Maccabi and Hapoel will be playing the Tel Aviv Derby on Sunday night for the third time this season with both of the first two going to the Yellow & Blue, but this time around the rivals will tip-off at the Drive In Arena, the Reds home court. The first encounter was up in Hadera in the WINNER Cup preseason tournament final which was ultimately won by Oded Katash’s crew in overtime while the second edition was another Maccabi win over Danny Franco’s charges at Yad Eliyahu.
However, this time around the rosters will be different yet again just as they were in the first two games. Imports come in and out of the lineup while the only constant seems to be the Israelis. Whether it’s Bar Timor, Idan Zalmanson, Tomer Ginat, Gil Beni and Adam Ariel for Hapoel or John Dibartolomeo, Jake Cohen, Rafi Menco, Roman Sorkin, Iftach Ziv, Guy Pnini on Maccabi, these are the players who ultimately have been through these wars time and time again and will also know what it’s like playing taking to the Drive In court in front of 3K+ rabid fans screaming at the top of their lungs.
It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Sure there will be newcomers in Wade Baldwin and Bonzie Colson to Chinanu Onuaku and Xavier Munford but it will be those who have been there before which are primarily the Blue & Whites.
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When one looks at the boxscore from Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 87-74 win over Alba Berlin, it appears that the Yellow & Blue had one dominant player in Wade Baldwin and one star who barely mad man impact which in this case was due to injury in Lorenzo Brown. Everybody else on the stat sheet looked like filler, but in fact they were the meat in between the two pieces of bread of a sandwich that for some tasted quote delicious.
Oded Katash had a total of 10 players find the bottom of the basket with Baldwin leading the way chalking up 33 points as Bonzie Colson with 11 points was the only other player who recorded double digits in the victory. After that was where the bench boss was probably most content with as the likes of Darrun Hilliard, Iftach Ziv and Rafi Menco all made significant contributions in the victory which in the Euroleague has been rare to say the least.
Ziv stepped on the court in only his third Euroleague and finally scored his first continental points while Menco, who had been playing well in domestic action got his chance to shine and he did just that.
Each one of these three players were able to not only get in minutes in Europe’s top competition but also make a contribution which led to a very content trio of players following the game. In turn, Katash was happy to be able to give them the confidence and feeling of belonging which sometimes is easy to forget when one is not getting the chance to do what they love to do most.
It’s a hard balance beam to walk as Maccabi will need all hands on deck should they want to do something special this season as they sit with an 11-9 record and in 8th place in the standings.
“Every injury in such an intense year is always concerning,” Katash said. “We had a period without Wade and Lorenzo took much more upon himself and this game we saw that Wade did that for Lorenzo. I was very happy about John Dibartolomeo and Iftach Ziv’s contribution off the bench. I hope that the injury to Brown isn’t serious.”
On the topic of Iftach Ziv, the guard came into the game early on and scored his first ever Euroleague points in the second quarter of the contest as he ended the contest with 6 points and 2 assists. Ziv of course was very content that his hard work over the course of the season paid off and that he was able to be yet another contributor in the win.
“It was great we won and feels good to score in the Euroleague, all in all love playing basketball. I am glad we (Menco and Ziv) got the minutes in the Euroleague and I hope that there will be continuity going forward. We are here for the team.”
Menco who went 2/2 from deep and scored 8 points in the game also spoke about getting a chance to make a difference for Maccabi, “I feel a bit free and I’ve felt pretty good over the last little while. I’m happy that I was able to get into the game and help the team. The team is above every player. It doesn’t matter if a player plays more of less. Being a Maccabi Tel Aviv player means to make sure one does as best and works as hard as they can while they are here. The team is bigger than any one person and every one here understands that.”
At the start of the season Jake Cohen was in a tough spot where he wasn’t seeing the floor and also didn’t really have a chance to play a part in the team’s success, But when Alex Poythress went down, Katash thrust the forward into a starting spot which has been extremely fruitful over the course of the past couple of months.
With that in mind, Cohen was in the perfect position to speak about the challenges that the pair of Sabras are in but also how they can be a huge piece to the puzzle, “That’s part of what makes a good team good which is having depth. Being a pro and not putting your head down. It’s not easy to do and that’s the hole you can fall into. But we have a lot of great guys in the room and it’s showing now.”
Baldwin also chimed in on how he saw Ziv and Menco coming in and making a difference, “It was amazing to see Ziv on the court. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Rafi [Menco], he hit a couple of big threes and a left-handed floater. We’ve had guys come in and impact the game in various ways.”
Katash who has the unenviable task of splitting up the minutes the way he sees fit but of course with the overall objective of winning the game also looked at both Ziv and Menco as well as how he views his team overall as they try to reach for the top.
“I understand the desire to see Iftach and Rafi play well and I am very happy for them. I wish I could use every player in every single game. Like I’ve said, that even if guys don’t play it’s not that I don’t rely or trust them. But they are at Maccabi because they have the ability to and experience and they aren’t children, they know exactly what is expected from them. This is what a team needs to do in order to do something big, because this is a team.”
“A team that plays such a busy schedule like we are needs more players to be able to contribute. There are different rules for domestic play and the Euroleague but it’s very important and for any team with a schedule like this it’s very crucial. I don’t look at the player’s passports to determine who will play but what the needs are in order to succeed.”
But now with the Derby on the horizon, Katash knows full well what to expect, “We will prepare as we do for every game and this one is against a very high quality team on their home court. Without question, this is one of the best games the league can offer. We understand the importance at Maccabi Tel Aviv and we are used to this as we want to win every game but we also respect every opponent.”
“Everyone here has been a part of the Derby, perhaps not on Hapoel’s home court but we have to play together, play for one another and work as a team.”