The Israel under-20 men’s basketball team defeated Spain 92-84 to win its second consecutive European championship.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated the team and told them, “You have done something incredible and have brought great pride to the nation of Israel.” The only other team to ever win back to back championships was Serbia in 2007-08.
Team Israel, which hosted the tournament in Heichal Shlomo Arena in Tel Aviv, defeated Lithuania in the quarterfinals and France in the semi-finals to earn its spot in the championship game. The final game against powerhouse and tournament favorite Spain was close from the very beginning and remained tied at 24-24 after the first quarter and 42-42 at halftime.
Israel began to open a lead in the third quarter and finished the quarter with a 66-59 lead. During the fourth quarter, the players extended the lead to 17 points and held off a late run by Spain to win by eight.
Tamir Goodman (a.k.a. “the Jewish Jordan),” who played professionally in Israel, told JNS that Team Israel’s incredible confidence and teamwork gave them the edge over the more athletic teams which they beat.
“We have entered a new era for Israeli basketball,” he said. “Because we have had two Israeli players, Omri Caspi and Gal Mekel, in the NBA and Israeli coach David Blatt coached in the NBA, Israeli youth believe that they can make it to the highest levels in the sport. They believe in themselves and that, along with the incredible work ethic which comes when you have big dreams, made all the difference.”
Israeli coach Ariel Beit Halachmi seemed to echo Goodman, telling the media “I didn’t think it was possible. These players did the impossible.”
Israel was led by NBA prospect Deni Avdija, who scored a game high of 23 points with seven assists. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, but told the cheering crowd: “There is no one MVP. We are a team!”
Following the final buzzer, the Israeli team stood together on a raised podium at midcourt, with second-place Spain and third-place Germany standing to their sides. With great emotion and pride, they sang the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah” along with the thousands in attendance as the Israeli flag was raised towards the rafters of the arena.
“Wow! It has been a while since I have been so exited watching the young U-20 team playing so well and winning against the best teams in Europe,” Tal Brody, who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to its first-ever Euroleague championship in 1977, told JNS. “Kol HaKavod to all the team and coaches for bringing such honor and pride to the State of Israel.”
Goodman told JNS that this is much more than just a story about basketball, and is a source of inspiration for all of Israel and the entire Jewish world.
“These young men have shown all of Israel that we have to ignore what the world and society tells us about ourselves,” he affirmed. “If we believe in ourselves, work hard and work together, there is nothing that Israel as a state, and we as Israelis, cannot accomplish.”