|15 August 2012|
|Point guard Yogev Ohayon's confidence must be sky-high ahead of Israel's opening game in the Qualification Round, with coach Shivek publicly acknowledging his leading role on the team|
Israel are always a force to be reckoned when it comes to qualifying for the EuroBasket.
Even in a summer when Arik Shivek has to coach the national side in the only six-team pool in the Qualification Round, a Group A that has two Balkan juggernauts, Serbia and Montenegro, most seasoned observers will expect Israel to clinch a spot for next year's Final Round in Slovenia.
Also in Group A are Estonia, Iceland and Slovakia.
What works in Israel's favour is that not only do the top two sides punch tickets for Slovenia, but also the four best-third place teams.
Even so, there is a sense of urgency going into the first game.
"We need to play together, and aggressively, and with God's help we will win," said Yuval Naimi, a guard in the Israeli squad.
"We are aware of the importance of opening the campaign with a win and will do everything to achieve it."
If Israel do not manage to beat a good Montenegro on Wednesday, they will be favourites in their following games against Estonia, Iceland and Slovakia, even with the latter two clashes on the road.
As for the make-up of this summer's side, there should be three striking differences to the team that lost its first three games at last year's EuroBasket before rebounding with two wins.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Omri Casspi is back after missing the Final Round in Lithuania because of injury.
Yogev Ohayon, a 1.90m point guard, looks set to have a prominent role after averaging just under 12 minutes per game in Siaulai.
And there is the incorporation of recently naturalized Alexander Tyus, 24, a 2.03m power forward.
Tyus, who like Joakim Noah of France and Nick Calathes of Greece played college basketball for the Florida Gators, has competed for Maccabi Ashdod B.C. in Israel and also for Cantu in Italy.
"Not only is he one of the better naturalized players we ever had on the national team," Shivek said, "he's also a wonderful human being."
As for the point guard situation, there is no doubt about the importance of Ohayon.
Shivek made that very clear early this summer.
"Yogev is the team's leading point guard, and all the players know that," Shivek said.
"He handles the reins."
Naimi is upbeat.
"We feel ready," he said.
"I think we have had a good preparation and everyone is in good shape."
Veteran forward Lior Eliyahu added: "It's the official start to the games after a good preparation period that we've had.
"I think we're ready and everyone feels good."