Just under two months ago, several days after signing Ben Timor, Alba Berlin turned to Ben Reis as well: "They said, 'We like to see the player before we sign him, come over for a night,'" Reis recalls. "I arrived in Berlin. Coach Sasa Obradovic and his assistant took me to the court. They drilled me on some routines for 20 minutes. They checked my knees and put me through a medical checkup. We went to eat and I was positive it was a done deal, but it never materialized. They explained to me that they were stuck with contracts of German players. I later understood that because they already signed one Israeli player, the fans wouldn't accept another Israeli taking the place of local players. Just as in Israel fans don't like their clubs signing foreign players at the expense of local boys."
The disappointing experience didn't stop Reis from trying to use his German passport. "I really wanted to play this season for a team participating in two tournaments, the league and Europe. European cups are a fine stage, you are seen more and it's more fun." Fortunately, both Israeli representatives in the Eurocup were interested in his services, and he eventually chose the champions: "Maccabi Haifa is one of the leading clubs in Israel, with a great organizational structure that allows you the best conditions to succeed, backed by amazing fans. I always had a soft spot for the club's soccer team. I was never an ardent fan, but as a kid I admired Yossi Benayoun," Reis says.
"I followed my instincts and took into account all sorts of considerations. One reason I chose Haifa is that Hapoel Jerusalem refused to add a clause allowing me to leave for abroad, another was Danny Franco. He was my coach at the national youth team, and we have a great connection. A year ago he told me that wherever he would coach he would try to have me on the team. It's really important to have a good rapport with the coach. Also, last year, when Haifa built their new arena, I told myself I would like to play there at some point.
Haifa has built a large squad. You will have to fight for your place as starter with Dagan Yavzuri and others.
"Well, there are two games a week, and enough minutes for everyone. Competition is a good thing and will make everyone better. Haifa is a huge club and it can't afford not to have such competition for the starting lineup. This season the Russian law will be in effect, meaning that two Israelis will be on court at all times, and we have five leading Israelis. Everyone will play."
Haifa is only Reis' second team, after Bnei Herzliya. The 23-year-old small forward has only warm feelings for his old club: "I had five good years at Herzliya, everybody did their best to make me feel at home. I'll take that feeling with me for the rest of my life. Herzliya is a team that allows young players to advance. It will always be my home."
Herzliya hasn’t made the Final Four for five years now …
"In one season we reached the cup final and had a five-game series against Maccabi Tel Aviv, which I consider equal to a Final Four berth. There were some difficult years with low budgets and low expectations. Now they brought Effi Birnbaum back. If they are reunited with Ra'anana they will have a larger budget and they can succeed more. They have all the condition to do so."
After missing one season due to a cruciate ligament tear, Reis returned to action at the beginning of last season and can boast some good stats. He was ranked eighth among Israelis with averages of 10 points per game, 3.8 rebounds, 54 percent for two-pointers and 36 percent for three-pointers. "If you had told me I would have these numbers after being out for a year, I wouldn't have believed you," he admits.
How frustrating is it to play well when the team is such a complete failure?
With a bit more luck and some gelling, we could have had a better season.
It seemed that every player, Israeli or foreign, did whatever he pleased on-court.
"It's true and it was frustrating. I try to look at the positives. I gained confidence and found out I could play at a high level.
After a good year personally, Reis was invited to join the national team. "I was surprised; I came from a small team. I got a rare opportunity and I'm doing my best in practice to prove that I'm worthy."
Still, you'll probably make it to the final squad only in one of the next seasons.
"I really would love to travel with the team to the EuroBasket. If I don't, I hope I'll be considered worthy next time."
One of Reis' problems is instability. Last season, against Haifa, he scored 27 points, and against Hapoel Tel Aviv and Gilboa he scored 22, sinking four three-pointers in each game. Then, again, he had games with 3-4 points, and 0 for five, from beyond the three-point line. "Stability is one of the aspects I'm focusing on most. For years they said my problem was in my head, but I didn't listen. Last season, Zeev Baram, Bnei Herzliya's director, told me: 'You don't have to practice and improve your basketball. You're excellent as far as basketball, your problem is mental, you have to go and talk to someone.'"
"Towards the end of the season I went to see psychologist Michal Yaaron. She caused a change, and one could see it in the last four games when I averaged about 13-14 points. We discussed many things, not all of them connected to basketball. She told me nobody expected me to score 35 points a game, but only to do my best for the team. That took a lot of pressure off me. I used to come to games in order to score 10 points, 50 percent for two, and 80 percent from the free-throw line. I always aimed for a perfect game and that made me nervous. When I started well everything was fine, when that didn't happen everything went wrong. It was all or nothing. It's a shame I didn't go to Michal earlier, but she said the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second-best time is right now. I believe that with her help I will succeed in realizing my potential. I'll do my best, contribute every minute as I can, and everything will work out just fine."