Sports News

Israel Surprises in World Championship Debut

‍‍2014-07-21 17:51:41 - יז טבת תשעד hnorris

Team Israel wrapped up a strong World Lacrosse Championship debut late last week with a seventh-place finish.
The team clinched the seventh spot with a 15-10 win over Japan on Friday, July 18. After falling behind 5-4 at halftime, Israel stormed back in the second half of its final match of the championships. Ari Sussman, who was the tournament’s second-highest scorer, scored a game-high five goals against Japan, and goalie Henry Altschuler played almost three quarters and turned back nine shots for the win.
The Israeli team finished the tournament atop its division with a 6-2 overall record.

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Israel Lacrosse Improves to 5-0 in World Championship

‍‍2014-07-16 10:53:04 - יז טבת תשעד hnorris
Photo provided

Henry Altschuler made seven saves through 60 minutes of action on Tuesday against Germany.

The Israel national lacrosse team secured a top-eight finish in the FIL World Lacrosse Championship and a spot in the quarterfinals Tuesday with a 15-1 win over 6th-ranked Germany.
Attackman Ari Sussman, who leads the tournament with 30 points, netted three goals and two assists in the Germany match while Matthew Cherry (four goals, one assist) and Noach Miller (three goals) provided additional support for team Israel. Henry Altschuler made seven saves and allowed no goals in 60 minutes to earn the win in goal.
Israel, which has an undefeated 5-0 record in the tournament, took a strong lead early, collecting four goals to Germany’s zero by the end of the first quarter. At the half, the lead had doubled to 8-0, 10-0 by the three-quarter mark.
Israel has rolled through its first-round competition in its World Championship debut, defeating Sweden 19-4 in the opener, Slovakia 17-2, Korea 19-2 and Ireland 18-9 before its win over Germany.
The team will now face Australia, which finished in fourth place in the Blue group and has medaled in 11 previous World Championships. The game will take place on Wednesday, July 16 at 5 p.m. EST and be broadcast live on ESPN 3.

Photo provided
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Israel Lacrosse Makes World Championship Debut

‍‍2014-07-11 14:18:00 - יז טבת תשעד hnorris
Despite turmoil at home and protests at practices, coaches say the Israel national team is ready to play.

Despite turmoil at home and protests at practices, coaches say the Israel national team is ready to play.

Amid turmoil at home, the Israeli national lacrosse team made their FIL World Championship Friday, July 11 with a 19-4 win over 10th-ranked Sweden.
The team traveled to host state Colorado earlier this month, just days after the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found in the West Bank and a week before Israel officially launched Operation Protective Edge against Hamas targets in Gaza. Since the start of the games, the team has beat Sweden, Slovakia, Ireland, Korea and Germany for a 5-0 record as of Tuesday.
“At the same time while we think about the games, we also think about what’s going on in Israel,” said head coach William Beroza in an interview with the JT ahead of the team’s debut. “It’s a challenging time for a lot of the players, but, you know, we’re excited about playing lacrosse.”
With three players enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and more planning to enlist after the games, the team has been watching the news regularly, said Beroza, but the notion of dropping out has not so much as crossed their minds, he asserted.
“We end every practice, every dinner, basically understanding what’s going on back there, with our prayers and wishing them well,” said Beroza. “It’s not a major distraction, it’s just it’s something we need to think about, certainly.”
Since arriving to the U.S., the team has taken extra precautions to ensure the safety of the athletes and staff. Their schedule and hotel accommodations are not disclosed to the public and the team has hired a private security firm which has worked closely with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Denver police, said Scott Neiss, executive director of the Israel Lacrosse Association.
In addition, the association has temporarily closed its headquarters in Ashkelon and relocated staff to the program’s Tel Aviv office.
Despite the efforts to protect the team in recent weeks, coaches and players have not been immune to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement picking up steam across parts of the U.S. Beroza said the team has had to deal with a protestor at one of their practices and even had to make changes in their practice locations due to non-violent threats.
At the end of the day, though, Beroza said, “we’re here to play lacrosse.”

Despite turmoil at home and protests at practices, coaches say the Israel national team is ready to play.
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Four Questions for Jeffrey Rosen

‍‍2014-07-02 10:16:12 - יז טבת תשעד lbridwell
Jeffrey Rosen is proud that the BSL is now considered an elite league. (Provided)

Jeffrey Rosen is proud that the BSL is now considered an elite league.
(Provided)

Mark down the date: Friday, June 20, 2014. It was the day that the world realized that Israel had become a force in the world of professional basketball. Former Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv head coach David Blatt, who led the yellow and blue to both the 2014 Euroleague and Israeli Basketball Super League championships, was hired as the new bench boss of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

What an amazing season, as Maccabi TA won the Euroleague title May 18 in an exciting 96-86 overtime win over Real Madrid in Milan. But they still had to face defending BSL defending champion Maccabi Haifa in a two-game playoff. That also ended in another overtime victory, 84-82, on June 11.

Meanwhile, for Jeffrey Rosen, the owner of defending champions Maccabi Haifa, it was a tough loss to take. But he knows the most important thing for fans worldwide to remember is that the BSL has come into its own as one of Europe’s most elite basketball leagues.

Rosen has made the team from northern Israel into a global brand as the 2012-13 BSL champions. A resident of Aventura, Fla., Rosen has brought Maccabi Haifa to the United States, where last year they completed a successful preseason NBA tour against the Phoenix Suns, the Detroit Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Haifa management also helps produce the English-language “Inside Israeli Basketball” show, which has been broadcast on American cable networks and is available on the Internet worldwide.

Rosen is the owner and chairman of Triangle Financial Services, LLC, a Florida-based sports marketing, media and management firm. His passion for professional basketball in Israel has not gone unnoticed.

More potential ownership groups are looking to invest in the BSL, and the most recent entry was the group who purchased Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem in 2013. The group is headed by 32-year-old Internet businessman Ori Allon, and it includes New York Knicks superstar Amar’e Stoudemire and Eyal Chomski, who owns one of Israel’s biggest and most successful advertising agencies. Then for good measure they added U.S.-based Arn Tellem, who is widely recognized as one of the most influential and respected sports agents in the world.

Because of Rosen’s promotion of Israel basketball and the longtime success of rival Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, it suddenly seems like owning a team in the BSL is a wise sports investment.

Rosen, though, is not only involved in basketball. He was an original investor in the Israel Baseball League and has emerged as a leader in a group seeking to restore professional baseball to Israel after the failed attempt of 2007.

Just before a much-needed vacation after the BSL championship series, Rosen spoke to the JT about a number of sports-related issues.

JT: Another outstanding year but a tough ending. Can you reflect on how far Maccabi Haifa has come under your ownership?
Rosen: Despite falling just short of back-to-back championships, I’m extremely proud of the team’s accomplishments and the progress our organization has made over the past seven years. We went from a second-division team in the first season in 2007 and were promoted to the Premiere League in just one season. Our Maccabi Haifa team has earned five finals appearances (three Israeli League finals and two State Cup finals) in the past six seasons, including winning the team’s first championship, in 2012-13, in the franchise’s 60-year history. Maccabi Haifa has become a global brand, playing six NBA teams in the past four seasons. We also have our “Inside Israeli Basketball” TV show, which has been on the air in the United States for five seasons and has earned two New York Emmy Award nominations.

The Israeli Basketball Super League has attracted new owners and top players. Are you pleased with the growth of the league both in interest as well as the talent level?
The Israeli Basketball Super League’s talent and ownership is definitely on the rise since I became an owner back in 2007. Many of the teams are opening first-class venues, including our team, which opened a beautifully renovated Romema Arena in Haifa in 2012-13. Hapoel Jerusalem has attracted new ownership, including present New York Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire. As the owner of Maccabi Haifa, I welcome and am open to additional owners for our Maccabi Haifa team.

Is it your hope to have Maccabi Haifa play in both the BSL and
the Euroleague?
Our goal is to continue to be a force in the Israeli Basketball Super League. The Euroleague is something we can see happening in the future, but our focus is on the BSL and continuing to build Haifa as a global brand in international basketball with our annual games against NBA competition. We will soon announce the names of the NBA teams we will face in the United States and the dates, so our American fans can come out and see us.

I know of your love of baseball. How is your quest to bring professional baseball to Israel coming?
Baseball is a passion of mine, and we continue to support the local Israel Association of Baseball each year. We hope to build high-class baseball facilities in Israel in the near future.

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Winning Shot

‍‍2014-07-02 10:11:22 - יז טבת תשעד lbridwell

070414_basketballLOS ANGELES — In 1981, David Blatt moved to Israel in pursuit of a path of lifelong worship — to play professional basketball.

Now, more than 30 years later, Blatt is leaving Israel to make a different, and totally unprecedented, form of aliyah — to leave the ranks of Israeli basketball to coach in the NBA.

On June 20, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced the hiring of Blatt as their head coach.

“I’m leaving my home but not my family,” Blatt had said at a June 12 news conference, as he explored his NBA options. “I’m not necessarily leaving for a better place. I’m leaving to follow my dream.”

He becomes the first coach in the history of European basketball to move directly to an NBA head coaching position. Blatt’s journey from the Boston suburbs to Israel and now back to the United States marks a triumph not only for Blatt but also for the small but storied world of Israeli basketball, and particularly for the Maccabi Tel Aviv team, famous for its underdog victories.

The most recent of those, which seems to have catapulted Blatt into the upper echelons of professional basketball, took place in the Euroleague Final Four in mid-May when Blatt led an undermanned Maccabi Tel Aviv squad to consecutive victories and the championship, a feat that impressed even NBA executives.

“Maccabi was outgunned at every position except coach,” one NBA general manager told ESPN. “David took down two Goliaths in a weekend. He belongs in the NBA.”

It has been a long journey for Blatt, who grew up in Framingham, Mass., as an avid Celtics fan. Blatt attended Hebrew school at Temple Beth Am and later recalled putting money in jars to plant trees in Israel. But he never connected his passion for basketball with his Jewish background.

Instead, he established himself as a top basketball talent and also had the good fortune to play for top coaches — first at Framingham South High School for Phil Moresi, now in the Massachusetts High School Basketball Hall of Fame, and then at Princeton University for Pete Carril, famed as the inventor of the “Princeton offense.”

During Blatt’s sophomore year at Princeton, a coach for an Israeli kibbutz team recruited him to play in Israel for the summer. Blatt loved kibbutz life and found that he was hooked. By the time he competed for the U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabi Games, winning a gold medal, he knew he was coming back.

“From the time I came here in 1979, I knew that I wanted to play in Israel professionally for some years,” he told Haaretz. “I realized that I wasn’t making the NBA, and I wanted to continue to play basketball professionally, in terms of money, but more than anything — to keep playing.”

He played nine of the next 12 years in Israel before retiring in 1993 to become a coach.

His coaching career eventually took him to Maccabi Tel Aviv — a team for which he had never played — where he served as an assistant under legendary coach Pini Gershon. When Gershon took a break from coaching in 2001, Blatt stepped into the head job for two successful seasons. Blatt went back to the job of assistant coach when Gershon returned.

Blatt then bounced around Europe, coaching several teams as well as the Russian national team, which he led to an Olympic bronze medal in 2012. In 2010, Blatt returned to Maccabi as head coach.

Among Israeli basketball teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv has long been dominant, winning the Israeli Championship 51 times and the European Championship six times since the team’s inception in 1932. That history, along with the city’s famed weather, culture and English-speaking population, has made it one of the most desirable international locales for top players, including Jordan
Farmar, a Jewish standout currently with the Los Angeles Lakers who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the 2011 NBA lockout.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, in turn, has used that desirability to its advantage, offering low salaries to match a payroll that is relatively small by European standards.

“It’s known to be what is called among players a low-ball organization — they’ll lure you and low-ball you into signing with them because of tradition and history,” said David Pick, a senior basketball correspondent for Eurobasket.com and Israeli sports channel One.co.il. “They’re expecting players to take pay cuts to play for Maccabi, and for the most part it works.”

However, despite that edge in attracting talent, this year’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team was widely considered weak and unlikely to advance far in the playoffs. Three of their five projected starters at the beginning of the season had been injured, and the team entered the Euroleague’s Final Four as a severe underdog. When Maccabi took the championship in a pair of nail-biters, the victory was hailed in Israeli newspapers as a “miracle.”

Shortly after the victory, Blatt announced that he was interested in pursuing options in the NBA. When he flew back to the United States last week for his father’s funeral, he reportedly met with new Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr for 45 minutes during an airport layover in Los Angeles, and Golden State subsequently offered him a position as one of Kerr’s assistants. He also interviewed with Cleveland, first by phone, and then in person on June 18. They offered him the job the next day.

It is an open question, of course, whether Blatt’s success in Israel will carry over to the NBA, although the increasing success of European players in making the jump suggests that talent can transfer. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the San Antonio Spurs just won an NBA title by dominating the LeBron James-led Miami Heat with an international roster and style of play.

A number of Blatt’s former players and coaches think he can do it. Ex-coaches Carril and Moresi have both expressed their belief that Blatt can make the transition, and former Maccabi and NBA player Anthony Parker, subsequently a scout for the Orlando Magic, has repeatedly stated that Blatt is one of the best coaches in the world.

Blatt will be leaving behind a country that not only has become his home, but also has embraced him as a superstar.

“David Blatt doesn’t want to walk out in the street because he wouldn’t be able to,” Pick said. “David leaves the coaches’ facility at 1, 1:30 in the morning just to avoid the mob.”

But, as Blatt has proven before, he’s willing to travel a long way from home to pursue his dreams.

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