1) One of the people in attendance last night at Yad Eliyahu was Jakub Kudlacek, the Director of International Scouting for the Charlotte Hornets and there is no question he was watching Maccabi Tel Aviv’s NBA Lottery Draft prospect Deni Avdija. Kudlacek a former point guard himself from the Czech Republic played for a number of European teams including Cantu and is in his second season in his role with the Hornets. This past summer, he had also attended the Under-20 European Championships in Tel Aviv, so there is no question that the Hornets, who will most probably have a fairly high draft pick have an eye on Israel’s prized possession. Kudlacek was sitting courtside to watch Avdija’s 29 minutes, 7 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a whopping +25, the highest on the team. And believe me, Avdija was certainly aware that there was someone in the stands who saw his fine performance. Avdija was very active inside and outside of the paint and called for the ball a number of times which he was able to score.
Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak has visited Israel before, as I’ve had the chance to speak with him a couple of years ago and I am sure he will also pay the Holy Land a visit as well this season. Kupchak spent many years with the Los Angeles Lakers as a player and as an executive and has won numerous NBA Championships and a Gold Medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics before joining Michael Jordan’s team in 2018.
As Kudlacek left he shook hands with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Nikola Vujcic and had a big smile on his face as he walked out of the arena and into the night. Kudlacek is not permitted to comment about players due to NBA policy but he enjoyed his stay in Tel Aviv and I am sure he enjoyed what he saw on the court as well. I’m also sure he will not be the only one who will be crisscrossing the continent to see Avdija play as there will be plenty of other NBA scouts will begin to be regular visitors at Maccabi games.
2) Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos is still working on finding the right combination of players and rotation both in Europe and in the domestic Israeli league, which of course should not come as a surprise. With such a deep roster and still so early in the season, the Yellow & Blue are in the process of figuring out whom is best to play with whom. I asked Nate Wolters about the team’s depth this season, “We definitely have a lot of depth and it’s a long season. There will be injuries but we have to have everyone play well and whoever is hot can get more playing time. It’s good to have this many guys and you’ve got to be ready when your name is called.” The coach also reflected on the positive fact of having so many quality players and options on his roster but also notes that defensively the squad still needs some work on playing properly, “The good thing is that we have a deep roster so I have a lot of different lineup options and I have some players who can play two positions. According to the game and what I see and how I want to defend or attack, I can use different lineups and matchups which I can better deal with the needs of a specific game. So far offensively we are playing well and have produced easily but defensively we need more time to understand the philosophy and defensive cooperations and how we need to defend one on one and as a team together. This for sure needs more time. We have good offensive minded players that need to play better defense. I try to use my combinations to fix the small things to be better.”
3) Speaking of defense, coach Sfairpoulos was not happy to say the least about his team’s effort over the first half of the game and definitely made that clear following the contest to his players as Wolters explained, “Defensively we weren’t great but in the second half we played better and it was good to get a win. We got to play harder defense and make the other team uncomfortable.” Quincy Acy also chimed in on that part of the game, “It felt good to get the win, but it was ugly. But a win is a win. We all practice together so it is what it is, but we got to be better on defense.” Sfairpoulos made it clear as to how he saw his side’s efforts on defense, “We only played good defense in the second half. We gave up many ways baskets and we played in a bad rhythm which our opponent forced us to play. We were more aggressive in the second half and played with more contact and concentration and I think that gave us the win.”
Elijah Bryant played his former team for the first time and of course he wanted to make sure to out his stamp on the matchup. Eilat management saw him about to leave after the cash and asked if he wanted to take the bus back to Eilat or stay in Tel Aviv! But before he headed off to his Tel Aviv home, he spoke about the game, “It was good to play against my old team and see some old friends, but it was another game and we came out and played hard just like any other game. Any game is important that we play with the Maccabi jersey and we play to win.” Bryant also spoke about getting into the groove with the team, “Every game is a learning curve and we are still learning each other. We have to play better defense but that comes with time.” He also told us how he is adjusting to playing in Europe for the first time, “At the end of the day it’s basketball. Big or small arenas I’ve played in them all. But getting the win is the most important thing.”
A) This was the second time I had the opportunity to see Eilat live and in person and they were much, much better across all aspects of the game and played extremely well throughout the first three quarters. They were able to cause Maccabi problems but eventually the Yellow & Blue’s depth was able to give them the hard earned win. There are some quality players on coach Arik Alfasi’s squad and it will be interesting to see how they can continue to develop as a team.
Jared Terrell, who played last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA is one of those players and he spoke about the game that was, “We turned the ball over a lot in the second half and we didn’t execute on offense. We made a lot of mental mistakes on defense, not boxing out and allowing them 20 offensive rebounds and many second chance points.” He also spoke about playing in Israel, “It’s a little bit different than the US but at the end of the day it’s basketball and I’m a professional and I got to play like it.” Terrell discussed how the team is jelling as a unit, “I think we’re getting along great and there are no problems on the team. On the court it’s the same thing. We still have to mesh a bit better and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
B) One of the interesting players Arik Alfasi brought in is Kyvon Davenport who played his final two college seasons at Memphis after attending Georgia Highlands College. He has raw talent and you can hear from Drew Hill talking about what to expect from Davenport when he was a guest on The Sports Rabbi Show. I asked Alfasi about his 6”8 forward, “He’s a very talented and an offensive minded player. He can also be very good defensively when he is focused. He’s very young but he has from who to learn from. He had to be very mentally strong and continuously improve. There’s no question he’s talented but he has to continue going on an upward curve.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv used a solid second half to pull away from a pesky Hapoel Eilat 102-86 at Yad Eliyahu. The yellow-and-blue sported five players in double digits including Othello Hunter with 20 points and Elijah Bryant who scored 17 points against his former team. The Red Sea side received solid showings from Kyvon Davenport who led all scorers with 21 points and veteran point guard Avi Ben Chimol who dropped 19 points in the loss.
Eilat grabbed a 18-12 lead midway through the first quarter as Kyvon Davenport and Rafi Menco led the way for the visitor’s early on. But the insertion of Omri Casspi to the delight of the home crowd spurred the yellow-and-blue to a quick 7-0 run as Deni Avdija put down a quick dunk to give Maccabi a slim 27-26 lead after ten minutes.
Davenport worked on the inside for Eilat while Nate Wolters and Jake Cohen scored for Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad as the two sides remained knotted up at 41-41 with 5:05 left in the second quarter. Larry Gordon got hot for Arik Alfasi’s team late in the frame but Elijah Bryant along with a Wolters floater in the lane at the buzzer put yellow-and-blue in front 54-49 at halftime.
Hunter and Zoosman were active to start the third quarter and helped Maccabi to a 11-3 run to begin the second half but Eilat stormed back as Davenport and Avi Ben Chimol scored at will to keep the deficit at five points, 74-69 heading into the fourth quarter.
The duo of Davenport and Ben Chimol continued to put numbers up on the stat sheet but Bryant and Hunter did the same for Maccabi as they took the took a 102-86 win ahead of their Euroleague clash against Red Star Belgrade on Thursday night.