Antonius Arises: Cleveland must be an instrumental part should Maccabi have successful Euroleague stretch run

Feb 6, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

There is no question that Antonius Cleveland’s got the goods. He’s proved that at every level and with every team that he has played with. However, this season with Maccabi Tel Aviv has no doubt been a challenge for him due to no fault of his own. 

Between the Hamas massacre on October 7th, which set off a paradigm of events that has effected every single ounce of Israeli society, to the uncertainty and total upheaval of the 2023/24 season both in the Euroleague and Israeli competition, chaos and challenges have consumed the yellow-and-blue which they have been trying to navigate as best as possible. 

The waters have no doubt been rocky for Maccabi and for Israeli basketball as a whole and that has had a trickle down effect on every single player and club within the system. Some have been effected more and some have been effected less. In Cleveland’s case, he has without question been one of the players who fits into the former.

Antonius Cleveland – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Cleveland has had very little time on the floor during the club’s 25 Euroleague games to date having played a total of 284 minutes or roughly 11.5 minutes per game. On the face that seems to be a decent amount of time on the court, but the reality is that Cleveland played plenty of minutes at the start of the season due to an injury to Wade Baldwin and he has also had to play in blowouts just like last week’s game against Baskonia where he featured for 15 minutes.  

Maccabi fans know that Cleveland’s most important contribution was in Athens where the guard came off the bench to provide top of the line defense and offense down the stretch and into overtime of an emotional victory over Panathinaikos, the club’s first after October 7th. 

Due to the yellow-and-blue having to move their base of operations to Belgrade for the first few months after the war began and since the Israeli league wasn’t in action until late November along with the fact that Maccabi played very few games on their domestic slate due to a packed continental schedule, many things that the head coach Oded Katash wanted to do, he was unable to.
The biggest victim so to speak was Cleveland who could have benefitted greatly from Israeli league games. Whether it was to understand how a Maccabi team that saw plenty of continuity plays or to just get actual minutes on the floor and to get the competitive juices flowing, any player coming into a new system is going to need that in order to help benefit the team and for that player to benefit from the team. 

After a 90-77 Maccabi win over Hapoel Eilat in which Cleveland was named the Most Valuable Player after scoring 18 points in a number of various manners from high flying dunks, to nifty layups to just good ole plain shooting from deep, it was crystal clear that the 30-year old Memphis, Tennessee native was back in his element. 

Antonius Cleveland – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Just being on the floor, trying to make the most of my minutes and just having fun,” an excited Cleveland said following his MVP performance. “It’s fun to be out there, so it was all about enjoying it and playing hard. it’s always good to compete as well and it was fun just to get out here and lace them up.“

Could Cleveland have been any more clear that he was thrilled to get out there at Yad Eliyahu and just show his wares. How many times did he use the word “fun” in under a minute? 

But that’s Cleveland, always positive no matter what the situation he is in. 

Last season, after having finished off his campaign in Australia with the Adelaide 36ers where he also took home the league’s defensive player of the year award, Cleveland joined Hapoel Eilat, a team that was sinking into the relegation zone in order to save them from landing up in the Leumit league for this season. After scoring 17.6 points in 11 games and going 6-5 in that time, Cleveland almost single handedly made sure to keep the Red Sea squad in the top division while also collecting the Slam Dunk trophy at the league’s All Star game with an incredible deft defying through the legs jam. 

Antonius Cleveland – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

His positive attitude with Eilat was contagious and that’s also the case with Maccabi explained Jake Cohen, “He’s been great. He’s handled the adversity this season like a true professional and he’s been great in the lockerroom so I’m really happy to see him perform against Eilat and be the MVP because he’s been a tremendous addition to our team on and off the court, I think that as he gets more comfortable he will show more contributions because he absolutely has the ability.”

With plenty of Israeli league games coming up this month due to the Euroleague break for Cup games across the continent (due to the war, Israel’s cup games have been pushed off) as well as for the end of the month National Team window for Eurobasket 2025 qualifies, Cleveland will be getting plenty of playing time that will no doubt be a benefit for all parties involved when the continental competition resumes at the end of month for the final push ahead of the postseason.

“He is one of the players who was hurt the most for not having the Israeli league from the start of the season,” Katash said. “He came into a team with a lot of continuity and the league games are a chance for a player like him to get minutes, gain confidence and to learn what they can do. But it’s not just him, many players haven’t played a lot of minutes in the Euroleague because there wasn’t an Israeli league to keep in shape, get into the flow and to be content. But what I really appreciate and admire is that despite not getting a big chance he is always positive and a pleasure to be around with the right energies.”

Cohen agreed that Cleveland has been a solid citizen and understood the challenges that he was facing when he joined the team and then due to the war, “It’s been really tough since early October where we’ve been thrown out of whack and where we have not had as many Israeli games and as many practices as normal plus a lot of other stuff. So it might take a little bit longer but I’m fully confident that he is going to integrate himself completely because he’s got all of the ability and super high level character to do that.”

Antonius Cleveland – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The bottom line is that Maccabi with a 13-12 record, needs a boost especially with nine games to go in the Euroleague and with what is considered a very manageable schedule against no less than 7 sub .500 teams that they should beat thereby putting them in position to qualify for the playoffs. It will undoubtedly be difficult due to the fact that games are played on the court and not on paper along with the injuries that the players are nursing, primarily back issues for Lorenzo Brown, Wade Baldwin and Rafi Menco due to the many flights and the lack of a regular routine, Cleveland is not a luxury but a necessity. 

If Maccabi wants to make a successful run Cleveland must be an instrumental part of it.

“We want to be ready mentally and physically,” Cleveland said. “We just got to stick to the scouting report and just go in with a sense of urgency. Go out and play, just be desperate, leave it all out there and live with the results.”

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