Maccabi Tel Aviv faces a big Euroleague test this coming Friday night (21:45 Israel time) when they visit one of their all-time great rivals, Real Madrid in Spain. After defeating Los Blancos at Yad Eliyahu back in November 90-83, the Yellow & Blue will be facing a much different Pablo Laso team, one that is coming off 4 straight wins against the likes of Barcelona, Baskonia, Bamberg and Fenerbahce. Add to that 6 ACB League wins in a row, two of which came this week against Estudiantes (with ex-Maccabi guard Sylven Landesberg who scored 29 points) and Euroleague foe Baskonia away and the 9-6 Madrid seems to be firing on all cylinders.
The 8-7 Yellow & Blue on the other hand head into the Gameday 16 tilt after a disappointing loss to Malaga at home, coupled with splitting a pair of Derbies against Hapoel Tel Aviv, a win in the State Cup and a defeat in the Israel League. On top of that, Maccabi will be without former 2x NBA Champion guard Norris Cole who will be out for 2-3 weeks due to a slight hamstring tear and Deshaun Thomas didn’t fly with the team due to a knee injury as well.
Trey Thompkins, Real Madrid’s 6”10, 220 lb power forward, who patterned his own game after the likes of NBA stars Rasheed Wallace, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett, exclusively helped explain the keys to his team’s recent success. He also examined the contributions of veterans Rudy Fernandez and Jaycee Carroll while the Long Island, New York native who spent his college years at Georgia also spoke about budding star Luka Doncic’s NBA future.
“Moving the ball and trusting each other on defense have been the keys,” Thompkins said confidently about side’s recent success, while the LA Clippers 2011 2nd round draft pick also added, “We have done a great job making shots hard for our opponents and on offense we have been playing together.”
After falling to the two Greek teams, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos in Athens and Piraeus respectively, plus losing to Crevena Zvezda Belgrade (Red Star) at home and sporting a sub-.500 5-6 record, veteran coach Pablo Laso was able to corral his troops as the 2009 U19 US Gold medalist explained, “After the tough losses, our coach let us know that he was very confident in us. He knew our abilities and wanted us to stay focused and stay with the plan. With that we were able to string together some wins.”
Of course, with the loss to Maccabi in Tel Aviv on Gameday 6 still fresh in their minds, one of the most important facts in continental play is to make sure you win at home, “It’s important for us to get a win against Maccabi, mainly because we are at home and we have to protect our home court.”
Naturally it won’t be an easy task as every Euroleague aficionado has seen this season that almost every game is a battle right until the end, “It’s going to be a tough game and they have a lot of weapons. But I’m sure if we play great defense like we have been doing lately, we can get the job done.”
Real Madrid also features Luka Doncic, one of the most exciting players in the game today, who will surely be one of the top NBA draft picks in 2018. Thompkins has been able to see the young Slovenian prodigy evolve as player throughout his time in Spain, “It’s amazing to watch Luka grow over the years. I’ve been here for 3 years and every year he’s gotten better, stronger and smarter and more confidant in himself.”
As for Doncic’s NBA potential? “The skies the limit for him in the NBA. I think he can be if not the best player, then one of the best players in the NBA.”
The team also features wily veterans and Maccabi killers in Rudy Fernandez, who himself played in the “World’s Best League” for the Portland Trailblazers and Denver Nuggets as well as 3-point sniper Jaycee Carroll, “Rudy and Jaycee are amazing for me personally because they know the game on so many different levels. Any time I have a question I can always turn to those guys and they always have the perfect answer for me.”
The pair are not only two of the greatest players to ply their trade for Real Madrid, but they are also the team’s pacesetters who will undoubtedly have an influence against the Yellow & Blue, “From a team point of view they are two main weapons and we need those guys to score the ball, be vocal and be leaders.”