Basketball / Super League / American Coach With Unusual Background Has Something to Teach in Israel

Jerry Mittleman
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Jerry Mittleman

Formally attired, with rimless glasses covering soft blue eyes, Brad Greenberg looks more like a college professor on the sidelines than an Israeli league basketball coach. This past Monday, his Maccabi Haifa team played textbook basketball in the first half, providing enough of a cushion to help them weather a late surge by B'nei Hasharon and register a fourth straight victory 91-86 in Romema.

Recently signed point guard Gal Mekel sparked his team with 16 points and 9 assists and brilliantly orchestrated a balanced attack with five Haifa players scoring in double figures. Haifa is one of the surprises of the season, currently tied for 2nd place with a 6-2 record trailing Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Greenberg's professional resume is as atypical as his dress for a regular season Super League game. The 58-year-old American is the first coach in our local league who has also served as an NBA general manager, director of player personnel and assistant coach as well as a Division 1 college head coach.

Greenberg's unusual career move is a result of years of work as an NBA executive and coach that helped him develop an acute appreciation for the international game. Serving as an assistant for the Venezuelan National team this past summer only intensified that interest.

Last May, Greenberg met Maccabi Haifa's American owner Jeff Rosen. Rosen has been known for his unconventional moves and ability to think out of the box, his most famous and controversial being the signing of American schoolboy Jeremy Tyler to a two-year, six-figure contract, straight out of his junior year in high school. Tyler left Israel in the middle of a disastrous first season, after averaging two points, two rebounds and two temper tantrums a game.

The product of an American Jewish family in which basketball courses through their veins, Greenberg's father played for legendary coach Clair Bee at one-time college powerhouse Long Island University in the 1940s. Greenberg and his younger brother Seth starred together on their high school team in Long Island, and both went on to play college ball at Division 1 schools. For the past 20 years, Seth has been a successful, high profile college coach and this year is doing commentary for ESPN.

"For years I've dreamed of one day coming to live and coach in Israel," Greenberg told Haaretz, so he accepted Rosen's offer of a two year contract to coach Haifa. "I've also have many close friends who I played with and against, including Lou Silver and Howie Lasoff, who loved playing here."

Better than expected

Haifa's new coach loves being here and is greatly impressed by the overall competitiveness of the Israeli league and the high level of coaching. Coming from a man who served as director of player personnel for the Portland Trailblazers and who drafted Allen Iverson while serving as the General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, this is high praise indeed.

Hiring Greenberg is definitely turning out better for Rozen than his gamble with Tyler. Haifa has a well balanced lineup and is getting strong inside play from Americans James Thomas and Pat Calathes, in addition to Israeli veteran Ido Kazikaro, while perimeter players Paul Stoll and Donta Smith (one-time Atlanta Hawk ) are both averaging about 15 points a contest. But according to Greenberg, "we are still a work in progress". The X factor here is the addition of Mekel, who played in Europe last year and who has made such dramatic progress in his game that the Utah Jazz has developed a serious interest in him.

"Gal and the rest of the team need time to adjust to each other," says Greenberg. If the last few games are an indication, the best might be yet to come for Haifa and Greenberg.

Brad Greenberg, coach for Maccabi Haifa.Credit: Nir Keidar