colorado, was out of shape, had unimpressive seasons in recent years and played his pro ball in Saudi Arabia last year, but has proved to be a pleasant surprise. He has averaged more then 13 points a game and been very effective under the basket.