Halperin Ready To Lead Israeli Team

26 November 2012

By David Hein

Yotam Halperin, Israel
Yotam Halperin, Israel

Yotam Halperin, Lior Eliyahu and Omri Casspi are arguably three of Israel's greatest players of all time. But they have never played together for Israel's seniors at a major tournament.

After a strong EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Round, Halperin says it's their time to lead the nation together.

"There was a little bit of a change in generations in the last couple of summers as the older generation like (Tal) Burstein, (Yaniv) Green and (Meir) Tapiro and all those great players left the national team," said Israel's star guard Halperin.

"This is definitely our time to lead this national team."

Israel were drawn into Group A of EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia with Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain and Ukraine.

Given that he remains healthy, Halperin will play for Israel at his sixth EuroBasket, debuting in Sweden 2003 as a 19-year-old, where he teamed with Green, Burnstein and Tapiro for a seventh placed showing - Israel's only top eight finish since 1983's sixth place.

The FC Bayern Munich guard believes his compatriots are ready to do more, especially since they have improved.

"We have seen an upgrade in the national team in the last couple of years because a lot of players have made a big step, especially Yogev Ohayon, Eliyahu and Casspi."

The 28-year-old Halperin has a wealth of big game experience, having played Euroleague for seven years with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Olympiacos and Union Olimpija.

During this seven year period he reached four finals, claiming two titles.

Eliyahu is 27 years old and has played internationally at club level since staring for Hapoel Galil Elyon in the FIBA Europe Cup in 2003-04 as an 18-year-old.

Point guard Ohayon has excelled since his move to Maccabi Tel Aviv before the 2011-12 season. This season he is logging 25 minutes per game in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, scoring 6.4 points and handing out four assists a night.

Then there is Israel's number one weapon, Casspi - the 24-year-old forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is the only Israeli ever to play in the NBA, but he has yet to represent Israel at a EuroBasket.

Casspi was close to playing in 2011 in Lithuania but could not recover in time from a knee injury just weeks before the tournament.

But the trio came together this past summer for the EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Round and guided Israel to a second placed finish in Group A with a 6-4 record.

One of the keys was Israel getting a strong showing from center Alexander Tyus - a naturalized big man who had played with Maccabi Ashdod in 2011-12.

Tyus led Israel in rebounds (6.4 per game) and blocks (1.4) while averaging 12.6 points in the qualifiers. His 73.2% shooting percentage from the floor was the best in the competition

Watch Tyus' big dunk against Serbia, number three in the top ten plays of the Qualification Round

"People talk about us having a problem with the inside game. We don't have so many big guys like other national teams. But this summer we had Tyus, and he really helped us a lot," said Halperin.

"I think he's giving us what we need. When Eliyahu or Casspi are playing at power forward, it's hard to guard them. And that's possible now with Tyus there."

Halperin refused to speak too much about expectations in Slovenia.

"Our goal as always is to try to qualify for the next round and be among the first three teams. We are not really in the position to think too far right now," he said.

"I think our main thing is to stay together, play aggressive as much as we can and try to control the rebounds. For all the rest, I believe we are talented enough to do well."

Having old friends Eliyahu and Casspi on board will help as well as new low post presence Tyus.

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