Israel’s national under-20 basketball team won its first European championship on Sunday evening in Chemnitz, Germany, beating the previously undefeated Croatian team 80-66.
After losing their opening game to Germany earlier this month, the Israeli team won six consecutive games in order to bring home the gold for the first time in the country’s history at an International Basketball Federation (FIBA) event.
The game was coach Ariel Beit-Halahmi’s first opportunity to take the European championship and the second year in a row in which the Israeli team overwhelmingly defeated France in the semifinals, this year by a score of 83-57.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Beit-Halahmi following the victory and congratulated the team: “To defeat France and Croatia sounds like the World Cup, it’s a wonderful achievement and we are all proud of you.”
Though the win was unexpected, the Israeli team led for the entire game. Points scored by players Michael Brisker, Gil Beni, Gavriel Chachashvili, Yuval Zussman and Deni Avdija put the team up by 11 at the half, with a score of 45-34.
Croatia narrowed the lead a bit during the third quarter but the Israelis stayed ahead, at one point leading by 21 points by the end of the last quarter. They finished the game with an 80-66 lead.
The game’s top scorer was Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Yuval Zusman, who racked up 17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Gil Beni, the team captain and point guard from Maccabi Raanana, also scored 17 points, while Hapoel Galilee’s Meron Roina added 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Among the team’s stars, Zusman is expected to be a standout in the Euroleague and 17-year-old Avdija is thought to have promise for the NBA.
[Photo: Israel21c ]