Maccabi Tel Aviv faces Unicaja Malaga in Euroleague Gameday 23 action in Spain on Thursday night at 21:45 Israel Time. The Yellow & Blue will look to avenge a 89-78 loss at Yad Eliyahu that saw the visitors shoot 48% from beyond the arc going 12/25 while Nemanja Nedovic scored 20 points, Jeff Brooks added 18 and Ray McCallum dropped 15 points in the win.
McCallum is currently in his first year overseas playing point guard after spending time in both the NBA and the Development League. The Sacramento Kings 2nd round pick, 36th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft has also featured for San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies. The McDonald’s All-American spent his college career under the watchful eye of his coach and father Ray McCallum Sr. with the Detroit Mercy Titans and helped lead his team to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament, the first time since 1999 that the Titan’s made it to the “Big Dance”.
The Sports Rabbi spoke exclusively to McCallum about what the keys will be against Maccabi, his NBA dream and his adjustment so far to European basketball:
“It’s been an adjustment. It’s definitely a different game over here. Each day, every game, always learning. I’ve got good teammates and coaches around me. Watching a lot of film and taking every game as an experience and each game as an opportunity to get better.”
The point guard continued talking about the differences between the Spanish ACB League and the Euroleague, “They’re both two challenging leagues. Every night, whether it’s ACB or Euroleague, you’re always going against a good player. And guys come out to compete. We’re playing against really well coached teams and they’re different, but they’re both challenging and you have to be ready to play every night.”
For most basketball players, the dream of playing in the best league in the world, the NBA is always in the back of their minds and McCallum is no exception, “Yeah for sure. That’s my main goal. To come here, compete every day, get better, prove that I’m a true point guard, and that I can get back to the NBA.”
Unicaja Malaga features some true professionals and great ball players including the likes of Nemanja Nedovic, James Augustine and Jeff Brooks who are certainly an asset for any player coming overseas explained McCallum, “Those guys are great players and have been playing over here for a long time. They know the European game, so having them in my ear all the time and helping me on and off the court has been very helpful and they’ve helped make my game a lot better.”
After beating Maccabi in Israel which was the 4th game of a 4 game win streak, Malaga has gone 2-5. Would you say it’s been an inconsistent season? “I wouldn’t say we’ve had inconsistencies. I would say the Euroleague is definitely a challenging league. Winning at Maccabi was a big win for us. At that point in the season we had won a lot of games in a row. Even though our record is two for five since then we’ve lost some tough games. We’ve lost a couple games at the buzzer, a couple games by 2 points. We’re right there in the games but just got to find a way to pull them out at the end.”
McCallum also looked at the keys in tonight’s clash with Maccabi, “They have a lot of great good guards. Quick, fast, really like to score the ball. Overall team, a lot of shooters, they play fast, they play a lot of pick-and-rolls. We just have to be ready to play one-on-one defense, a lot of help defense, team defense and be aggressive as well and attack them on the offensive end and I think we’ll be just fine.”
Maccabi Coach Neven Spahija commented about McCallum:
“I don’t think that McCallum is the only problem over there. I think they are a very good team. We’ve prepared the way we’ve prepared and we will try to make our plan work.”
Jake Cohen who will be in Malaga for Maccabi’s Euroleague game and will then head to Estonia to be with the Israel National Team also spoke about his team’s defense:
“Well we remember pretty well what happened in Tel Aviv so we really want to get this game. They’re a good team, they’re playing well, and we’re going to need to execute. It’s about getting better. We’ve done some good things lately, we’ve done some bad things lately, so we need to continue the good and eliminate the bad.”
“Team defense has really been our focus. I think a lot of the time people focus on individuals when really it’s about five guys playing defense. When you’ve got five guys playing defense together, it’s easier to stop one guy. It’s not just one player who’s getting scored on, it’s the team getting scored on. So we need to get that mentality that it’s five guys helping each other, being in the right spot, and we’ve seen when we do that we’re a pretty good defensive team.”