Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem is clearly aiming big this season after undergoing major changes over the summer. Head coach Simone Pianigiani takes over a team rich in tradition, but needing to build chemistry quickly. The signing of six-time NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire captured most of the headlines, but alongside him are three newcomers to the Israeli capital who have averaged double figures in scoring in the EuroLeague: Jerome Dyson, Curtis Jerrells and Tarence Kinsey. The versatile Travis Peterson is expected to play a big role in the frontcourt, while EuroCup newcomers Shawn Jones and Isaac Rosefelt are expected to fortify the second unit.
There is no shortage of star power in the Jerusalem backcourt and it is not all surrounding the new faces. A former All-EuroLeague and All-EuroCup selection, Yotam Halperin remains a lights out shooter and heady distributor, who can take on the lead playmaking role alongside Jerrells or Dyson, who are each top-notch scorers in traditional point guard bodies. Both possess quickness and athleticism that should lead to many fast break and transition opportunities for the team. Bar Timor represents a natural playmaking option and a feisty on-the-ball defender who Pianigiani can call on from the bench. Kinsey appears the natural choice to start at small forward and a player whose experience and defense could set the tone for others. The up-and-coming Rafi Menco should back up Kinsey. GuardBar Shefa rounds out the squad.
The Jerusalem frontcourt stands out in its combination of size and speed. Stoudemire promises to be the anchor inside and can be a dominant force if he adapts to European basketball quickly. Unconventional power forward Lior Eliyahu will be a focal point since he can score and pass inside. After ranking third in the EuroCup in scoring last season for Avtodor Saratov (18.1 ppg.), Avtodor Saratov Peterson’s numbers may take a hit on such a deep team, but he will be one of the pillars inside. Jones brings a defensive-minded approach to the power forward spot and the veteran Rosefelt can aid the effort with his high motor and rebounding skills.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Until this summer, Amar'e Stoudemire was a minority owner for this club, but now he is trying to take personal responsibility for its success. Stoudemire signed a two-year deal with Jerusalem and has moved his family to the Holy Land and enrolled his children in schools, which is just another sign of his commitment. As a player, Stoudemire had a history of knee and ankle injuries in the NBA, but when healthy has been a physical force with a strong mid-range game, which are reasons to expect that his game will translate well to Europe. Moreover, the multitude of scoring options around him, including good passers at several other positions – including the two top other big men in the rotation, Eliyahu and Peterson – should help Stoudemire blend in quickly and pick his spots to attack. With Stoudemire at his best, everyone on the club will benefit and Jerusalem can target another deep EuroCup run.
It won’t be an easy start to the season for Jerusalem, which in addition to needing to bring together a new coach and seven new players, will then play its first three EuroCup games on the road. October will send the team to spain in back-to-back weeks to face Montakit Fuenlabrada and Valencia Basket before a Round 3 date in Slovenia against Union Olimpija Ljubljana. And when Jerusalem finally returns home for its first game at Pais Arena Jeruslaem, it won’t get much easier with another former EuroCup champ, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar, as the opponent. However, if Jerusalem makes it through this difficult early-season stretch with a winning record, Coach Pianigiani and co. can start dreaming big.