Basketball player Shmulik Brenner.
Israeli basketball player Shmulik Brenner. Photo by Nir Keidar
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Shmulik Brenner has spent the past few years bouncing between MBA studies and basketball practice. Adding to this hectic schedule is his 14-month-old son. "I go to school three times a week, sometimes studying at home until 3 A.M.," says Brenner. "It's busy, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I feel I have to develop other horizons, to think about my next career."

Brenner, a basketball veteran who has been playing in the Super League for nine years, says he did not feel fully valued until this season - when he averaged 5.5 assists, 2.6 steals and 5.2 points per game.

"It's a feeling that built up over the years," he says. "Maybe they didn't notice how I was contributing because personal stats are not important to me."

The 29-year-old point guard says he did not expect things to change at Netanya when he arrived last summer. "It's a little uncomfortable saying this, but Netanya was pretty much a default for me," he says. "But now they take note of how much I contribute and that I give a lot to the team." Still, he adds, the feeling of being unappreciated lingers.

The main difference is the exposure, Brenner explains. "The previous three years I played for Ramat Gan - a team with modest goals, far from the limelight. The credit I'm getting now is a direct result of Netanya's success," he says, referring to the team's fifth place finish - which included a 114-103 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in January.

Thanks to the boost in his personal status, Brenner feels he can meet his personal goal of pushing his teammates to play better around him. "I try to set an example on the court in terms of thought and energy, and to show the guys the right way to play - to show them how to get the most out of someone," he explains.

Netanya certainly picked up its game Sunday, upsetting Maccabi Haifa on the road. Last night, however, Netanya dropped Game 2 of the best-of-five series at home 75-73.

"We surpassed expectations relative to our modest budget," Brenner said after Sunday's win. "We beat all the teams in the league. Those on the sidelines who were skeptical of us expected our legs to give out - because we have four guys averaging over 30 minutes a game. Injuries hurt us, but now we're on the rise and are aiming for the Final Four."