Basketball / 'We Should Never Have Been in That Situation'

Owner Jeff Rosen is entrusting his young assistant coach to take Maccabi Haifa to Final Four next year.

Jeff Rosen has plenty of businesses in the United States, but last week he opted to spend time with his beloved baby in Israel, basketball club Maccabi Haifa. The team was a disappointment in the Super League quarterfinals, blowing its home-court advantage before falling to Barak Netanya in four games.

Rosen was openly disappointed, telling Haaretz that the team had set the bar high before the season and should have reached the Final Four. It was good enough to finish second, considering that Haifa has one of the biggest budgets in the league, he said.

What happened in the series with Netanya?

"We beat Netanya twice during the season, we played well against them. But if we thought we would have the advantage in the series, they had the better team. There's no need questioning the game plan or the tactics. The question is why did we struggle so much against Netanya? Why did we squander a 10-point lead in Game 3? We didn't lose because [Daniel] Pinnock hit a three. We should never have been in that kind of situation."

The Haifa owner stresses that he very much admires Avi Ashkenazi, the Haifa coach for the past three years. Still, he didn't hesitate to fire him and replace him with Elad Hasin, who was Ashkenazi's assistant the last two seasons.

With urgent restructuring issues behind him, Rosen has time to analyze what went wrong. He says he could point to injuries, such as the one suffered by Ido Kozikaro in the Netanya series. But, he argues, as much as Haifa could have used the center, the team should have overcome that obstacle and won.

He explains that Netanya - which he calls "mediocre" - did not make any changes between losing its two regular season games to Haifa and the playoffs, and did not pull any surprises in the series. Therefore, he says, he replaced the coach in hopes that the team would not repeat the same mistakes next year.

Although Hasin is only 30, Rosen says the past two years have made him familiar with the organization and ready to take over the reins. He says Hasin, "a basketball junkie," has one of the sharpest young minds in Israeli basketball. "He has enormous understanding of basketball in Europe and in Israel," Rosen says.

"To coach a team was one of his ambitions," he says, adding that Hasin has shown total dedication to the sport and to developing himself. He also says that the addition of Doron Perkins and Davon Jefferson was more Hasin's idea, and those choices influenced his decision to give Hasin a chance to lead the team.

At the same time, Rosen stresses that Hasin will be responsible for the calls that he will be free to make. Rosen, who bought the team before the 2007/08 season, says he unapologetically is the kind of owner who is involved with his team and needs a coach who is ready to work with him.

What are your expectations for him next season?

"As every year - to make the playoffs, to be in the Final Four and finish as high as possible." The owner said next year's budget would be smaller but would consider any opportunities to play in Europe.

Haifa was more of a defensive team last season.

"Avi Ashkenazi is a more defense- than offense-minded coach. You could argue about the players' strengths, but the bottom line is we didn't play well on offense. I really think our players could have and should have played better on offense. We could have run more. We have players capable of that like Richard Roby, Jason Rich and Davon Jefferson."

There was a mass marketing of Haifa last season. A program about the team was even broadcast in the U. S.

"There was a feeling the team would be more successful off the parquet than on, so the disappointment was greater."

What was the story with Jeremy Tyler? Avi Ashkenazi hinted that keeping him on the team was a decision from above.

"We had a summer training camp, and Avi was there. If asked he'd say he also hoped Tyler would be better. We all thought Jeremy was a project worth developing, but we could not have known he would have a hard time adjusting to Israel. We should have done more research on his character. His family didn't come here, and not every kid can deal with that kind of pressure. But anyway a young basketball player has to work hard. Jeremy thought all he had to do was show up. I think he was surprised to discover things don't work that way."