MUNICH (EuroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Israel won’t be the most talented team at EuroBasket 2013.
It will not be a side experts pick to go far in the tournament, one that serves as a qualifying event for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.
The best finish for Israel at a European Championship in the last 25 years was seventh in 2003.
But don’t count out this team.
"I can tell you that the atmosphere in the team is very healthy and very good,” Israel coach Arik Shivek said to FIBA.com.
“The main players (Omri) Casspi, (Yotam) Halperin, Lior Eliyahu, Yogev Ohayon, and the rest of the players, are very enthusiastic about this upcoming European Championship and as a coach, I can tell you that if we stay like this, we have a good chance to qualify (for the second round).
"They want to do it.
“It means that they are mature enough now, they have played enough together to make the next step.”
To drive home that fact, Shivek, who over the weekend attended FIBA Europe’s draws in Munich for their youth tournaments, said: "I've stayed another day just to spend some time with (Bayern Munich’s) Yotam Halperin.
“We have connections between the players and myself, connections during the whole season.
“It's kind of a family relationship.”
Israel are to face France, Belgium, Ukraine, Great Britain and Germany in Group C.
Considering what Shivek’s teams have encountered before, the Final Round in Slovenia doesn’t look intimidating at all.
In the qualification for EuroBasket 2011, Israel finished second to Montenegro and ahead of Italy, Latvia and Finland.
Then, after a EuroBasket Final Round which saw Israel compete against France, Serbia, Germany, Italy and Latvia, coming in fourth, Shivek’s side was drawn in a EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Round group of death.
They came in second again behind Montenegro, and ahead of Serbia, Estonia, Slovakia and Iceland.
"When you go to a European Championship, it's true that there are no weak opponents,” Shivek said.
“It's true that there are opponents like Spain, France, Lithuania and Russia and these countries, but there are also opponents in which you can say, ‘Okay, I can look them in the eye and try to do our best to win the game.’
"I think that in our group, except France - I'm not saying that we are better than all the rest, but it's true that we can compete and if we are good, we can win.”
Shivek was extremely satisfied with the Qualification Round this past summer yet he isn’t sure fans fully appreciate the magnitude of the achievement.
"To be honest, I don't think so,” Shivek said.
“I don't think the people realize what we had in a 10-game qualification and a very tough draw.
"I remember two years ago, in the same group we had Italy and Montenegro, and we finished second ahead of Italy.
“This time, we finished ahead of Serbia.
“People are taking too much for granted because to be in this group and to finish second, it's unusual.”
A niggling injury prevented Casspi from playing at EuroBasket 2011 but he returned.
Israel lost at Montenegro and suffered a home defeat to Estonia to begin with, yet bounced back.
"The biggest win was against Serbia at home and actually we had a very good campaign,” Shivek said.
Newcomer Alex Tyus, a 2.05m center, was vital. He averaged 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Change of pace
Shivek isn’t coaching a club now, but instead working for the federation.
"I like very much what I am doing, being in charge of all the young national teams, working with the young coaches and making the programs for the academies and the national teams,” he said. “I really like it.
"But I would lie to you if I told you I didn't miss the daily work on the court with the players, and the tension of the games.
"I'm sure I will return to coaching a club team.”
Shivek is living 20km outside of Tel Aviv.
Do the political problems in the region affect his day-to-day life?
“Not at all,” he said.
“You know, sometimes, I can tell you that for people watching television, it's much worse than what is reality.
“I'm not telling you that it was a normal situation in Israel two or three weeks ago. It was not. On the other hand, Israeli people are strong.”