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This past week, the Israel Under-20 National Basketball Team won the FIBA European Championship for the first time and blue-and-white pride was on display across the country. This was Israel’s first international basketball title at any age level and the victory gave hope to many that this is just the first of many more to come.

The Under-20 national team, led by tournament MVP Yovel Zoosman and Deni Avdija of Maccabi Tel Aviv along with captain Gil Beni and Michael Brisker of Maccabi Ra’anana, didn’t just win their games, they dominated the opposition like no other Israeli team had done before. Take into account that the field of teams wasn’t made up of the smaller non-basketball nations but the best of the best in Europe, from Greece to Spain and France to Croatia whom Israel defeated in the finals. The blue-and-white won the games against those four teams by an average of over 21 points per contest.

Led by head coach Ariel Beit-Halachmi and his upbeat, positive style of basketball, the squad was able to pressure the ball handler, double team when necessary and just go for it with no fear at all. That’s the way Beit-Halachmi managed this tournament and that’s how he’s always coached his league teams, especially Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, over the past couple of seasons. His style was the exact formula that was called for in this competition and his continuous encouragement from the sidelines pushed the team to this great accomplishment.

Of course, the big question now is where these players go from here, with most currently toiling in Israel’s second division. Will they get a chance to show their worth at the top level, and in the bigger picture what is the future for Israel Basketball at large?

Near the end of the past Israel Basketball Super League season, the Israeli players went on strike and demanded that native blue-and-white players be protected and given an opportunity in a league that features many foreigners, primarily from the United States. The “Russian Rule”, as it is known, requires every team to have at least two Israelis on the floor at all times. Israelis in this case are also naturalized Israelis, those that have made aliya from other countries and are recognized as Sabras by the Interior Ministry.
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