With Maor at the helm, in­trigu­ing next chap­ter for Hapoel Jerusalem

Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - R #Z "--0/ 4*/"* (Udi Zi­tiat) Wed­nes­day’s games: L PD

The bot­tom line, of course, is what will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine whether the move made by Hapoel Jerusalem owner Ori Al­lon will be re­mem­bered as a stroke of ge­nius or as a bad joke.

While the fir­ing of coach Fo­tis Kat­sikaris last week was far from sur­pris­ing, the ap­point­ment of his as­sis­tant Mody Maor in his place both baf­fled and be­mused.

The fact Hapoel chose to put its faith in some­one who had never pre­vi­ously worked as a head coach is noth­ing short of in­cred­i­ble.

Maor worked un­der Si­mone Piani­giani at Jerusalem last sea­son and also was on the coach­ing staffs of the likes of Tzvika Sherf in the past.

All his for­mer bosses speak highly of him. But there is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween serv­ing as some­one’s as­sis­tant (or as a scout, the way he has done with the Is­rael na­tional teams) and or­ches­trat­ing the show your­self.

Maor may very well have ev­ery­thing needed to be a suc­cess­ful head coach.

But is he ready to be the head coach of Hapoel Jerusalem?

Only time will tell, of course. But there is no hid­ing from the fact that Al­lon has taken a huge gam­ble. A ma­jor leap of faith is re­quired to name as your head coach some­one who only cel­e­brated his 32nd birth­day ear­lier this year and is dis­cov­er­ing for the first time what it feels like to shoul­der the full re­spon­si­bil­ity of a team.

There is no rea­son Maor’s age should hold him back, but his lack of ex­pe­ri­ence is glar­ing.

It is hardly sur­pris­ing that the 35-year-old Al­lon is the per­son be­hind this bet, with Hapoel’s boss sell­ing two star­tups to Google and Twit­ter by the age of 30 and his cur­rent real-es­tate startup com­pany, Com­pass, be­ing val­ued at over $1 bil­lion.

Clearly, Al­lon be­lieves that if you are good enough, you are old enough.

Maor’s first game in charge went rea­son­ably well, with Hapoel hit­ting the ground run­ning and surg­ing to a 25-point lead against Ironi Ness Ziona in BSL ac­tion on Satur­day, be­fore re­turn­ing to its old habits in the sec­ond half. Jerusalem scored just 25 points in the third and fourth quar­ters com­bined and had to over­come a few nervy mo­ment be­fore com­plet­ing a 74-59 vic­tory and im­prov­ing to a 5-1 record in lo­cal league ac­tion.

How­ever, Maor’s first real test will come on Wed­nes­day when the team hosts Li­etk­a­belis Pan­evezys of Lithua­nia in Eurocup play.

Kat­sikaris lost his job mainly due to the team’s strug­gles in the Eurocup, with Hapoel at 1-4 at the mid­way point of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Af­ter go­ing all the way to the semi­fi­nals last sea­son, the ex­pec­ta­tion was to take another step for­ward and reach the fi­nal in 2018. That seems like an un­re­al­is­tic dream at the mo­ment, with Hapoel fight­ing to sim­ply avoid a hum­bling exit in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Af­ter host­ing Pan­evezys, Hapoel plays three of its fi­nal four Eurocup reg­u­lar sea­son games on the road, against Buduc­nost, Bay­ern Mu­nich and Galatasaray.

The top four teams in the group will ad­vance to the Top 16 and Jerusalem is still very much in the mix, sit­ting only one game back of Reg­gio Emilia in fourth place. It can scarcely af­ford any ad­di­tional slip ups though. THE AP­POINT­MENT of Mody Maor as Hapoel Jerusalem’s new head coach caught most ex­perts by sur­prise, but it re­mains to be seen if he has in­deed be­ing handed the role on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters fur­ther is the fact that Maor seems to be on a rel­a­tively short leash. No one at the club has agreed to go on cam­era to con­firm that he will guide the team un­til even the end of the sea­son and he seems well aware that the head coach po­si­tion may only be his for the short term.

“Hapoel Jerusalem is my home and I’m here,” was what he an­swered when asked if he will coach the side un­til the end of the sea­son.

“I love chal­lenges and I love Hapoel Jerusalem and the com­bi­na­tion be­tween the two is fan­tas­tic,” added Maor, who isn’t lack­ing in life ex­pe­ri­ences hav­ing served as a com­bat of­fi­cer in the IDF.

“If I doubted my abil­ity to do this job I wouldn’t have ac­cepted it. I’m cer­tain that we can suc­ceed to­gether and that is why I took it whole­heart­edly. I know there will be some dif­fi­cult days ahead, but we will be ready to face them to­gether.”

Un­der­stand­ing that its prob­lems go far be­yond the coach­ing po­si­tion, Jerusalem con­tin­ues to make changes to its ros­ter, bring­ing in for­ward Ron­ald Roberts on Mon­day. The 26-year-old was set to play for the Ade­laide 36ers of the Aus­tralian league this sea­son, but was cut last month, with the team claim­ing he is suf­fer­ing from a knee in­jury.

Roberts tweeted in re­sponse: “Ac­tu­ally I have no in­jury what­so­ever... re­ports are false, I’m 100 per­cent fine.”

Jerusalem also signed Kalin Lu­cas at the start of last week, with the guard be­ing brought in to fill the void left by the de­par­ture of Curtis Jer­rells.

Hapoel may well be re­gret­ting the re­lease of Jer­rells last month, cut­ting its top scorer from last sea­son’s tri­umphant cam­paign be­cause he clashed with Kat­sikaris.

Al­lon prides him­self at be­ing pa­tient and giv­ing his coaches ev­ery chance to suc­ceed. Af­ter all, he was un­der pres­sure to sack Piani­giani at stages last sea­son, but ended it cel­e­brat­ing a sec­ond BSL cham­pi­onship in three years af­ter the team had also reached the Eurocup semis.

Putting faith in the coach rather than a star scorer is a de­ci­sion that has be­come a rar­ity in the sports world over re­cent years. But Al­lon did that with Jer­rells’s re­lease, some­thing which also cost the club around $100,000.

Nev­er­the­less, with the side be­ing booed off the court in Jerusalem by many of its fans fol­low­ing last Wed­nes­day’s Eurocup de­feat to the pre­vi­ously win­less Galatasaray, Al­lon must have felt his team could be on its way to a lost sea­son with Kat­sikaris at the helm. He no­ti­fied him one day later that he was fired, just one month into the cam­paign.

In many ways, the fact Kat­sikaris lasted that long is a tes­ta­ment to Al­lon’s com­po­sure. Far more un­ex­pected though, was the pro­mo­tion of Maor.

While Hapoel dug it­self a hole in the Eurocup un­der Kat­sikaris, should it fail to progress to the Top 16 un­der Maor, the fail­ure will scar both the coach and those who ap­pointed him.

Hapoel’s hopes of one day play­ing in the Euroleague are very much con­nected with its re­sults in the Eurocup, mak­ing this a high-stake’s gam­ble. It is not quite an all-or-noth­ing sit­u­a­tion for Hapoel, but it isn’t far from it.

Maor said af­ter his head coach­ing de­but that he had fun. With so much at stake and the pres­sure only ex­pected to grow, ev­ery­one con­nected with Hapoel Jerusalem is pray­ing that won’t change any­time soon.

al­lon@jpost.com

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