Adjusting to life at Maccabi Tel Aviv: Iftach Ziv continues to learn what it means to be a member of the Yellow & Blue

Feb 8, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

There is no question that Iftach Ziv has tons of talent. There is also no question that Iftach Ziv’s ceiling is high, very high. But there is also no question that Iftach Ziv has struggled mightily since arriving at Maccabi Tel Aviv this past summer.

Part of that is on the player himself and part is just having to adjust to a totally new style of play for a team that competes at the highest level of European action. Being a part of Maccabi Tel Aviv is also a different animal than any other basketball club in Israel and that is a challenge within itself.

Expectations, pressure, highs and lows that occur on a daily basis is all a part of playing for the yellow-and-blue as the winds can blow one way one minute and another way the next. Iftach Ziv is experiencing that education up close and personal this season whether it’s in the Israeli league, State Cup or Euroleague.

Iftach Ziv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

On many of an occasion, players just can’t manage playing at their top level while wearing a Maccabi Tel Aviv uniform and that is true for both Israelis and foreigners. Some players thrive in the environment and atmosphere that encompasses them at Yad Eliyahu while part of the most successful franchise in the country. Some do not and can not.

However, there is absolutely no indication that Ziv will fall into that category for he is a player that will lay it all on the line for his team and for himself and despite his struggles, will find a way to succeed as he has done time and time again.

Ziv joined Maccabi this year after starring for Hapoel Gilboa Galil and taking the Galilee team to the Israeli League finals last season where they took the yellow-and-blue to a decisive game 3 winner take all matchup. The Haifa native won the Israeli Player of the Season award along with scoring 13.3 points, grabbing 5.1 rebounds and dishing out 4.3 assists in a stellar campaign.

Iftach Ziv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The season before that, Ziv helped guide Gilboa to the Final Four of the league and scored 18.3 points, took 4.8 boards and handed out 5.3 assists while winning the “Corona League” MVP award.

However, this year has seen Ziv play a much lesser role as he dropped to playing 18.5 minutes from 31 over the prior two seasons while his stat line also took a dive as the guard is scoring just 6.3 points while taking 2.9 rebounds and recording 3.2 assists.

Over in Euroleague play Ziv has only appeared in 13 games and has averaged just under a point a game while playing only 3.5 minutes per contest.

This can’t be what Ziv had dreamed of when he inked his Maccabi Tel Aviv contract. But over the past couple of weeks it seems that the 26-year old is finally looking a bit more comfortable on the court and has been given the opportunity to make a difference and play leader once again.

Interestingly enough the change began when Head Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos was sidelined due to COVID-19 and the head of scouting Avi Even took over the reins for a week.

Avi Even – Photo Credit: Elad Goldstein/Maccabi Tel Aviv

Even’s first game was at home against Hapoel Holon and the interim bench boss decided to keep Ziv on the court and in the thick of the action for 23 minutes and he made sure to repay him with 8 points to go along with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. But it wasn’t just the statistics, it was the way he managed the game and played an integral part in a 1-point, 80-79 win.

Next up was Zalgiris in Euroleague play and Even gave Ziv three minutes of time on the court which to the naked eye seems like very little but in fact that was the most minutes he had in continental action since the second game way back in October.

Perhaps that was to get his feet wet once again because two days later Ziv played 8 minutes and scored a career high 4 points as he oozed confidence while he cut to the basket and brought up the ball.

However, the piece de resistance so to speak was the State Cup quarterfinal clash at Hapoel Galil Elyon. With Sfairopoulos back in charge, Ziv was the first player he called into service off of the bench and his faith was rewarded in arguably the Israeli’s best and most influential game in yellow-and-blue.

Put aside the numbers he chalked up with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 27+ minutes, Ziv was the on court boss as he had been for two seasons at Gilboa Galil. Maccabi had played a brutal first half of defense and found themselves in an 11-point hole, down 54-43 at halftime, but that is when Ziv took the bull by the horns and said enough is enough.

Iftach Ziv – Photo Credit: IBBA

“We spoke about raising our intensity on defense and we aren’t a team that should be giving up 54 points in a half. We showed everyone in the second half who we are,” Ziv explained.

“I said F— everybody. Let’s play basketball and have fun. We have good players and let’s play basketball together and enjoy it. We enjoyed playing defense in the second half and we held them to 7 points for most of the half and I hope that we can continue.”

Now that is the Ziv Maccabi and Sfairopoulos want to see. A Ziv who is exertive, a Ziv who will put it all out there and a Ziv that takes control. Sometimes it just takes time to click and the yellow-and-blue certainly hope that it has clicked for good.

“I have been working hard and I am Maccabi player,” Ziv continued. “I have to give everything I have if it’s one minute, 5 minutes or 30 minutes on the court. I know what I can do and what I can contribute.”

Next up for Maccabi is a date with CSKA Moscow in Euroleague play and then an all-important knockout game against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the State Cup semifinal. It doesn’t get any bigger than that especially for a Maccabi as they look to avenge not one loss to their crosstown rivals but two.

Iftach Ziv – Photo Credit:

“It’s 2-0 for Hapoel and it will be sweet to beat them in the semifinal. That win will be worth it,” Ziv exclaimed. “Every game at Maccabi you are expected to win no matter if it’s a league, Euroleague or cup game. We have to always come and put on a performance.”

If the new and improved Ziv can keep up this type of play for Maccabi, then it won’t be a shock to anyone if he hoists the State Cup high above his head next week in triumph. A triumph not only for the team as a whole but also a personal triumph as he continues to adjust to life at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

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