Basketball / Israel Faces Tall Order in Group Stage of Tourney

Though they won't admit it outright, members of the Israeli basketball team may be facing perhaps the most nightmarish draw imaginable for the qualifying round of this summer's EuroBasket 2011 tournament.

FIBA Europe officials announced the draw yesterday, which will have Israel in the same grouping as Italy, Montenegro, Latvia and Finland.

Israel had hoped to avoid facing Italy and Montenegro, two European powers considered as possessing far superior talent on their rosters. Latvia, meanwhile, has solidified its standing on the continent, while Finland has consistently been tough to eliminate in any competition.

"Our job is to do the maximum in order to get to the finals, regardless of who we're playing against," Israel national team coach Arik Shivek said. "There are no easy draws these days. Third- and fourth-rate teams like Italy and Montenegro have improved and they're considered very strong."

Blatt wins first game as coach of Greek club

David Blatt, the Israeli-American basketball coach and former Maccabi Tel Aviv head man, won his first game yesterday since taking over as coach of Greek club Aris Thessaloniki, defeating Kavala 71-58. Blatt, who is also the head coach of the Russian national team, signed an 18-month contract. The Boston native replaced Fotis Katsikaris, who resigned from the club on Wednesday despite coaching his crew to a victory Tuesday over Hapoel Jerusalem in the Eurocup tournament.

Blatt's new position will not interfere with his preparations for Russia's appearance in the World Championships this summer. Aris has had a difficult start to the season in the Greek league, winning just five of its first 11 games.