Austin Hollins Unplugged: Maccabi swingman readies to give Tel Aviv some hard nosed, old school hoops

The Sports Rabbi had the honor and privilege to talk to Maccabi Tel Aviv swingman Austin Hollins just ahead of the start of the brand new 2022/23 season. We sat down at Yad Eliyahu and discussed a myriad of topics from his professional career, college, his father NBA Champion and former head coach Lionel Hollins and much, much more.

Below is a transcript of the interview which I hope that you will enjoy!

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Maccabi Tel Aviv opens up their Euroleague season with a matchup against Zalgiris on Thursday night (21:05) at Yad Eliyahu. The yellow-and-blue worked all summer long to remake their roster which includes eight brand new foreign players as management decided to start from scratch with head coach Oded Katash at the helm.
The opportunity to bring in a new slate for the new bench boss was an opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture while trying to find the missing ingredients that the team lacked last season despite having advanced to the quarterfinals of the Euroleague where they were unceremoniously swept by Real Madrid. Add to the fact that the club was knocked out of the Israeli league in the semifinals by Cup winners Bnei Herzliya, it was clear to all that a new page needed to be turned.
With that in mind, Maccabi looked for top notch players both on and off of the court and ones that would bring high level of character to the table in order to be the best version that they can be.
One of those players is Austin Hollins.
To basketball aficionados, the last name Hollins may be a familiar one as Austin is the son of NBA Champion and former coach Lionel Hollins. While Austin is close with his father and helped him during his formative years, it was the 30-year old who forged his own basketball path to dribble down throughout his European career that has led him to France, Finland, Germany, Russia, Serbia and now Israel.

Austin Hollins – Maccabi Tel Aviv Instagram

Just as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s continental campaign is about to begin, The Sports Rabbi spoke to the thoughtful Hollins about his time in college, his first few years in Europe, what he sees from this version of the yellow-and-blue, his father’s impact and how he ended up signing with Maccabi Tel Aviv. In addition to Hollins, his former and current teammate Alex Poythress also sat in to discuss how he felt when he found out his good friend would be joining him in the Holy Land.
“It was an interesting summer,” the Hollins began. “The season ended and I was in talks with Red Star where I played last season and considered going back there and I knew there was also the possibility of going to Maccabi, me and my agent talked about it. I was very close to signing back with Red Star, Maccabi gave us a call about an offer and I told my agent that this was a place that I had wanted to play for a long time and I felt it was the right opportunity and the right situation and that’s how it unfolded. I talked it over with my family and agent to see if it was the best decision and I went with it. I am happy to be here, it’s been awesome so far.”
With a brand new team, there will be some growing pains as each player learns one another which is something that is normal. However, Hollins pointed out that one of the best things that he sees from his new teammates is that they are all great guys not only on the court but even more importantly off of it.
“The one thing I can say, before I say anything about basketball is that all the guys that are here are great guys. It was something that went into the decision from management to bring in high character guys and and from the first day of being here you can see that this is what they did. We immediately found that chemistry in the lockerroom and we working through it on the court, but it’s there, it’s a learning curve with being on a new team withy new players and a new coach.”

Austin Hollins – Maccabi Tel Aviv Instagram

“From a basketball standpoint we have a lot of guys that are very diverse when it comes to skill sets. We have point guards that are great passers, we have point guards that are good scorers, we have guys that can shoot, guys that can drive, guys that can post up and guys who can rebound. We have a lot of different pieces that allows to have a lot of different lineups and show a different look to the other teams.”
This will be the first time Hollins will play under Israeli coach Oded Katash who returns to the yellow-and-blue for his second stint on the bench and he is aware that the former guard has plenty to offer to his disciples.
“I didn’t know ton about coach and I remember when he was with Panathinaikos and I had obviously heard about him as a player. I knew some guys that had played for him and they all had good things to say, he is players coach and being here a month you can really see that. He’s just as competitive as any of us and he wants to win and you can see the chemistry between the players and the coach as well in this short time so that is going to continue to grow.”

Austin Hollins – Maccabi Tel Aviv Instagram

Playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv means that there will be plenty of eyes on each players every single move and pressure from both fans and management to perform and produce at the highest level. The even-keeled Hollins didn’t seem to be concerned one bit about having to deal with that aspect, “I’ve heard that from a number of people about the pressure and it is a great pressure, but as a player you don’t necessary think about the pressure. At some point you have to step on the floor and you have to play basketball, whether there is pressure or no pressure, you have to go out and perform.”
“If you are a competitor you are going to try your best every single night. It may not go your way but I know that we have a lot of competitors on our team and if it’s not our best game on the floor I know that each and every one of us will leave it all out on the floor and that’s all that you can really ask for. Whatever comes after good and bad you live with that but you have to fight and that is what we building here, to fight for every win whatever the cost is.”
Having the opportunity to grow up with a champion and head coach as your father is a privilege that very few professionals can say that they have experienced. However, that also can bring upon the challenge of what parenthood is all about. In Hollins’s case, his father Lionel knew exactly how to make that balance work to perfection.

Lionel Hollins – Photo Credit:

“It was awesome. When I was younger I went to practice with my dad and I wasn’t watching much of practice as I was probably in the lockerroom running around and playing video games. But after and before practice I was always in there trying to shoot some shots and play, a lot of guys don’t get to experience that and my dad was a big factor as to where I am today. He took a back seat role in a sense that he didn’t push me to play but I grew up and loved it on my own. He held me develop my game but he also didn’t force the issue. He wanted to try to maintain that relationship. When you get to that certain point especially as a father you get to make that decision if you’re a coach or father and he was great at both and keeping that balance between the two.”
Lionel Hollins was a key member of the 1977 NBA Champion Portland Trail Blazers that saw one of the league’s upstart teams with incredible talent in Bill Walton and veteran coach Jack Ramsey win their first and only championship.
“A little bit, every now and then he will talk about his Portland days and just how talented that team was. They were so young, I  think they were the youngest team to win an NBA championship, if I’m not mistaken. He used talk about the grit that they had and Bill Walton as well as other guys on that team, how much fun they had. The NBA was so much different then than it is now.”

Lionel Hollins – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Austin was born in 1991 and in effect missed out on his father’s entire playing career which has brought about some mixed feelings for the swingman, “Yes, it has crossed my mind before but not in the sense that I missed out. I would have loved to have seen my dad play live. I think that being born when I was born got me here. So I am always looking at it from all angels. It’s give and take. If I want to see him play love, maybe I am not where I am today. I am thankful for the chance that I had to see him coach. I saw him coach The Grizzlies into the western Conference Finals. There are different levels of experience. Some I got to see and some I didn’t but I am thankful for the ones I did get to see.”
While Austin may have not seen his father’s playing career, he certainly was a part fo his coaching one both as an assistant and as a head coach, “The years that I was old enough for the guys to pull me aside I was in college and high school and didn’t have time to hang around the team. But there are a couple of guys that I have a memory about playing around when I was child, with Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Jason Williams, Guys like Wesley Person and if I go even back even being around Charles Barkley when my dad was with the Suns but I was very young back then almost beyond my memory.”
Hollins attended the University of Minnesota where he had plenty of success as a player but also experienced success in the classroom as well which was why he looked for a school that would be able to provide top notch education both on and off of the court.

Austin Hollins – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

“As a high school student hindsight is always 20/20. I look back and the only thing that I wish that I would have taken was all of my official visits to universities. I don’t necessarily think that it would have changed my decision. Tubby Smith was the coach at the time and Minnesota was a place that I had never been so I didn’t know what except and I got on campus which was beautiful. It was a great academic school which was important to me and the combination of all those things was really what sent me there. But I didn’t take into account the freezing cold winters!”
Hollins played with a number of Maccabi players during his college career in Trevor Mbakwe and Colton Iverson, “I love those guys and in basketball you create all kinds types of connections and friendships whether it’s in college or overseas, every team you’re on. I am still in touch with both of them and saw both of them this summer. I had the chancer to talk to Colton about his experience here and he loved living here. I also spoke to Nate Worriers as well and they all had good things to say about Tel Aviv and Maccabi. There are not many places where you don’t hear anything bad about the place.”
During his high school and college career, Hollins played against and played with another Hollins whose first name also started with A, Andre Hollins, however, while the two aren’t blood relatives they are as close as brothers can be.

Andre Hollins – Photo Credit: Twitter

“At this point he’s my brother now and we tell people that now. It was great playing with Andre after playing against him for 3 years in high school and this time when scores were posted in the newspaper and my mom would see the scores and stats and would always see this other Hollins and would say, who is this guy whose name starts with an ‘A’ and has the same jersey number 2. One day we played against his school and my parents went up and introduced themselves to his parents and that as the first time we really met. I went off to college and the coaches were asking about sone guys that were good academically and good basketball skill wise and I brought his name up and next thing we know Andre is in Minnesota and we are best friends until this day.”
Hollins experienced success in college having not only made both the NCAA Tournament but also the NIT tournament twice while winning it in his senior year and being named the competition’s most valuable player to end his college career on a high note.

“My freshman year we didn’t make any tourney at all. We went from 9th in the country to nothing. In my sophomore year, we begin to turn it around and we end up going to the NIT Championship and get blown out by Stanford. My junior year we finally made it to the tournament in what was the best team we had while I was at Minnesota. We had a really good team and I think we could have gone a bit farther but it wasn’t meant to be as we ran into a great Florida team with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Parther. It was a great experience to go out there and win a game against a good UCLA team.” 

Austin Hollins – Photo Credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Hollins continued, “My senior year we went to the NIT again. A lot of the younger guys feel a disappointment at first because you want to get into the big dance and it’s like I don’t want to play in the NIT, it’s the NIT.  For me, I’m a senior and I know the feeling that the young guys have but then you win a game and as a competitor you don’t want to lose and for me in my senior year I definitely didn’t want to lose. I’ve been here before, I’m on my way out the door and I want to end my career with a win.  It may not be where we wanted to be but college basketball has presented us this opportunity to play more games.”

“We won the first game then the second and then we get to Madison Square Garden where we played a Florida State team that we played earlier in the season and ended up winning in overtime in a really close one. I remember going into a championship game and i never wanted to win a game so bad. I didn’t want to lose that game. Just all the work that had been out in for four years there was a lot going through my head at that time. There were maybe three minutes left in the game and we were down 7 points and we go on this crazy run and storm back. I remember ironically that Andre was driving to the basket and skips it across the court to me and I ended up hitting a 3 on the opposite wing that put us up and we went to go onto win. It was an amazing feeling. You can’t dream it up. My mom and dad were in the stands and I am very thankful for that moment. The MVP was just the cherry on top.”
While Tubby Smith was the coach that recruited Hollins, Rich Pitino the son of all world coach Rick Pitino was the one who brought home the NIT title, “It was great. When you talk about coaching styles, Tubby Smith and coach Pitino are the complete opposite. But both are really good coaches. I only played with him for one year and I had a lot of fun playing with him and we won the NIT Championship, when you’re winning everything is good.” 

Austin Hollins – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Second division France was the first stop in Hollins’s European career and that season was almost in fact his last one as the experience wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

“That’s a funny story. I had a tough time my first year overseas and it was so different from college and college athletes don’t realize how spoiled you are until you go overseas. Sometimes I go back in the summer to talk to the guys and I say be thankful for where you are you as you have everything you need to get it done. It was tough and there was a lot of adversity. This was a tough year and our team went to the finals in Pro B and lost to Antibes and that as still a tough year for me. Winning didn’t make me happy to be there, I liked my teammates and I liked my coach and it was just tough being abroad and I seriously considered quitting basketball at that point. I called my parents and I said, I’m done, I’m coming home and getting a job. I slept on it and I called them back and said was going to play one more year and if I like it then I will keep going, I wanted to give it a chance. It was like going to college, I am sure a a lot of freshman are looking to transfer or go back home. That adversity can change you.”
Hollins had a number of coaches who worked with him and were very influential in his development at the beginning of his career whether it was in France, Finland and Germany,“My coach in France Jean-Christophe Prat really prepared me for European basketball and he deserves a lot of credit for introducing me and showing me things to be a good player in Europe. In Finland, coach Sami Toiviainen and then Pedro Calles at Rasta Vechta really gave me the opportunity to show what I was able to do. Play, we are going to be disciplined on defense but play and have fun, that’s what’s all about, competing and having fun. You want to stay within the system but there’s not a lot of situations or opportunities in Europe that allows you to spread your wings like a player and I’m thankful the coaches allowed me to do that. Maybe that’s not always the player I am but it would let me settle into a role that as more fitting for me, I was very fortunate for that.”

Austin Hollins – Photo Credit:

At Zenit St. Petersburg, Hollins played with a number of terrific players including big man Alex Poythress who signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv just before Hollins himself became a member of the yellow-and-blue. In a surprise cameo appearance, Poythress joined us just in time to recall they interaction that the two had when Hollins received an offer to come to Israel and join forces once again.

“After my brother, Alex is the first person that I called to say that I had an offer from Maccabi. I said, ‘Alex, man I got this offer from Maccabi, what should I do?’ He said, ‘I need you here bro, please, I’m begging you,’” Hollins said with a big smile and a huge laugh. 
Poythress chimed in at this point, “When he decided to come, he called me right away because I had signed first. Maccabi offered me. I was like, OOHHH. Selfishly I was like, bring your ass over here. But I said, do what’s right for you, look at all of your options, but selfishly I wanted him here and I am happy that it all worked out.”

Alex Poythress – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Hollins put the bow on the tale, “That sounds more like the right story. he wants the best for me as I do him. Having played with Alex and Alex being a good friend it would be nice to play together but we want the best for each other and we were fortunate that its worked out that we can be on the same team again.”
Although his father’s career has been in and around the NBA, Austin never had that opportunity but feels that he could have played in the world’s greatest league, however, he’s very content with how his basketball journey has gone.

“I 100% feel that I am capable or was capable of playing in the NBA, but that’s not necessarily a dream for me anymore. Everyone wants to play at the highest level of basketball and if you want to be a professional of anything you want to be at the best. But somewhere along the road you find a place that fits for you and it wouldn’t be out of this world to want to play in the NBA, but when you come to a situation that is working for you, your life and your career, you have to be realistic. I could chase an NBA dream but I don’t think that it would be best for my life and my career. The best thing for me is to build off of my European career that I built up. I started in Pro B France and here I am now at Maccabi in Tel Aviv and that journey was not an easy one. It would have to be a pretty good opportunity in the NBA for me to leave what I have built over here to do that.”

Austin Hollins – Maccabi Tel Aviv Instagram

While Hollins played in a number of the exhibition games, he didn’t take part in the the last two games which were part of the Winner Cup preseason tournament where the amount of foreign players are limited to 5 despite Maccabi having 8 on their roster.

“The preseason has been good. I think that we have grown a lot from that first preseason game to our last preseason game in Greece. That goes to show you that not only the coaching which has been good, but the players have been buying into the season and the willingness to come together at all costs putting winning as the main priority. Another side of that is we do have a lot of foreign guys and in domestic competition some have to sit out. I never will get frustrated to have to sit out. Do I want to play? Absolutely. But I am all about the team. So me sitting on the sidelines is going to give us a better chance to win that game, I am all for it. I will be sitting and cheering whoever is suited up that night. It’s all love. I have no problems with the coach having to make that decision that he feels is best for the team.” 
As for Thursday night’s Euroleague game against Zalgiris, Hollins spoke about what the fans and his teammates can expect,“Some hard nosed old school get after diving on the floor for loose balls and playing hard defense and doing whatever it takes to win. I’ll let the other guys on the team take care of the flashy one-on-ones take it to the basket, we got some good talent on the team. That’s what you can expect from me. I’ll be out there with a smile on my face cheering on the guys on the side or being out there on the floor playing the hardest defense that I possibly can. Hopefully knocking down a couple of three’s as well.”

Austin Hollins – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

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