Billy Baron, Zenit’s consistent winner and leader looks to top Maccabi

Dec 23, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Zenit St. Petersburg on Thursday (19:00 Israel time) on the final gameday of Round One in Euroleague action. The Yellow & Blue enter the clash in Russia in 10th place and a 7-9 record as they are in the midst of a 6-game losing streak while Xavi Pascual’s team are in 6th place with a 10-6 record as the season hits the halfway mark.

One of Zenit’s key players is guard Billy Baron who plays an integral role coming off of the bench for the club as he checks in with 10 points and 1.8 assists in roughly 20 minutes of action per game. The 6”2 guard is a constant threat from deep hitting 30 triples in 93 attempts so far this season which is 3 times the amount of 2 point shots he takes where he is hitting at a 55% rate.

In his two years with Zenit, Baron has undoubtedly become one of coach Pascual’s go to guys and this is a spot that the Altoona, Pennsylvania native has always strived to reach as he explained to The Sports Rabbi ahead of his tipoff against Maccabi.

Billy Baron – Photo Credit:

“We are playing a lot of games and there are a lot of expectations. I was grinding all those years to be in the situation that I am in now. There is that pressure and that’s what you work for; to play on a significant Euroleague team and make a Final Four. I’m 31 now and I want to make a splash in Europe. I want to tell my kids about it and win a couple of more trophies with hopefully one being the Euroleague.”

Last season, Zenit came oh so close to punching their ticket to the Final Four when they took continental power Barcelona to a 5th and deciding quarterfinal game. With the success they tasted back in the 2020/21 campaign they will certainly want to try and replicate those results but as Baron warns, last season was last season.

“At the beginning of the season we looked at it and we knew that it was a special season as we were one game away from the final four but we fell as we were a bit shorthanded. We do have that chance this year especially when Shabazz Napier comes back. We are an extremely dangerous team and we have to make sure that we stay consistent. We have had success on the road so far and those wins are huge so as long as we can stay the course and make the Top 8 we can see from there. We have a shot and we have to stay healthy. Expect the unexpected.”

Xavi Pascual – Photo Credit: VTB

Veteran bench boss Xavi Pascual came on board after having coached Barcelona for eight seasons, which included a Euroleague title in 2010 and also was in charge at Panathinaikos for two plus seasons in Greece. A proven winner, Pascual has been able to mold a Zenit team into a well-oiled machine and a team that is a threat to win each and every game that they play.

“He really focuses on the details both on offense or defense and he switches his defensive scheme as to what other team does and that is constant. We even made adjustments in the double week which was probably more than any other coach would you have done. We have to execute and he demands a lot as he has taken Zenit to Top 8 status. He has had a lot of success and has been great for my career. I’m happy we have had that time and I appreciate all of his words and advice as to how to be an even better professional.”

Jim and Billy Baron

Billy Baron comes from a basketball family extraordinaire as his father Jim was a stalwart college coach with St. Francis, St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island and Canisius. His older brother Jimmy played four years of college ball at Rhode Island under their father and then as a professional abroad for over a decade as well. Billy had the opportunity to play three years for his father, heading to Rhode Island after a year at Virginia and then two at Canisius.

Obviously, playing for one’s dad has its own plusses and minuses and with unique challenges for both father and of course, son, “It was challenging as it was at the college basketball level, so when you’re playing for your father you’re dealing with a lot more than with an AAU team or as a youngster. There can’t be any doubts and you have to be the hardest worker in order to prove that you deserve the playing time and earn the respect of your teammates. Your dad is going to be wrong sometimes and every single coach even Gregg Popovich aren’t always right. As players, teammates, friends and roommates, if he made a mistake everyone understood and it took away the awkwardness. Teammates that were upset were ones that I wasn’t close with, but it makes it tough. However, I wouldn’t want to have done it any other way.”

Jimmy and Billy Baron

After college, Baron played his first season abroad at Rytas Vilnius and then moved to Charleroi in Belgium where he had the opportunity to join forces with his brother which ended up being a critical year in his career and as to what direction it was going to take.

“I lived on the 2nd and he was on the 3rd which gave me a ton of time to spend with my nieces. We were in a small town and I hadn’t seen him a lot before that 2015/16 season. We are very best friends and we really realized that this was really cool. We got into fights as any brothers should but that’s a natural thing. That was such a beneficial year as it was a make or break year for me and if I was going to continue playing abroad. He helped a lot to make sure I would stay and continue on.”

Kevin Pangos – Photo Credit: FIBA

Following his time in Belgium it was on to Spain, Turkey and then to Red Star Belgrade in Serbia where Baron spent two years. Zenit was up next and the up and coming star became best friend’s with Kevin Pangos who he played with last year in St. Petersburg before heading to the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The pair of guards were not only able to create fine chemistry on the court but their families did the same off of it.

“We became really close and we have kids 13 days a part. When the families couldn’t come over here last season we flipped flop as to who was cooking and then we would play Xbox. This past summer we went on a family vacation together in Idaho and he’s a friend for life. You meet so many great people along the way and very few stick, but he’s a great dude and the first Canadian I befriended. He even got me saying Eh! I miss him over here and that’s my guy. He made the jump to the NBA and that’s what he wanted to do. Cleveland is having success and he’s a point guard that can play at any level.”

Billy Baron and Jordan Loyd – Photo Credit:

Jordan Loyd was a player that came in to fill the void that Pangos created when he departed for the greener pastures of the NBA. However, Loyd who is an NBA Champions with the Toronto Raptors while having also played in Israel with Hapoel Eilat as well as in the Euroleague has become the perfect complement.

“He’s been great and there is a lot on him. He has come through with crucial shots most recently against Monaco and he has been doing it all year. He drives to the hoop and is playing like one of the best players in Europe. He has come through for us and is also great off of the court.”

Billy Baron – Photo Credit:

Maccabi Tel Aviv enters the game on a 6 game slide while Zenit has also lost their last two games at home despite winning their past two games which took place on the road. For Baron, his team is as desperate as Maccabi is to find a way to win, however, only one team will end up with the “W”.

“Scottie Wilbekin can go for 30 points, Derrick Williams can cause problems or Jalen Reynolds record a double-double. We know they are all capable and we are desperate as well as we lost two in a row at home. Maccabi is well coached and games like these will come down to the 4th quarter with them being led by Scottie.”

Baron knows full well that Zenit is a contender and have some terrific pieces to have a chance to take the big prize at the end of the season. In order to do that one needs to be a winner which he describes so eloquently, “A winner is someone who comes in prepared and is consistent with their approach. They stay the course and understand the bigger picture. Whether you win or lose a winner takes away something beneficial and at the end the goal is to achieve a championship. You need to stay even keel and remain confident. Tom Brady is a winner and has stayed the course. He’s a guy I looked up to at 27 and at 44 years old as he always stays consistent.”

Billy Baron – Photo Credit:

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