Between a rock and a hard place: Sfairopoulos needs to integrate Israelis into Maccabi’s rotation to take load off squad

Nov 15, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Ioannis Sfairopoulos was between a rock and hard place on Sunday night as he saw his Maccabi Tel Aviv team struggled all game long against a red hot Bryon Allen and Hapoel Eilat.

On one hand he needed to win the game or else the Yellow & Blue’s record in domestic play would have dropped to a shocking 3-3. However, that meant he would need to play many of his Euroleague regulars a ton of minutes with two continental clashes coming up this week.

On the other hand he could have played many of the players who won’t figure much in the two games this week plus who barely played at all last game in Moscow or didn’t even dress. Those of course are primarily the Israelis.

Kameron Taylor – Photo Credit:

Sfairopoulos went with option number one as Maccabi needed double overtime and a fluke Kameron Taylor bounce at the end of the first extra session to down a tough as nails Hapoel Eilat 101-95. This proved once again that he has very little faith in the Sabras abilities other than perhaps Roman Sorkin.

This has been an issue all season long and his lack of faith can be justified by their poor play in both the Euroleague and the Israeli league. But whose fault is it? The players themselves or how the coach has involved them throughout the young season, that is a question that still remains unanswered.

At a recent press gathering last week prior to the trip to Russia a couple of journalists pressed Sfairopoulos about Jake Cohen not being dressed in many Euroleague games which set off the coach, “I am here to bring wins and not have the players satisfied.”

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit:

Well, in the year 2021 you’ve got to do both in order to succeed in any league in any country. You have to find that fine line to satisfy the players and also win the games because you never know when you’ll need that 12th, 13th or 14th man.

Let’s look at some of the minutes from Sunday night:
Scottie Wilbekin – (coming off an ankle injury) 44 minutes – 12 points
James Nunnally – 38 minutes – 18 points
Jalen Reynolds – 35 minutes – 24 points
Roman Sorkin – 34 minutes – 13 points
Kameron Taylor – 28 minutes – 8 points
John Dibartolomeo – (didn’t play at CSKA)16 minutes – 0 points
Ante Zizic – 15 minutes – 7 points
Iftach Ziv – (barely played at CSKA) 14 minutes – 5 points
Jake Cohen – (didn’t dress at CSKA) 13 minutes – 5 points
Oz Blayzer – (didn’t dress at CSKA) 13 minutes – 9 points
Oded Brandwein and Ido Menchel – Did not play

Why aren’t Ziv, Cohen, Blayzer and Dibartolomeo not clocking in more minutes in a 50 minute game and why are Wilbekin, Nunnally and Reynolds playing 35+ minutes. Something just isn’t right.

Iftach Ziv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Iftach Ziv has been an all-star player in the Israeli league for the past two seasons with Hapoel Gilboa Galil, Dibartolomeo has won a league MVP award, both Cohen and Blayzer are well known quantities who have both played in the Euroleague in the past.

Why have these players not been integrated properly into a rotation especially when you are playing a league game against Eilat. There should be no situation where Sfairopoulos doesn’t trust them to play serious minutes domestically. None.

“In basketball you need to be ready for everything and although we played two overtimes here we have another game on Wednesday and a double week in the Euroleague,” Sfairopoulos explained.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We came into the game after a flight and they are a good team. We had issues throughout the game and we have to be more focussed. We didn’t play the way we wanted to play but we have many flights and other things that can hurt our focus.”

It’s on the coach to try to figure out a way not to kill his top players ahead of a pair of Euroleague games and after a round trip flight and game at CSKA Moscow. Having to play the Euroleague regulars so many minutes just doesn’t add up.

Roman Sorkin who played serious minutes and has seemingly been integrated into the team fairly well save for a hiccup a couple of weeks against Bnei Herzliya knows full well what the expectations are as a member of Maccabi Tel Aviv, “When we are in the lead we have to stay in the lead. We can’t take any team lightly. We will come into the Euroleague double week ready to go. We have to listen to the coach and do the correct things, but most importantly is that we won the game. We are expected to win and we have to deliver the goods.”

Roman Sorkin – Photo Credit:

But whatever the Greek bench boss tried to do in order to get Maccabi ahead always seemed to be matched by one Ariel Beit Halachmi who pulled one rabbit after the next out of his hat. Tough defense? Sure. Clutch shooting from not only Allen but Roi Huber and others? Check, check. Frustrating the hosts on every inch of the Yad Eliyahu floor? Eilat did that too.

Had it not been for Taylor’s lucky bucket as the buzzer sounded to end the first overtime period, Eilat would have celebrated one of their most historic wins in Tel Aviv since rallying from an 0-2 playoff series deficit to stun Maccabi in the 2014/15 playoffs.

Now we know why Eilat always seem to give the Yellow & Blue problems down by the Red Sea, but those aren’t the least of his headaches for now that’s for sure.

Ariel Beit Halachmi – Photo Credit: FIBA.Basketball

Beit Halachmi knew that this game had once in a lifetime opportunity written all over it and it may be one loss that his players will look back to all season long with the question of what could have been if?

“This is one of the cruelest losses in my career for a game like this to get away from us,” Eilat’s coach said. “If there was someone deserving in sports, it was us. This is one of the games where your heart is just broken. The players were just great.”

The star of the game despite the defeat was no question Bryon Allen who hit one vicious shot after the next to ring up 38 points against the defending Israeli league champs. Whether it was from beyond the arc or from short range and Allen did as he pleased but his efforts were still not enough at the end of the day

Bryon Allen – Photo Credit:

“This was a tough game and it was hard to lose this way especially against a good team in double overtime. Maccabi did what they had to in order to protect home court. This was a tough loss there’s not much else to say. It doesn’t matter to me who we play, the most important thing is the game’s result. Even if I didn’t score and we won I would be happy. This was an important game and at the end of the day it’s still a loss,” Allen said.

It’s not just Maccabi who have a big European week as Beit Halachmi and Eilat have a crucial FIBA Europe Cup clash on Wednesday night when they host Trefl Sofot as they look to punch their ticket to the next round of the competition. A double overtime game from them was not ideal for them to have to play as well with a bus ride back to Eilat waiting for them.

As Beit Halachmi chided everyone knowing how much sweeter that trip would be after a win, “I invite all of you to take that bus trip back after this game as well.”

Sign up for our newsletter


You may also like…


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!