When the Israel Basketball League held its press conference Monday ahead of this week’s Super League quarterfinals, last year’s runner-up, Maccabi Ashdod, was conspicuously absent. Ashdod had a streaky season, playing its strongest ball in the middle third of the season and ending up in 10th place with an 11-16 record.
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“We had a very difficult season,” head coach Ofer Berkovich said this week. “There were a host of incidents and a lot of coping [with problems], some of them on a professional level and some of them not. We had some good outings in the Cup competition and at the beginning of the season in the Winner Cup. There were also periods during the regular season in which we played good basketball, but we didn’t know how to stay consistent. The final results were that we didn’t accomplish much in the league.”
Q: What were the non-professional problems you were referring to?
A: There were a ton of problems, starting with getting organized relatively late for the season because of administrative changes. It continued with Operation Pillar of Defense (the Israeli operation in Gaza), which meant we had to move to the center of the country and look for arenas in which to practice. One player, Mike Hall, joined us and immediately got hurt (with a season-ending injury in December). We spent three months looking for foreign players. We suffered injuries and illnesses, which prevented us from practicing as needed because the roster was shorthanded. The strike didn’t affect just us, but it certainly didn't help us. It feels like we went through several seasons this season. I don’t use it as an excuse, but I note it as a series of stops along the way to a difficult season.
Q: During the week of the Winner Cup you all looked like the team that had melded the quickest, yet when the season began everything disintegrated.
A: It didn’t disintegrate, because in the first round we were blessed with seven away games, including four in a row against teams that are now at the top of the league. We made mistakes in our choice of foreign players. We brought in guys who were young. I realized that we needed to make changes because of elements in their personalities. The change took time, even longer as a result of the (military) operation, which didn’t exactly encourage people to come to Israel, and certainly not to the south.
Q: Toward the end of the second round, however, you did come together as a team. So what caused the slide later on?
A: We started the season 1-7 and then we went 8-6 through the end of the second round, so not everything is so bad. We beat Jerusalem (which finished fifth), Eilat (which finished third) and in Rishon Letzion (which finished sixth). But we also blew some games – Holon at home, Hapoel Tel Aviv at home. In the end we were one win shy of making the playoffs. A week after we beat Eilat, we lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv at home, and then there was a break of three and a half weeks. This affected us a lot, even though it should not have been this way. The foreign players were already anxious to go home. A disconnect was created that sent us to another place. The moment we lost to Hapoel Tel Aviv at the end of the second round, something died inside us.
Q: You didn’t guard much this season.
A: True, for part of the season we were playing with a short roster, which made it hard for us to practice. This problem expresses itself through on the defensive side. On offense, it’s easier to bring out your qualities and talents. Defense requires a lot of coordination, understanding and work, which we didn’t do well.
Q: It looks like you finished with a talented roster, but with foreign players like shooting guard Mardy Collins who focus on individual statistics and care less about the success of the team.
A: I disagree. Statistics is not a shameful word. Not everyone who scores comes to boost his statistics. When a team does well then they glorify that same player. When Collins arrived, the team was improving, but for part of the time we dropped games because of the character we had developed as a team.
Q: According to rumors, you’ll be leaving Ashdod after three years.
A: I haven’t dealt with my future until now. If I look back at my three years with Ashdod, I’d hope to have the same list of successes in the next place. There are clubs that can fantasize for 20 years about success, recognition and exciting evenings like the ones the team has enjoyed these past three years.
Q: Which teams will make the final?
A: Who will reach the final against Maccabi Tel Aviv, you ask? The match-ups are very balanced. Gilboa will make a lot of trouble for Haifa. Save for Maccabi, with all due respect to Hapoel Tel Aviv (which faces Maccabi in the quarterfinals), the rest of the teams are dependent upon momentum. I don’t think a year ago we were better on paper than other teams. We were in the best shape during the playoffs and the Final Four, but it could have been otherwise. A team that comes together in the quarterfinals will gain a lot of confidence further down, and everything is up for grabs. We didn’t see a team this season that showed consistency, and I also don’t think that home-court advantage is so acute. The playoffs are something else. You face the same rival several times in a week. In the playoffs anything can happen. We show how Ashdod in the women’s league didn’t lose all season and lost in the playoff final.