|Afik Nissim helped Israel push Serbia to the limit and more than held his own against Milos Teodosic|
By Jeff Taylor
Afik Nissim didn't travel to the EuroBasket as Israel's main man, but he'll certainly leave with coach Arik Shivek singing his praises.
The 30-year-old point guard, with the national team needing a spark after defeats to Germany and France, was magnificent against a Serbia side that could just find itself on the podium again after winning silver two years ago in Poland.
He was fearless and full of passion, scoring 16 points and finishing an assist shy of a double-double, but Serbia came from behind and won 89-80.
Israel saw their hopes of progressing from Group B dashed, but there are always positives to be drawn and Nissim is one huge one for Israel.
"Afik is a player I've followed over the years," Shivek said to FIBA Europe.
"He went to Europe when I went to Europe eight years ago, and the last years, he wasn't playing in the national team.
"I decided last year to call him and tell him, 'Afik, it's about time you come back and play for the national team.'
"And I followed him during the year, and he sent me DVDs of all his (CEZ) Nymburk Eurocup games and I spoke with him at my place at the end of the season and was sure he would give us a lot of experience and that we would accept his qualities as a basketball player and in the end, it was the right decision."
Nissim didn't just score and dish, but also played some great defense.
"To be honest, he really surprised me with his defense," Shivek said.
"In the first half against France, he played really good defense against Tony (Parker). And today, he did a good job on (Milos) Teodosic."
Nissim was a wanted man after the game with Serbia.
Reporters crowded around him and pelted him with questions.
"We gave our maximum and showed our character but unfortunately, not for a win," he said.
"Hopefully for the next two games, we'll get wins."
Israel's basketball fans are passionate and very opinionated and one great effort, albeit in defeat, won't be enough to ensure that Nissim and his cohorts return home to hear encouraging words.
"I think the Israel people - it depends on the next two games because the first two games, we didn't play so good," Nissim said.
"I hope we'll play better so that we can come back with a smile."
There's a very good chance that Nissim will be in the Israel team in the years to come.
"A - he's a great guy," Shivek said.
"B - he's a professional. And C - he really fits our system, shooting over screens, reading the situations of the pick-and-rolls very well, and you know, maybe the best sign for a player is that players like to play with him."