An Israeli in the Olympics pulled off an upset not seen at the games for over a decade, but you won’t see the blue and white delegation crowing about the achievement.
David Blatt, an Israeli American coaching the Russian national basketball team, led his squad to a stunning 77-74 upset of Spain on Saturday, securing a spot at the top of Group B and unseating the perennial European powerhouse.
Spain has not lost to a team other than the U.S. since the 2000 games in Sydney.
Blatt, a Kentucky native raised near Boston and a former star for Princeton, moved to Israel to pursue a playing career and now coaches Maccabi Tel Aviv. In 2004 he moved to Saint Petersburg to coach and eventually won the job as national team skipper.
So far in London, he has led the Russian team to unprecedented success in the first week of the games, going undefeated in four games.
Spain, which features seven NBA players on its squad, was heavily favored to win the group. With the clinching of the top spot, Russia will avoid facing the Americans until a potential gold medal matchup.
“We won the group today,” Blatt said after the win. “It’s a good feeling. I’d hoped that we would finish in one of the top three spots, to be honest with you, just so that we could avoid the Americans team in the quarters.”
Russian basketball’s last two appearances in the Olympics, in 2008 in Beijing and in 2000, ended with the team in eighth and ninth place, respectively, out of a field of 10.
“What we’ve done in these last seven years is create the identity for Russian basketball,” Blatt said Saturday, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “It took a period of time after Perestroika for Russia to find its way in the basketball world. And now we’re back – I’m not going to say at the top, but certainly (among) the top teams in the world.”
in 2007, Blatt led Russia to a European Championship, beating the Spanish team 60-59 in Madrid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report