Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Fenerbahce on Gameday 22 of Euroleague action on Tuesday as the Yellow & Blue head to Turkey in search of their first three game winning streak of the season. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad are in 12th place with a 10-11 record while Fener are just ahead of Maccabi in the standings in 11th place with a 11-10 record. However, the Istanbul based club has been playing their best basketball of late and have run off six wins in a row for coach Igor Kokoskov.
The key factor in the club’s turnaround no doubt has been the addition of Marko Guduric who has been the star of the show for Fenerbahce in those six games since arriving from the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA. Sfairopoulos is acutely aware of the fact as well, From the moment he arrived they haven’t lost. That was a great addition to their roster.”
Of course, Guduric played under Coach Zeljko Obradovic at Fenerbahce for two seasons, in 2017/18 and 2018/19 before heading to North America for his lone campaign to date in the world’s greatest league. Since returning to his former stomping ground, the swingman has been the catalyst in the club’s stellar play checking in with 11 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Just ahead of the classic Euroleague matchup, The Sports Rabbi spoke to Marko Guduric and to his assistant coach with the Grizzlies, former Maccabi Tel Aviv bench boss Neven Spahija about his return to the Euroleague, his time in the NBA along with where a player of Guduric’s caliber will make the biggest impact and how it all came together for the Serbian international to make his Fenerbahce comeback.
“I was at home in Belgrade waiting to see what was going to happen with Memphis and the NBA, I was talking to some teams in Europe and my number one option as soon as I finished my contract with Memphis was Fener from day one. It’s home for me and the place that I grew up and I am really happy to be here.”
As for Guduric’s personal goals as well as the club’s goals going forward, the 25-year old, Priboj native is taking it slowly but surely, “It’s step by step and game by game as we are doing right now. This is working and we are playing much better. We are close to and have the same record as the 7th and 8th place teams on the standings. I think the goal is to make the playoff and we will see from there.”
With his return to Fenerbahce, Guduric is working under fellow Serbian and National Team coach, Igor Kokoskov. In his first stint with the club, legendary bench boss Veljko Obradovic was the man in charge, however, Kokoskov spent two decades in the NBA including a stop as the head coach with the Phoenix Suns, “I was really excited and I knew coach Kokoskov came from the NBA and is our National Team coach, I am happy to get to know him better and to work with him. It’s small details that make the two coaches different but at the same time they are so similar. They both know basketball very well and I think Igor has so much potential.”
In his first term with Fener, Guduric played with two backcourt stars in Kostas Sloukas and Brad Wanamaker. This time around he is taking center stage while sharing the floor with Nando De Colo, “Nando is one of the best all time players in the Euroleague. He’s so smart and he’s a very good leader and one of the important payers of our team. I try to ask him some questions and learn some small details about his game and try to implement that in my game so it’s really good to have him a real pleasure.”
Although Guduric’s time in the NBA wasn’t as successful as he would have wanted it to be, he was still able to work with the highest level coaches, players and staff along with watching how a top talent in Ja Morant was able to develop, “I gained experience when you work with those guys everyday and play those games you just become better. You see some other things the way how NBA players think and react and make decisions. Just being there for one year it helped me overall a lot. Ja Morant is an amazing player and he is really improving every day. The sky’s the limit for him if he can stay healthy. He’s going to be an All-Star very soon.”
As for what he could have you done differently in the NBA and if he would consider going back there one day, Guduric was straight and honest with his assessment and won’t close the door on a potential return down the road, “I will always consider that and it’s the ultimate dream, that every basketball player has. If I could go back in time I would probably use two-three months before arriving at the NBA to prepare my body and my game so when I would go there I would be ready. That was my problem because I wasn’t in really good shape and wasn’t ready for the NBA challenge. But it is what it is and I am here now.”
As for the keys to defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv, Guduric is clear as to what Fenerbahce has to do, “One on one defense and we have to stop their guards. We need to match their energy as they are a very talented team. We have to stop their one on one game.”
The Sports Rabbi also spoke to Neven Spahija who coached Guduric at Memphis as the former Maccabi beach boss offered his thoughts on the budding talent, “It was amazing experience to work with Marko and he is an outstanding sportsman and person.”
As to why things didn’t work out better for Guduric in the NBA, Spahija speaks directly to the point and talks about what he will need to do to get back to the Association, “The NBA is completely different than the Euroleague game and it took him a lot of time to adjust. If he will step up on another level scoring wise, then he has a chance to get back. His mind set is more to play for the team.”
However, Spahija also feels that Guduric’s strengths are a much better fit in Europe than in the NBA, “He is a legit Euroleague player and it’s easy for him to enter into the Fenerbahce roster. He is definitely better fit for EL basketball.”