Off the Court / Still Lacking the Fundamentals

Israel isn't the only country with an NBA star, so if we want to win, we are going to have to play a lot harder.

What a game, eh? They sure know how to pick players over there in the NBA. What moves, what sharpshooting, what lightness with which he gets an entire national team going. Yes, it turns out that other national teams have stars in the best league in the world, not just Israel. They even found a number-one draft pick, not just a number-23. So why weren't we taking Italy and Toronto Raptors star Andrea Bargnani seriously? Because we have Omri Casspi?

Guess what. The Italians have a Euroleague-caliber coach, and he has heard something about this Casspi. The Israelis insisted before Tuesday's game that they remained unmoved, that double-teaming their Sacramento King was nothing more than a small nuisance.

Seffi Magriso

We saw where this euphoria led to against Finland. Indeed, friends, our lofty thinking is getting us into trouble, the kind that can end up in next summer's additional qualifying playoffs.

Take note - there's no sensational choke here. There's no flop. We simply are not as great as we thought we were. Israel has a likable national team, nice and sometimes brilliant, but it lacks the fundamentals.

Tuesday's contest was the third straight game showing a deterioration in the points column, which surprisingly emphasizes the importance of defense - or rather, the lack of it.

We have no one to fight like mad for every ball, somebody who will scratch, hit and strangle to get to it. No one is ready to sacrifice himself. There's no one to commit a foul.

And yet rather than play the one person who comes close to this description, Uri Kokia, coach Arik Shivek opted on Tuesday to keep him on the bench, even though Bargnani was totally outplaying David Bluthenthal and Lior Eliyahu. Once Kokia entered the game, the scary 2.13m center stopped scoring, but it was too late.

And still, on a night like Tuesday, Israel basketball could still lift its head. Want to see creative, fighting, disciplined basketball without a lot of sour faces? Instead of going over to Nokia Arena next Thursday for the Finland game, set your GPS for Zisman Arena in Ramat Gan tomorrow. That's where the squad best representing Israel is playing - the women's team, coached by Eli Rabi.