Group G winner Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem and its quarterfinals opponent Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas have so much in common. They are experienced teams designed to go deep this season and both enjoy distinct home-court advantages. But only one of them can reach the EuroCup semifinals!
Built to win
Both Jerusalem and Gran Canaria have rosters that were built to challenge for the EuroCup crown this season. They each have deep, veteran rosters with players that have been on the big stage before. Hapoel has a two-time Euroleague champ (Yotam Halperin), three players with EuroLeague Final Four experience (Lior Eliyahu, Halperin, Malik Hairston), a reigning EuroCup champ (Curtis Jerrells) and a six-time NBA All-Star (Amar’e Stoudemire). Gran Canaria features four players (Richard Hendrix, Bo McCalebb, Darko Planinic and Xavi Rabaseda) who have played the EuroLeague Final Four, a pair (Pablo Aguilar and Hendrix) of former EuroCup champs and of course four players (Eulis Baez, Kyle Kuric, Albert Oliver and Oriol Pauli) that remain from Gran Canaria’s trip to the 2015 EuroCup finals. With so much experience, there will be no meltdown in this series.
The Siena connection
For several years Bo McCalebb was widely viewed as one of the top guards in Europe and for much of that period his coach was Simone Pianigiani. Now, for the first time since, they will face off. Pianigiani, who is now the head coach in Jerusalem, coached McCalebb for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons at Montepaschi Siena and then recruited him to Istanbul the next season when Pianigiani was hired by Fenerbahce. In that period, the two reached the 2011 EuroLeague Final Four in Barcelona, won a pair of Italian League and Cup doubles and the Turkish Cup. McCalebb also took home the 2012 Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy and was named to the 2011-12 All-EuroLeague Second Team. McCalebb will also see another ex-teammate on the Jerusalem roster; swingman Malik Hairston made his EuroLeague debut alongside McCalebb and under Pianigiani in Siena with the 2010-11 team.
Gran Canaria’s beat down of Jerusalem
There is good reason that the name Gran Canaria strikes fear in the hearts of some of the biggest Jerusalem fans. Jerusalem enjoys a rich history in European competition, which includes winning the 2004 ULEB Cup, a pair of appearances in the EuroLeague, a run to the semifinals in the Saporta Cup and much more. It has faced many of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Olympiacos Piraeus, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. But no team ever dismantled Jerusalem quite the way Gran Canaria did in last season’s round of 32 finale. Gran Canaria walloped Jerusalem 108-61 in what was the both largest margin of victory in Gran Canaria history and the worst loss ever for Jerusalem. Gran Canaria also won 64-75 in Jerusaelm in the prior leg. Those are the only two times these teams have ever played. But just as the fans in Jerusalem should not pay much credence to those results, the Gran Canaria supporters should not take comfort either. Only three Jerusalem players (Lior Eliyahu, Yotam Halperin and Bar Timor) remain on the Jerusalem roster from that game, while four players (Brad Newley, Alen Omic, Kevin Pangos and D.J. Seeley) no longer with the team accounted for nearly half the team’s offense that night. In other words, it’s a whole new ballgame!
The new arena advantage
Both Jerusalem and Gran Canaria have made their home courts work for them this season – and in past seasons, too. Each is 6-1 in the EuroCup at home in the current campaign; Jerusalem suffered a narrow loss to Valencia Basket and Gran Canaria had a hiccup against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. Both teams clearly take great pride in their arenas and with good reason; they are among the newest and finest courts in the EuroCup! Gran Canaria Arena opened in the spring of 2014 and hosted a group stage of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Pais Arena Jerusalem opened its doors a few months later. Jerusalem’s fan base is known for being loud and passionate. Gran Canaria enjoys the fact that the Canary Islands feature a relaxing subtropical climate and that its location means teams often need multiple flights to reach the Canary Islands.