By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
In Hebrew, “Hapoel” means “the worker”. And there’s not a more hard-working team in this season’s 7DAYS EuroCup than Hapoel Vegan Friendly Tel Aviv.
It is the most productive team on offense (1,224 points scored), has the largest winning margin in points (+148), and is currently in a tie for second place in Group B with a 10-4 record.
Usually, this kind of success in European basketball reflects a solid team effort. However, this season Hapoel has managed to combine individual greatness with team efficiency on the highest of levels.
With 14 EuroCup Rounds on the books, half of the weekly MVP awards have been won or shared by a player from Tel Aviv.
J’Covan Brown was co-MVP in Round 2 and had solo honors in Round 11. Big man Jaylen Hoard stood tall in Round 4. Mid-season addition Chinanu Onuaku was the star of Round 13. And Jordan McRae was MVP in Rounds 9, 10 and 14. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hapoel’s players already have two more MVP awards than last season’s Lokomotiv Kuban, which had five weekly MVPs – three by Errick McCollum and two by current Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul standout Jonathan Motley.
Those are not just empty numbers. Hapoel is currently on a five-game winning streak, including a statement win over Gran Canaria, the team that currently has the top record in the competition (11-3), by 22 points,
And this brings us to the big question: Can Hapoel make it all the way and bring a second Israeli team to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague next season?
Low profile, big results
Coach Danny Franco practically gave his answer while speaking after the game against Gran Canaria: “We are looking at this group one game at a time, we are not looking at one position or another… We want to play well, keep on proceeding, do a good job, win games, and as long as you play good basketball, then you will find yourself at the highest position you can reach.”
Not exactly a bold statement, but on the other hand you should expect that from a coach and a team that are all about work.
But hard work pays off.
Hapoel leads the EuroCup in scoring (87.9 ppg), assists (21.7 ppg) and defensive rebounds (30.1 rpg), which together result in the EuroCup’s best performance index rating (107.1).
Encouraging stats to say the least and the 10 wins in 14 games prove that beyond any doubt. What’s really eye-catching, however, is that Hapoel seems to be finding its groove near the most important part of the season, the knock-out games.
A solid, but not impressive 5-4 record, turned into 10-4, and with four games left in the regular season, Hapoel has a relatively easy schedule facing Buducnost VOLI Podgorica and Slask Wroclaw on the road, while hosting Veolia Towers Hamburg and Promitheas Patras.
There’s a thorn on its side, though. That’s the lost tiebreaker to Turk Telekom Ankara with which they share the same record. They lost in Turkey by 12 points and won by just 2 in Tel Aviv.
However, the game in Turkey was played back in October and since then Hapoel is a totally different team. It owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Gran Canaria (+20) and the top spot in the group is in play, especially with the Round 16 clash between Gran Canaria and Turk Telekom in Spain coming up. If Turk Telekom wins that game by less than 7 points, Hapoel would finish first in the event of a three-way tie between those teams!
So the bottom line is simple: With the race to the top seemingly wide open in the EuroCup, Hapoel has emerged as the definition of a dark horse that seems to be picking up speed at the exact right time.