Basketball / EuroBasket Post Mortem

No More Than an Optical Illusion

We’re not really among the 12 best European teams. One day Azerbaijan will trouble us as well.

Israel’s national basketball team proved that it knows all the possible ways to lose. If the first three losses in the EuroBasket were because Israel failed to score, the last game, against Germany, was lost due to terrible defense. To concede 49 points in the second half of a crucial game against a team that had already been eliminated? To concede 27 points in the last quarter, in the last 10 minutes that were a battle for survival in the tournament? True, the Germans were under no pressure whatsoever but more than that, they were under no pressure from the Israeli defense.

After the game, coach Arik Shivek and his players said they really wanted to win. I believe them, but the whole question of will is somewhat abstract and blurry, and must be translated to action on the court when it comes to basketball. The guards should have expressed that will by pressuring their counterparts, who shot three-pointers at will, and the taller players should have helped them struggle aggressively against the German basic pick-and-roll that did the damage time and again. In games such as against Germany, a team cannot afford to be so soft.

The difference between mediocre and good players depends on their stability. I really like Afik Nissim, ever since the wonderful days with the Under-21 national team in Macedonia 2000; still, if he could play every evening like he played in the victory against Belgium he would have been a million-euro EuroLeague player, and not the leading Israeli player of Hapoel Eilat. Yotam Halperin was brilliant in the first half against Germany, but disappeared in the second.

The good moments of scorers such as Halperin and Nissim cause an illusion that we have a high-quality European team, but that is no more than an optical illusion. High-level players play that well 70 percent of the time; Israeli national team players shine for fleeting moments. The rest of the time they lose to teams like Britain.

Obviously, Shivek should take his share of the blame for the miserable EuroBasket campaign, but that still doesn't justify calling every mistake he made a colossal error. Shivek isn't to blame for the Gal Mekel situation, Omri Casspi’s blues, Alex Tyus' injury or the fact that the best two Israeli centers are well into their 30s. Outwardly, Shivek conducted himself respectfully throughout the tournament, respecting his players, the national team and the game. It's a shame he wasn't as successful as a coach as he was as a human being.

It might be painful to admit, but the elimination from the tournament did us justice. Israel isn't really among the 12 best European teams. Most of the younger Israeli national teams are somewhere in the bottom of the second tier of European basketball, and there is no player under 25 in the national team squad.

I would love to believe that the failure would shock local basketball officials and cause a deep change in the way the game is run in Israel, but one must be realistic: What could possibly happen? A commission headed by a Hapoel official from the Beit She'an Valley? A scathing report of the professional committee? We would be better off preparing for the days when Azerbaijan will be an impossible challenge for Israeli basketball.

Nir Keidar