Maccabi Tel Aviv faces Real Madrid on Thursday night at Yad Eliyahu (21:05) in Gameday 22 Euroleague action as the Yellow & Blue will look to get back onto the winning track and keep their perfect home record intact. After a defeat at Bayern Munich last week, Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad sits in 5th place with a 14-7 record while Pablo Laso’s team are in 3rd in the standings with a 15-6 record.
Yellow & Blue star guard Scottie Wilbekin extended his contract with the club on Wednesday and will now go through the 2022/23 season. The Florida product has been having a superb season averaging 16.3 points and 3.5 assists per game while leading the league in 3-pointers made with 69.
Locking up Wilbekin is a key move as the club under Sfairopoulos continues to look for stability for years to come as they have righted the ship under the Greek coach. “I’m very happy to wear the yellow jersey for 3 more years,” Wilbekin said. “Yad Eliyahu is a home for me and I’m hungry for success and titles with Maccabi. I want to thank the management, coach and the fans for the warm embrace. Yalla Maccabi!.”
“One of the first priorities of owners-management and me as a head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv was to keep Scottie Wilbekin in our family,” Sfairopoulos commented. “I’m really happy because Scottie will continue to be the leading player in our squad helping with his abilities to reach our goals. I’m very satisfied that we will continue working together developing our game and growing as a team.”
As for the game against Real, coach Sfairopoulos knows that the task won’t be a simple one although the Spanish club has been going through a slump of late, “We have a very important home game against one of the candidates to make it to the Final Four. Real has experienced players who have played under the same coach for a couple of years now, so they know how to play together. They come into the game with three straight losses, but we are also coming off a loss, so we will try to stop them and disorganize their offense as we will fight hard for this win. We want our fans to be our sixth player, wanting their support throughout all 40 minutes.”
“The last time we played against Real, we lost by 1 point in the final seconds,” Othello Hunter commented. “But we learned from our mistakes, and hopefully, we won’t do the same thing. It’s actually more difficult playing against a team that has a losing streak because they are coming with everything to change that. Mentally, we need to get our mindset right, knowing we can win the game. If everybody thinks that way and comes out to do their jobs, we will be good.”
Sfairopoulos agreed that the squad needs to be 100% honed in on the mission at hand, “We need to start our games more concentrated, follow the game plan from the beginning, and not give the opponent to push the game in their rhythm. I don’t look at the standings, I said that already this season. I’m not kidding, I don’t see the standings, I go game by game. It’s too early to say this is a crucial game, we play 34 regular-season games, and each one is very important.”
The Maccabi Tel Aviv front line got a boost this past week with 6-time NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire joining their ranks, “With Amar’e we have one more option, and that’s very important against the big lineup of Real,” Sfairopoulos explained while also discussing the challenges of integrating new players into the squad. “It’s not easy to continue to play in top form, and that’s why we lost some games — adding new players into the rotation with players going out created problems to the chemistry of the team. Lately, we have been playing much better, and this roster has a lot of potential to perform even better. That’s what we are looking to do, improving from game to game.”
Hunter was also excited to have STAT as a teammate,”It’s great we have another big body like Amar’e who is an experienced guy against their bigs, I never thought I’d play with the guy”.
Real Coach Pablo Laso is well aware that the Yellow & Blue have been having a renaissance this season, “To me Maccabi is a more solid team than in the last years. They have a lot of defensive energy and they are all athletic.”
“Maccabi is a strong team at home,” Walter Tavares said. “We will have to make things perfect if we want to win there. When losing, you have to improve to get back to the winning path. And that’s what we are trying to do. We must be calm on the court, play with patience and get the most of our offense.”