February 22, 2024

Elitzur Neve David Ramla downed Hapoel Lev Jerusalem 85-65 earlier this week as Jennie Simms – freshly returned from the United States – showed absolutely no signs of rust by scoring 27 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to help the visitors notch the win.

Right before tipoff, a special ceremony took place for the family of Ofir Engel, who is being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas, as members of both teams and executives shared a few moments with the relatives as Yoav, Ofir’s father, spoke to the fans.

In addition to the Engel family, over 100 people who had been evacuated from their communities in the Gaza periphery and by the northern border cheered to their heart’s delight while enjoying an entertaining contest at Jerusalem’s Malha Arena.

Game, set, match
Simms may have just stepped off the airplane at Ben-Gurion, but if she had jet lag it certainly didn’t show as she ripped off 11 first-quarter points to help give Elitzur Ramla a 21-17 lead after 10 minutes. Eden Rotberg started to score as well to begin the second quarter but an active Noor Kayuf and Alex Cohen pulled Hapoel Lev Jerusalem even at 36-36 by halftime.

Ramla came out flying in the second half, with Tzalil Vaturi doing all kinds of damage along with Rotberg, as Neta Mishaar and Hodaya Kabeda tried to keep the hosts close.

However, once Daniel Raber started to score in bundles and Simms found her second wind it was game, set, match as Ramla cruised to the win.

Simms is the star of stars in the Israeli league right now that features no imports. The Maryland native played in the WNBA the past summer with both the Phoenix Mercury and the Washington Mystics and is arguably head and shoulders above every other player in the league. She’ll be able to take this team on her back should they hit a rough patch.

Jerusalem bench boss Limor Peleg went on about what she saw from Simms being back on the court.

“She’s an American playing in an Israeli league so you can say that it’s a little bit unfair for the size and that is why we bring Americans. We have Alex, but it’s different positions. They have a full team of D1 players and we are a young team.”

As a naturalized Israeli, there is no question as to where Simms’ thoughts were as she played after just having landed back in the Holy Land and being thoroughly exhausted.

“I gotta do what I gotta do to help us win. It’s tough, the ceremonies before and knowing what the situation is when I left and to come back to kind of the same situation. I am just trying to bring hope and trying to bring love back to the game for the kids, children and fans because even though we are going through tragedy we got to try to live life again.

“We had to just take care of the ball as they are a very good team and an aggressive team. They have really good Israelis so just being able to take care of the ball and finding each other and making sure we make the extra pass.”

Jerusalem kept the game close into halftime thanks to some wily play by Kayuf, who got under the skin of Simms.

“I just know that at the end of the day the level that I am able to play and the level where I am compared to others, that it’s going to be a physical game for me as long as I am out here until we get more players. It’s just something that I got to get mentally into. Just coming off the plane, not sleeping, I did let [Kayuf] get into my head, but I have to be a better player than that.”

However, at the end of the day Ramla is an all-star team loaded with the likes of not only Simms but also Rotberg, Raber, Tzlil Vaturi, Yarden Danan, and the list goes on and on and on with one star after the next on Gutt’s squad. But that is also a good thing for a newly promoted team in Hapoel Lev Jerusalem, whose players are getting a lesson or two against one of the top teams and without a doubt will take these types of games in stride and learn from them.

“You don’t get respected when you’re the new team in town,” Peleg said. “But the team had a tough game on Monday and we were really short. We gave it our all for three quarters and we fell off our feet and all of the shots were short. We faced the best team in the league and it was definitely good to be back on the court. I am proud of the team, it’s the second game of the season and we have a lot to learn but we are on the right track. There is a lot to work with.”