|11 July 2008|
By Yarone Arbel
Less than 12 months ago, the Israeli Under-20 women's national team finished 15th in the European Championship and dropped into Division B.
Poznan, Poland, is where Israel and nine other teams, including the hosts, will attempt to win promotion back to the top starting today.
Israel's starting point isn't the best among the 10 sides taking part, though.
The team is missing several key players.
Most in the roster have hardly any real experience in any high level competition. Some, in fact, have used recent weeks just to shave off the rust from spending the 2007-08 season on their clubs' benches.
Nevertheless, coach Dalia Bushinski will not allow her players to think about anything other than a win every time they step onto the court in Poznan.
In an interview with FIBA Europe just days before the tournament tipped off, she talked about her team and its plans for the upcoming games.
"We will miss some key players in this campaign," she says.
"There are four to five girls that won't play with us, for various reasons.
"Because so many key players are missing, we don't have a go-to-girl, or a key player to rely on. What we'll bring to the court is our team play and great spirit."
Israel had preparation tournaments in Croatia and Italy and the results were very positive, according to Bushinski.
"We had a very good preparation period," she says.
"It was very important for us to give the girls as much international experience as possible, and those tournaments were very intense as we needed them to be."
This summer's Israeli team certainly doesn't have any players that will be described as giants.
The players will face size they are less familiar with, and will have to take on a host nation on the very first day. Poland are among the favorites to win promotion.
"One thing I know for sure about our opponents - they'll be taller than us and we'll have to make up for that," Bushinski says.
"Poland host the games and obviously they want to make the most of it to make it back to Division A."
As for the other teams with Israel in Group B, Bushinski says there are no easy games.
"Sweden is a team that won a silver medal in the world championship so it's going to be anything but easy to beat them," she says.
"Portugal and Holland are more or less on our level, and each time we've played them, there's a different winner."
With the absence of so many key players and not being a favorite to begin with, the Israeli team has different priorities than some of the other teams.
Promotion is desired, but not there are still benefits from taking part even if they do not go back to Division A.
"The expectations are to help prepare players for the senior level, so they could play for the senior national team one day, and to win as many games as possible," the coach says.
"Despite the fact that not a lot of people expect us to qualify back to Division A, I've told my players that it's something we should try to achieve.
"I know I will personally be disappointed if we don't make it, even if it's not a target for most people and seems like a long shot."
Like many previous Israeli men's and women's national teams, this one will have to show the hard-nosed mentality to cover up other areas where they are lacking.
Coach Bushinski puts a big emphasis on the mentality of her team as a key aspect to win games.
"The most important thing for us is to play like a team and be mentally ready," she says.
"We can't allow one game to affect the other. I want my team to treat every day as a new day regardless of the result the previous day, and give our best every time."
Even if Israel remain in Division B for one more year, Coach Bushinski is looking at a bigger picture.
"We'll come to every game to win and believe it's possible, but what I really hope is that at the end of each day we'll leave the court knowing that we did the best we could to win."