For the second consecutive year, Israel’s Under-20 national team, under the guidance of Ariel Beit Halachmi, accomplished an unimaginable feat with an amazing victory at the European Championship in front of the thrilled local crowd at the Shlomo Stadium in Tel Aviv, which saw the blue-and-white beat Spain 92-84 in Sunday night’s final.
The game was as close as they get in the first half, which ended 42-42. But Israel switched gears after the break, surviving a Spanish string of four straight three-pointers to start the third quarter before embarking on a big run of its own, scoring 50 points in the second half to claim its second straight, and second overall, U20 title.
Deni Avdija, who was named the tournament’s MVP, averaged 18.4 points over seven games to go along with 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.4 blocks and 2.1 steals, was clearly the star of the squad, but he had ample help from his teammates, most notably from Yam Madar, who put up 15.9 points and a tournament-high 7.7 assists per contest.
On Sunday, Avdija and Madar were the one-two punch Beit Halachmi needed, tallying 40 points between them. Avdija scored 23 on 9-of-16 shooting, with seven assists, five rebounds, four blocks and a steal, while Madar finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and a team-high eight assists to also earn a spot on the tournament’s All-Star Five.
After the final, Madar exclaimed, “We wanted it so much, Avdija is the king. We prepared a lot, and this second title really is a dream come true. There is no ego on this team, because once we realize that playing together makes the entire team better, there is a natural connection. We really love each other off the court as well, and I think that helped our play throughout the competition.”
With the victory, Israel became just the second team (along with Serbia in 2007-08) to claim back-to-back U20 European championships, and Avdija also pointed to the cohesiveness of the team as the primary reason for its sustained success.
“I can say that on this team there is no MVP, and I am not being modest, but that is simply the truth,” said the 18-year-old NBA prospect. “It does not matter who scored and when. There was a huge pressure to take this trophy, but all my teammates encouraged me, and even though I had a hard time after the loss to Serbia (in the first group game), they picked me up.
“I think the future is very optimistic. There are not many players who can come every night and perform in the clutch, without letting injuries or fatigue play a factor. Everyone, from the players to our coach and the team manager, everyone did everything to win.”
The Israeli star gave a lot of credit to his parents.
“I thank my parents, who taught me to be a winner. They are responsible for this and I owe them a lot,” said an elated Avdija.
The sell-out crowds in Tel Aviv who vociferously cheered on the blue-and-white definitely played an important role.
“I had the pleasure to play in this amazing atmosphere, the crowd supported us so much and really pushed us when things got tough,” added Avdija.
The championship celebration went deep into the night, with the players singing and dancing with the trophy at the Tel Aviv Port and being hoisted onto the shoulders of jubilant fans.
“It’s fun to celebrate and have fun now,” said team captain Yair Kravits. “Yotam Hanochi and I spent two months living together in the same hotel room and planned for this moment a hundred times. It’s unbelievable that it finally came true.”
Hanochi, the forward who averaged 8.1 points for Israel over the tournament also spoke about the team’s motivation.
“We were not ashamed to talk about repeating as champions, and when it happens like that in reality, it’s the most fun there is,” said the 18-year-old who returned to squad this year after battling injuries.
“The difference between us and the other amazing teams is our will and our Israeliness that we brought to the field.
“There are no words to describe the feeling we all have right now. I personally really appreciated the opportunity that coach gave me after a long injury and I thank him for trusting me.”
While celebrating their triumph at the port, the Israeli players were surprised to discover other players from other teams partying with them.
Levan Petrovich, who helped produce the post-victory festivities , said: “These are happy moments and each of these players deserve to enjoy what they did in this tournament. They have a very great future ahead of them.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here