Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Lithuania for a date with Zalgiris on Gameday 21 of the Euroleague Thursday night, 8pm Israel time. The Yellow & Blue currently sit in 8th place with a 11-9 record while the host’s come into the contest in 6th place with a record of 12-8. The two sides met in Israel back on Gameday 10 when Maccabi won by the score of 81-74. However following that loss, Zalgiris went on a roll of 5 wins in a row before alternating between a loss and win for 5 straight games. It’s fair to say that Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius will look to exact revenge on Neven Spahija’s Tel Aviv squad in front of a packed Zalgiro Arena in Kaunus.
One of the familiar faces that Maccabi will be looking forward to seeing is Beno Udrih who played for the Yellow & Blue way back in 2002/03 before embarking on a 13-year NBA career. The Slovenian guard won 2 Championships with the San Antonio Spurs while also spending a huge chunk of his time in North America with the Sacramento Kings together with another former Maccabi player in Omri Casspi during his rookie and sophomore season.
The Sports Rabbi had a chance to discuss a number of topics with Udrih ahead of the big reunion on Thursday and how he feels about returning to play in Europe, “It feels great. Yeah, 13 years in the NBA and coming back is different. You have to get used to the system a little bit. Different balls, different rules. But I’m just happy to be getting an opportunity to be playing basketball.”
Udrih alluded to his post playing career and as to why he decided to come and play specifically for Zalgiris and Saras, “Well, everybody knows who Sarunas is and what kind of player he was. It was my decision to come here and play for him and learn from him. I want to go into coaching after I’m done playing as well. And I think they were playing really well in the Euroleague, so I just wanted to make an extra addition to help them out to go further in the playoffs. Get to the playoffs and then go as far as we can. I thought is was a great opportunity and I accepted it.”
The chance to play against one of his former teams is definitely something that the 28th pick in the 2004 NBA draft is looking forward to, “It’s going to be a great feeling. I know their coach Neven Spahija and I played for him after I left Maccabi (at Avtodor Saratov). I played with Nikola Vujcic, the GM there. I’m really excited to see them. It’s been so long since I played for them, but I definitely have great memories from Tel Aviv when I played for Maccabi and it felt like a family. Otherwise it’s just another game that I’m going to try to win for my team and we’ll see what happens.”
Playing at Maccabi always evokes some great memories and Udrih shared some of those, “You qualified to the top 16 teams I think at that time, that was a great memory. Winning an Israeli championship, Israeli Cup, and just being with the team with so much history was great.”
Of course, Udrih, the veteran player that he is knows that the game is much bigger than just having the chance to play his old team, but there are playoff implications at stake for both sides, “Hopefully, and I can’t predict the future, but hopefully we are going to have a full arena that is going to be supporting us and it’s definitely going to be an intense game because both teams are fighting to get to the playoffs. So it’s going to be like a playoff game.”