1) Nate Wolters was fabulous and he was the engine for Maccabi in the first half scoring six points but more importantly dishing out six of the teams 9 assists. He looks cool and confident on the floor and one can see the experience that he has at this level. I asked Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos if Wolters has been better than advertised, “He’s an easy power and a player that has big power and gives this power smoothly during the game. He’s a player without a lot of noise and does a great job on the court. He organizes and plays defense, gives out assists plus he scores. This is why we wanted him and we signed him very early.” Captain John DiBartolomeo also had high praise for his teammate, “Nate was amazing tonight. I was very happy with the way he played.” Finally I asked Wolters in the lockerroom if he felt that he has been better than advertised, “I just got to do what coach wants me to do and be aggressive. It’s also really fun to play with Scottie.” Yes, it is fun to see him play with Scottie, especially when it allows Wilbekin to play as a shooting guard with Wolters at the point which worked to perfection against Valencia. Wilbekin was able to get his shots off which saw him hit four triples and end the night with 14 points and 4 assists.
2) Maccabi gave up only 63 points against Valencia while last week they only allowed 69 points over 45 minutes of action. Now that’s pretty good defense no matter who the opponent is. It also helps of course that the last two games were at home in front of a rabid crowd who most certainly had some influence on the game, “Our defense kept us in the game and the crowd was great,” explained Wolters. “This game was pretty similar to the one against Red Star we got a 12-14 point lead and we never put them away. At home, we need to do better and put the game out of reach. We definitely did a better job this week in the 4th quarter hopefully we can build off of that.” Tarik Black also spoke about knowing how to put away the game, “We figured out during the game how to do it better and that’s championship basketball, knowing how to put things away which had cost us 2 games. I believe that’s one of our biggest improvements.” Sfairpoulos’s other big man Othello Hunter also spoke about the keys of the game and the win, “Just playing defense and protecting the house, if we do that then we’ve got a chance.” The captain said it succinctly, “Always great to get a home win in front of our crowd.”
3) Othello Hunter is a consummate professional and Tarik Black is a force. You could say that Maccabi Tel Aviv is in great shape at the center position this season as the duo finished the contest with 19 points and 14 rebounds which is a very solid contribution from that single one position on the floor. This importance can’t be understated said Sfairpoulos, “He is a player that gives us great confidence, quality and experience and it’s hard to find a player that has all of those three things.” What did Tarik say about Hunter? “I admire him as a big brother. Talking to him is terrific and it’s a great combination. We challenge each other but I hope that we can challenge more those who play against us.” And how about what Hunter said about Black? “We feel good and I can talk to him and tell him some things. The main thing that we have been talking about is just taking his time. If he does that then he can’t be stopped.” Pretty solid words from one of the best centers on the continent.
Maccabi has players that are just naturally confident on the floor, while there are others who you can see just aren’t. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to find their rhythm and that perfectly describes Yovel Zoosman in this game. He looked a bit shaky during the first few minutes he was on the court but as the game moved along, he played like a seasoned veteran. Out went the hesitation and in came two bang bang triples plus a monstrous slam dunk. “Confidence means a lot to every player,” Black told me. “Young players like Avdija and Zoosman will continue to grow with knowledge and wisdom and that’s all we can ask from them because they have the talent and the skills.” Coach Sfairpoulos also talked about why he needs his players to have confidence, “We tell the players all the time and we tell them to be ready to perform. Every player needs to be ready to perform at his level. Everybody needs to play to his level but sometimes if they don’t understand that the game is on fire they have to know that I am thinking about Maccabi. Some players need to perform better and need to play with confidence.” Bottom line is the coach wants his players to be confident on the court and to play intelligent basketball. As a player like Zoosman grows, he will continue to be more and more confident and understand how to react in certain situations but that’s something young players gain with more and more playing time.
A) Maccabi is still working on playing as a team and we can see that the coach is continuing to make personnel changes and in game moves as he tries to build the team chemistry and find the best combinations. You can say that the coach is also experimenting as to which combinations are best for the team. In addition, when asked about why Tyler Dorsey played only four minutes, Sfairpoulos said that he didn’t like what he saw, how he played and that he would need to play better if he wanted more opportunities. Wolters talked about the team’s depth and stepping up, “We have a deep team and we have to all be ready to play and everybody stepped up. We can play a lot better offensively. We need to keep working hard and we can keep getting better.” Black echoed the words, “l’m looking forward to improve. We know we still have things to improve on and we will try to be the best we can be.” DiBartolomeo also chimed in and said, “We are a team top to bottom and we talk about it all the time. We need contributions from everybody.”
B) Sunday night will see Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem play the Israeli Classico and there’s no question that the Yellow & Blue will be looking for payback from the Winner Cup final. Hunter claims that revenge is not in the equation but he did send a message to Coach Sfairpoulos after not playing the last time the two squads met, “Revenge? Never. It’s just another game that we want to win. If coach tries to not play me, it’s not happening.”