Back to the basics: Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to rebound

Jan 23, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Almost every team in every single sport has a rough patch over the course of a season. Some teams get over the hump and the challenges that they face with flying colors and of course, others do not.

Character, experience, desire and passion are all reasons as to why a team can get over the those tough times and there is no reason to think that Maccabi Tel Aviv can’t do exactly that.

The yellow-and-blue are in the midst of a couple of weeks that are no doubt testing them to their core. From the second half collapse at Partizan Belgrade to the loss in Pireaus at the hands of Olympiacos as well as the Derby defeat and now yet another game where they landed up on the wrong side of the ledger to Kiryat Ata, the word crisis in Hebrew, “Mashber” has been bandied about.

James Batemon and Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

An old time journalist asked what the translation was for the word Mashber and while the exact definition in English is crisis, in reality that is too tough a word.

Is Maccabi really in a crisis where there is no end in sight and that a massive jolt to the system needs to occur? Or are they just going through a rocky road right now during a season that has had challenges that no one and no player has ever experienced before.

When the players went to sleep on Friday night October 6th following a thrilling Euroleague opening win over Partizan Belgrade, no one in their right mind had any clue as to what was going to happen just mere hours later that would shake the country to its core. The State had never experienced an attack by Hamas that had occurred the way it did in any way, shape or form.

It didn’t matter if you were a Sabra, a naturalized Israeli, a Jew, non-Jew, purple, blue, pink or violet, everyone was effected, shocked, stunned, surprised as every single adjective one could find would have been appropriate to describe the situation that befell the Holy Land and its inhabitants and guests.

Lorenzo Brown – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

At this moment in time, despite what Maccabi has gone through on the court, nothing can compare with what happened off if it. From in essence moving their base of operations within no time to Belgrade, to rescheduling European games and now playing in somewhat COVID conditions with no fans, the players and staff that has had to live through this is not something to be taken for granted.

It’s not that Belgrade is not a great place to ply their trades, it was not what the players had signed up for when they put pen to paper and thinking that they were going to wake up in their beds in Tel Aviv for roughly the ten months between August and June. But with the Hamas attack the cards were not just flipped, they were thrown in the air and came down all over the place.

Maccabi captain John Dibartolomeo was asked if the club was in a crisis so to speak and he acknowledged that to some extent they are but there is also the big picture and keeping things into perspective.

John Dibartolomeo – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

“In the moment everyone floats towards that word crisis, like we were talking about before keeping the big picture and keeping perspective. The crisis is how we are playing lately, the crisis is not just the situation that we are in. Our goals are still attainable and the issue is finding a way to play better, finding a way to get stops, finding a way to focus.”

“We are going to go through a part of our schedule that we have no time off. We need to improve in a lot of areas. I don’t want to use the word crisis, but losing is never an option and never fun and it happens, not to say that it is ok, but we need to play better. Our situation is tough because what we are going through right now, but we need to find a way to play better basketball.”

Crisis is what the country has been going through since the morning of October 7th, not losing a basketball game.

Maccabi is 12-10 in Euroleague play, two games over .500 and if anyone would have told them that this would be the record they would have after the situation that they had been, every single person would have signed on the dotted line for that.

Josep Berrocal and Oded Katash – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

Does Maccabi need to find a way out of this slump and perhaps that this the correct word for “Mashber”. Certainly, no question about it, the yellow-and-blue need to find a way out of the slump and funk which is the challenge at hand for the club.

Assistant coach Josep Berrocal spoke about how he sees the team finding a way to get back on track, “When you lose, the players wait to see how the staff reacts. That is why we have to now talk and sit down together and see what the next step, the next meeting, the next practice, the message we need to send to the players and how we can impact them.”

“We need time to think about it, but mentally to be more positive, remember that two weeks ago we played amazing against Partizan at the start of the game with the same players, same coach and the same staff. This happens in other seasons when there is a period where you don’t play well. We have to go back to our basics and remember how Maccabi plays and I think that this is the way to play. Over the next couple of days to go back to basics.”

It’s a long season and it’s just January no matter how you slice it with every single title still on the table whether it’s the Euroleague, Israeli League or State Cup. No titles are won in January. Can they be lost? Yes, if the mental side of the game comes crashing down and the slump begins to snow ball and come caroming down the mountain side. But Maccabi has plenty of experienced players and staff that they can straighten out the ship. From top to bottom the yellow-and-blue should be able to withstand the challenge that they are currently dealing with.

John Dibartolomeo – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

Hopefully, with an off day will give the team a chance to reset and zoom out a bit explained Dibartolomeo, “In the moment right now it’s obviously difficult and we will take this tonight and a bit tomorrow. If we keep big picture and keep perspective our goals for this season are all within reach. Right now it’s hard to think like that as the losses are so fresh and not just any losses but the Derby and the way we lost at Partizan and these are hard to accept. This is part of sport and we are talking in January, no titles are won in January.”

“It’s a challenge for every athlete in a 10 month season and we will have highs and lows and right now we are going through a tough patch. We have a lot of veterans and leaders on the team and they understand how to come out of these types of situations and approach them with the right mindset. That will start when we come back after an off day where we can recuperate and detach from basketball for a second and attack the Panathinaikos game with everything we have. It’s the only way forward.”

Berrocal understands very well from the coach’s side of things that the last few months have had an effect on everyone and that getting the confidence back is in top order for the club, “A lot of things are connected that have happened in the season and before. When things are happening and when we went back to Israel, that had an impact for all of us and can effect the team. We have to focus on basketball, recover our players and get confidence because all of them are much better than how they played.”

Oded Katash and Lior Lubin – Photo Credit:

On top of the crazy situation that the team has faced over the past few months, tragedy befell the Israeli basketball community with the untimely and truly unfortunate passing of coach Lior Lubin a at the tender age of 46. The former Israel National Team player and coach had been very, very close with Oded Katash and Lubin’s loss was brutally painful for the Maccabi bench boss.

Although he was present on the sidelines for the game, Katash mourned as Berrocal was the one to address the media and made it clear that everyone on the club needs to be there for one another and turn the tables to look towards the bright side.

“It was very tough for Oded and I understand this as I lost my father this year. To come to play or coach in this condition is not easy. All of us have been facing many big challenges this season but it’s not an excuse at all. I am proud of my players, my staff, my team, my coach. We’ve done a big job as no one knows what this season has been like for us. It’s not an excuse at all. It was not easy for Oded to come for this game and that is why he is not here to talk. But it’s the time to be together and to be positive and help Oded and the team.”

Next up for Maccabi is a “home away from home” date with Panathinaikos at Pionir Arena in Belgrade. The yellow-and-blue advanced all the way to a decisive game 5 at Monaco in the quarterfinals last season in Euroleague play. Katash’s crew won the Israeli league title after a blowout loss in game two at Hapoel Tel Aviv and then falling behind late in the game 3 before finding a way to come back. The squad is almost the same as last season with some new players which can contribute plenty.

Roman Sorkin – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

Whether it’s Lorenzo Brown or Wade Baldwin, Roman Sorkin or John Dibartolomeo, Jasiel Rivero or Tamir Blatt, this is a good team plain and simple. They just need to find their confidence, turn the page and begin to write the second half of the season on a blank slate. Put the so called “crisis” behind and find a way out of the slump. There is no reason to think that they can’t especially if they go back to the basics.

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