|At a time that few players stay with one club for multiple years, guard Timmy Bowers seems to have found a home with former ULEB Cup champion Hapoel Jerusalem. Bowers enters his third season in a row with the team from the Israeli capital and continues to leave a mark. His first season out of college was in Israel with Givat Shmuel, which he led to a late-season turnaround and was named league MVP. That paved his way to Jerusalem and both sides have been happy ever since. Next week ,Hapoel and Bowers travel to face a familiar foe, Unics Kazan of Russia, in the first leg of the their two-game Eurocup qualifying series. Last season in the ULEB Cup, Hapoel and Unics played two games with dramatically different outcomes. One of Hapoel's most amazing wins ever came at home against Unics by 107-68 in November 2007. Less than two month later, however, Unics pounded Hapoel 98-45 in Russia. Just before the two sides meet again for a high-stakes clash, Bowers spoke to Eurocupbasketball.com about the new season, some new faces, some old faces and how important it is for himself and his team to make to the Eurocup regular season. "For me it will be a big blow not to make it to the next round," Bowers told Eurocupbasketball.com. "It's a very big deal for the team and we set it as one of our main goals to play the Eurocup this season."
Hello, Timmy. First of all, Hapoel Jerusalem faces Unics Kazan in the Eurocup second qualifying round. What do you think about this opponent that you already know well?
"We know from experience, since we met them the past season. Kazan is a very strong team, especially on their home court in Kazan. It will be tough for us, but we need to go there and make things happen."
Last season, Hapoel and Unics traded massive home wins. Hapoel beat Unics by 39 in Jerusalem. Unics downed your team by 53 in Kazan. Do you think that these games can influence the outcome of this series?
"We have a different team nowadays than last season. We told the new guys about what happened last season and also how difficult it is to play over there. I can't even explain what happened back then. We had a lot of injuries at that time, but it didn't make the experience feel any better, but we'll be ready this time. We have a new team now, and it's going to be a lot different than last year.
How important is it for Hapoel to play the first game in Kazan?
"From my experience in the ULEB Cup the past two seasons, I always think it's better to play the first game on the road. If you win then you're in a great situation, and it's a big plus, and if you lose, then you still go back to your home court and have the support of the fans to try and turn things over. Nevertheless, we need to go to Kazan with the mind set to win the game. We can't think about losing by a small margin. "
Hapoel won the ULEB Cup title in 2004 and has been in Europe's second competition for five consecutive seasons. What would it mean for the club and for you, personally, to not be in the Eurocup this season?
"For me it would be a big blow. It's a very big deal for the team and we set it as one of our main goals to play the Eurocup this season. After I played this competition for two years, I know what it's like and I don't want to think about not being there this year. We're very hungry, and we want to go there and qualify. The past season we didn't have a good season. We know it and also the new players do, and we want to pass Unics to have a good start for the season."
Unics has been playing Russian League games for three weeks already. Meanwhile, Hapoel played its first Israeli League game last weekend. Do you think that, in this case, your opponent may have an advantage?
"It can make a difference. They’ve played more games and they are in better game shape, but we can't use it as an excuse. We had a big win in Ashkelon and want to continue on this road. We have a talented team and a very good chemistry. I hope it will make a difference.
The Eurocup introduced the elimination rounds this year to add more drama in the beginning of the season. What is your opinion about the competition format and how can it help the Eurocup in the long run?
"I think it's a great change. It keeps the competition very competitive. When I look at the list of teams in the qualifying rounds, I see a lot of great teams that need to work hard to get in and it keeps the competition up."
You’re coming off a great ULEB Cup season, in which you averaged 14.7 points on 42.9% three-point shooting. At age 26, do you feel that you are right in the prime of your career?
"This is certainly not the prime of my career. For me I'm just getting started. Being in Hapoel for three years helped me out tremendously. I got here the experience that I need and learned a lot of things, but I believe I can still play better and reach higher places than we have here in Hapoel. There are a lot of years on my body."
You helped Hapoel Jerusalem to win the Israeli Cup in the past two seasons. Hapoel Holon won the Israeli League while Bnei Hasharon is already in the Eurocup regular season. Do you think that the overall level of Israeli basketball has grown in recent seasons?
"The league is tough every season. I played one season in the Israeli League before arriving to Hapoel, so I know it well. You got your top teams as always in Maccabi, Bnei Hasharon and obviously us. Teams like Haifa and Ashkelon are good teams. I think on any given night teams can beat anybody. On paper it's one thing, but when you take the game to the court, anything can occur. In every season I spent here there were a lot of good players."
This is your third season in Hapoel. Do you feel your part in the team is more of a leader? What's the difference from your first season with the club?
"I arrived to this season more experienced. I never play with an ego. I let things come to me. Last season my role was a little bit bigger than in the first season, but the spotlight was more on Jaime Arnold in a way. This year it's different. Coach Guy Goodes asked me to be as aggressive as possible, and that's the way I like to play. With the new foreigners I showed them a little around in the first days but once my family moved to Jerusalem I spend most of my time with them."
Last but not least, what are your personal goals this season and how far can Hapoel go in all competitions?
"I never have personal goals, it's always team goals. I want to win the Israeli Cup once more, but what I really want is to take the championship. In my first season with Hapoel we were so close to winning it, and came only 2 seconds from that title. Last year we didn't make it there, so we kind of tasted from both worlds. A lot of people are sleeping on us because we don't have big names, but we have guys that want to prove something, and play hard. In the Eurocup, we first of all want to qualify for the regular season and to leave Unics behind. Once we do that, we’ll take it from there. Before that we have a task."