Raanana Hertzeliya officially opened the 06/07 season in a press conference held today in Hertzeliya. The team introduced the roster, while stressing the responsibility the Israeli players carry. The goal of course is the upper playoffs, though the word championship was tossed around. "I didn't come back to be just another team, I want to be at the top" said Tal Natan.
Last season ended in Raanana Hertzeliya with a lot of regrets, what ifs and most of all, disappointment. The roster, like in most of the teams in the league, was replaced nearly in its entirety in hope of achieving what slipped away last season. "I've been carrying the fact we missed out on the playoffs with me all summer long", said Tal Natan. "I love the big games, the excitement, the wins, and the media. I didn't come back to be just another team, I want to be at the top. The first conclusion I drew from last year is to give the Israeli players the spot light. They are the most dominant force on the team, it's an Israeli team. The 2nd lesson is to peak at the right time."
Raanana Hertzeliya has one of the youngest rosters in the league, with Ornit Shwartz being the only one over 24. Aside from the three Americans, who are all new to the Israeli league, Ortal Oren arrived after 4 years at UCLA, Katia Levitzky came off a championship with Hapoel Tel Aviv and Chen Nusel joined after two seasons in Ramat Hen. "Until now no team has ever won the championship with 3 foreigners, there were always 4 though Hapoel Tel Aviv lost one to injury last year. We went with 3 foreigners in order to allow our talented Israelis to step up and I put the responsibility on them, to prove themselves", said Natan. "The easiest thing to do is to blame the coach for not playing the Israelis enough, but that's a mediocre player's answer. It needs to come from them. Aside from our team goals, I'd be very happy to see Chen and Ortal play for the National Team next year, and if Katia becomes the best Israeli player in the country."
La'Tangela Atkinson, the 22 year old Indiana Fever member, is going to be one of the league's top players. What makes a young and promising player like her decide to come to Israel this year? "K.B Sharp [Raanana Hertzeliya's player last season and Atkinson's teammate at Indiana] was telling me a little bit about it, she told me it was nice and that I should come over. She told me that the coaching staff is really nice, she loved it over here so I heard nice things about Israel before I came." Anyone who has seen Atkinson play would agree that she is one of the most athletic players in the WNBA, but she is very humble about it. "I bring defense and rebounding to the team… athleticism? I guess."
Ornit Shwartz, the team's captain, added: "I'm very excited to return to the club. My goal this year, aside from getting a few baskets, is to infect as many people as possible with the love for women's basketball. We play with passion, I think we can get a lot of people from both cities to connect to this team. We'll start with some wins, that helps draw people. We have an amazing team as far as our potential goes. Our foreigners are hungry, young and with potential to succeed and not just in Israel. I trust the staff to lead us in the right direction, but regardless I guarantee it will be interesting as it's always is when Tal and I are on the same team."
The player who will have to help Shwartz in the leadership department is Tasha Butts, the veteran among the foreigners at 24 years old. "The more I get used to the style of play I will bring a lot of leadership," said Butts. "Just getting used to being the point guard. I have a scoring mentality, but I'm an all around player. Rebounding, scoring, defense, whatever it takes." Raanana Hertzeliya doesn't have a natural point guard on the roster but they don't consider it a problem. "I'm not a real point guard, my real position is a 2-3 but as a basketball player you have to be able to adjust to your surroundings and that's what I've done. In the starting 5, I'm the person that handles the ball the most but with our guards, we're interchangeable. There's no real point guard, whoever can get the rebound and the outlet, that's how it goes."
Butts also heard nothing but good things about Israel before coming over. "I actually had two old teammates that were here and they told me that it's not what everybody assumed, that it's a very nice place, very Americanized which is one of the reasons I came here. Also the competition is good, that's what I was looking for." So far Butts has enjoyed playing for Tal Natan, one of the most animated coaches in the league. "It's not that different from my college coach [the legendary Pat Summit at Tennessee], just with the tension, the style of play that he likes to do, up and down, and get into his players faces, excepting nothing but the best of them so I'm pretty used to it and I'm excited to learn more from him."
"Each one of the players we brought is at a cross road. This season will point them to the direction they are heading to," Natan continued. "It's easy to take someone like Rada Vidovic who's been around the league for 10 years, or DeTrina White or Plenette Pierson. It's the easiest thing in the world. Every year we bring new players to the league, I have to make sure other coaches will have more options to choose from next year. I know that because our foreigners are young it will be harder to click, it will take a bit longer, but once we click, together with the Israelis, we'll be an attractive team."
Butts, Shwartz & Atkinson