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Zipper opens eyes at FIBA U18 tournament

CM 12/08/2021

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One of the great things about the FIBA Youth Tournaments is the opportunity to see the stars of the future, today. That was once again the case in Tel Aviv as Israel hosted one of the Under-18 groups, which included basketball powerhouses France, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, along with Portugal.
Israel won the competition with a 4-1 record in what was a group-stage tournament in place of the usual European Championship, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each team was littered with potential players who may feature in their own domestic league, the Euroleague or perhaps even the NBA.
A number of players had already caught the eye of scouts prior to the competition, whether Israel’s Yuval Levin from Maccabi Tel Aviv, France’s Daryl Doualla, who is part of ASVEL’s youth department, along with Los Altos high school stud Jazz Gardner, Athanasios Bazinas from Greece, Lithuania’s Emilis Butkus and top-ranked Henri Veesaar from Estonia.
However, one player who came out of absolutely nowhere to steal the show and the tournament’s most valuable player award was Israeli Ron Zipper.
Zipper had never been a part of the National Team program and, in fact, the 18-year old had been playing for a third-division club in Ashkelon as well as a second-division youth league and barely raised an eyebrow.
However, as the FIBA competition went on, Zipper’s name began to grow as fans fell in love with the sharpshooter who averaged 25.2 points over the five games, going an astonishing 27-54 from three-point range for a 50% clip from beyond the arc.
But it wasn’t just his shot that fell, it was his overall game – going 5-of-5 from the foul-line late against France while scoring 10 points in a row to give Israel a hard-earned win over arguably the most talented team in the competition.
Zipper’s exploits traveled over the ocean to many experts of the game as his legend began to grow with each passing game.
In his first game, U18 captain Nevo Sommerfeld explained that while for most of the players in the tournament they had already been a part of the Israel National Team program for years, that was not the case for Zipper, who put up 28 points against Lithuania in a 100-71 win.
“I don’t know if you know this, but it was his first game with the national team. He was gigantic and was a real man. I want to wish him the best of success going forward. He’s a great player.”
Following Game 2, in which Zipper scored 19 points in what was yet another blue-and-white victory (102-67 over Portugal), the game’s MVP Adam Scherbakov – who himself scored 24 points and will be attending college in the United States – said of Zipper: “He has surprised everyone, it’s a Cinderella story. I don’t know if you realize this, but he came from a second-division youth team and I had a chance to play against him in school. He absolutely destroyed us. He has a bright future ahead.”
Ofek Gol, who will be a part of Hapoel Tel Aviv’s squad next year, also had high praise for Zipper after the Portugal win.
“I’m excited for him. This is his first campaign. He’s a great player and I see a bright future ahead for him.”
Game 3 was the huge comeback 89-83 win against France in which Zipper once again was the star of the show, checking in with 31 points helping will Israel to the late victory with his shooting exploits as the clock wound down, scoring 10 straight points.
The fourth game was another victory over Greece in which Zipper added 22 points, and the finale – a loss to Estonia – saw another 26 points from the new darling of Israeli hoops.
Zipper credited the team’s mental coach, Lior Lipshitz, for much of his success over the competition.
“It’s great to come out each game and give another great performance. Lior Lipshitz has helped us tremendously, including preparation each and every day. It’s incredible.”
Head coach Oren Aharoni, who has worked with Israeli youth over the past decade, had sound advice for Zipper for him to succeed going forward.
“Zipper has to stay humble and keep himself grounded. Every team went after him throughout the tournament, but he was able to overcome that challenge.”
As for Zipper’s new-found fame, the guard made no secret that this was the highlight of his basketball career to date.
“I’m happy for the team as we worked hard for the past two months and it’s all coming together. I’m not used to the attention, but it’s great. I don’t know where I will be next season and up until now this is the top of my career, but I want more.
“It’s what I have dreamed of at night. I’ve worked hard for this and to be here now is just incredible. To any child who wants to succeed, you’ll get there by working hard.”
It’s never easy to get noticed when you are from the periphery of the country and Zipper acknowledged that this in itself is a massive success story.
“Coming from Ashkelon is really tough. At my first practices it was tough for me to show my abilities, but slowly and surely with the help of the professional staff everything came together.”
As for who Zipper models his game after, the guard compared himself to one of the best shooters basketball has ever seen.
“James Harden, with all of the step-backs and we are both lefties. That’s my role model, despite him never passing the ball,” Zipper said with a laugh.
Finally, Yuval Levin who entered the tournament as one of the odds-on favorites to be the most valuable player and one who would end up dominating the competition, spoke about the U18’s new star.

“He had a great tournament. He’s a quiet guy and modest, but on the court he’s a killer and takes whatever he can. He gets his teammates involved and does everything on the court. I’m sure he’s going to go far in his career.”  Source: Jerusalem Post

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