The matchup between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Monaco in the Euroleague best of five quarterfinal series has raised plenty of interest around Israel as well in the continent and beyond. With stars on both sides of the court whether it’s Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin for the yellow-and-blue or Mike James and Jordan Loyd on the Roca Team, it’s clear that there will be plenty of action and intrigue.
Despite Monaco being a relative newcomer to the Euroleague, they have made an incredible mark on the basketball world as a whole thanks to the man behind the growth of a franchise in the Principality, the club’s general manager Oleksiy Yefimov. The Ukrainian born Yefimov is one of the brightest young minds in basketball today as he has been with the team throughout the past decade as they have moved all the way from being a third division club to a title contender.
It’s due to Yefimov’s hard working, intelligent approach that the basketball club has been able to made such strides to become one of Monaco’s hottest tickets but also a team that has raised numerous eyebrows across Europe.
In a no holds barred interview, The Sports Rabbi had the honor and privilege to speak with Yefimov about a myriad of topics from the upcoming series to his youth along with how the team has been able to continue to climb the ladder of success.
How proud are you as to how Monaco Basket performed this season?
“I can’t say proud as it’s too strong a word. But I would say that I am proud of the attitude of the team and the chemistry that we built up in the lockerroom and the effort that the team puts in. This is something that I can be proud of because the guys have given everything on the court. We can all be proud that we built a team that is ready to sacrifice for each other and for the sake of the project
“As for results, you need to achieve something and we need to win something, as we are approaching the most important part of the season with the French Cup Final and Euroleague playoffs. We have to show our best and we need to be there for the big games and prove that all the credit which has been given to us is deserved.”
Do you feel you needed this type of season to prove that last season was no fluke?
“If we don’t succeed then people will say last year was accident, but two years ago we won the EuroCup with a pretty low budget. This year we are trying to be sustainable, but it was important to show that we can be consistent on the long run and that last season was not just luck.
“Last season when we made the playoffs we did it after having the Russian teams excluded and we had a 4-1 record against them. So no matter what the circumstances we showed that our place was well deserved and we showed that in our quarterfinal series against Olympiacos. I will quote one of the journalists who said that this series was one of the best ever. This season against Maccabi things can be as interesting and it will be a clash of maybe two of the best backcourts in the competition.”
How has the roster continuity from one season to the next helped you this year?
“It was crucial for us because several years we had the same challenge every summer; we had a good season and then the players had a great market and we couldn’t keep them. For us it was important to show continuation and roster stability in our first year in the Euroleague. You can gamble with the roster at other levels but at the Euroleague you need to have continuity.”
How important is head coach Sasa Obradovic in the club’s success and why was he the right person at this time to propel the team forward into the Euroleague?
“The first time we worked with Sasa was 12 years ago we had a good experience at BC Donetsk and this is the second time he is at Monaco. He knows the organization and the feel of each other and he is doing a great job as he is on the same page. A lot of credit for our success goes to Sasa.”
Monaco is one of the world’s greatest locations, how does that play in attracting top level talent to the club?
“It definitely helps because it is one of the best places in the world, not only in Europe and it’s important that also the conditions that we try to provide to our team our the best. If it’s our charter flights even domestically or anything else we really try to create the best conditions for our guys to allow them to show all of their talent. We have one of the shortest rosters in Euroleague with only 12 players but better to have one less player and create top level conditions.”
What is most challenging for you as the club continues to succeed?
“The most challenging thing is that we raised the bar so high and we do it every year that people expect from us one new step every season which is not easy. This season we made another one as we finished in the top 4 and secured home court advantage. One more step on the ladder.”
How critical were the upgrades to the arena for the club?
“It was a great effort from the Government who managed to increase the capacity of the arena from 4,000 to 5,000 seats in less than 13 weeks last summer which was very important. It was also very important for the club to show that Eurolegaue that we are ready to improve and ready to do it better and faster than anyone can expect from us. We failed to meet local demand for tickets and it was important to have more fans but 5,000 is definitely not enough and we are working on a new arena plan. We are working on making it a reality.”
Monaco Basket is partially owned by the Principality. How does that effect your ability to manage the day to day activities of the club?
“I think that there is great synergy between public and private ownership and I think that this has helped us to make the highest steps. Monaco as a principality are well known for their high standards for their residents and we are forced to match those high expectations as we can benefit from the government’s experience. It’s an added value. This is an image project for the principality.”
How did you get involved with the sport of basketball as a youth?
“I used to play basketball until I was injured when I was young, so I had enough time to find a different role in sports; it was bad for good. I doubt as a player I would have reached Monaco I didn’t have that level of play but was able to become dedicated to basketball as I started working as a journalist at 17 years old. At 20 I became the press officer of BC Kyiv, team manager a year or two later and was also with that role on the Ukraine national team. In 2010-11 I joined BC Donetsk as the general manager.”
How did you get you start at the club when you were just in your 20’s?
“Young age is a privilege that we lose very fast. I had the chance to join Monaco and begin the project because the previous owner and first president, Sergiy Dyadechko was the owner of BC Dontesk back in the days. Since 2014 it was impossible to continue running the project and he made the proposal to try to establish a project in Monaco where we started in the 3rd league.”
The club seems to have done things right by starting in the BCL, then going to the EuroCup and finally reaching the Euroleague. How were you able to ensure that this blueprint was able to be followed through from A to Z?
“I don’t have reasonable explanation as the sole reason why it happened is because Monaco is the only place on earth where miracles are still happening. But in all seriousness, I think that our main strength is that during these periods we were not afraid of accepting our mistakes. If we would hide them we would not be able to move forward. If there is a mistake it is better to assume responsibility, fix it and make it better.”
When you began with the club last decade did you imagine and believe how Monaco Basket has grown over the years into a Euroleague mainstay having now been in the playoffs for two straight seasons?
“I was dreaming about it and when Mr. Fedorychev joined the project and he was the one who convinced everyone around that it’s not a dream but a goal and an accessible one. We have great leadership and inspiration coming from the President. If I dream big he is the one to set the big goals establishing right pathways to achieve them.”
How has President Alexey Fedorychev’s involvement been able to take this team to the next level and how can his influence help receive a permanent license?
“I think that the most important message that we want to deliver and the case we want to create is that we want to show the Euroleague and its stakeholders that they can benefit having Monaco as among the shareholders. We are showcasing that, competing on the court but off the court all of us are supposed to have the same goal and we are trying to improve the product that we are delivering. This is how we can all help and benefit.”
We all know Kevin Durant was in attendance last season which gave Monaco Basket so much positive publicity and raised the profile and awareness of the club. How else can you keep getting the club’s name out there?
“I am happy because last year the Euroleague report that they ordered said that Monaco is considered as the most recognized basketball brand in France, even though there are legendary clubs like Limoges and Asvel. We managed to attract that attention. I think within the French market it has helped through the media company called SKWEEK, newly established under FEDCOM Invest Group umbrella, that has gotten Euroleague TV rights and has heavily invested to improve the TV product through pre- and post games shows, unique inside content and social media initiatives. Apart from that the Club has gotten great positioning in the Principality as basketball is the sole kind of sport broadcast on the Monaco national TV. This is our privilege and advantage towards soccer, for instance.
“Monaco is famous for its big sports events and institutions such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix and Monte Carlo Masters Tennis and it’s important that the Roca team and basketball project is considered the number one sport in Monaco. the principality and government do everything to elevate the brand and to improve brand promotion and brand positioning. Monaco knows how to sell the story and the principality is made of dreams. It helps us a lot that the principality has a lot of tools to promote and use.”
Marshall Glickman was in Monaco back in January. How do you see his involvement along with new president Dejan Bodiroga’s forward thinking approach and how can that help the club?
“I think that Marshall is good with American experience which he can transfer and the American approach is a business approach. If we all want to have a successful project we need to pay much more attention on heavily investing off the court and improving business operations and not just big focused on the basketball side.”
Mike James was suspended in March, and there were concerns (from the outside at least) that it could derail a successful EuroLeague season. However, the suspension has come and gone and the team didn’t lose any games while he was suspended. While it’s not something that a club wants to deal with, the way it was handled speaks volumes as to the club’s professionalism – especially when it meant keeping one of its stars off the court. Do you think that this sets you a part from any other teams and how does it help you as an organization going forward?
“I think that this is how you get recognition as a club, that you can show how you can deal with a delicate situation by showing that the organization is about everyone and everything. The fact that we managed to find the right solution shows that Monaco is not just a team but an institution.”
Your bigs were able to neutralize Josh Nebo in both games, however, over the past month he has been almost unstoppable. Donta Hall and Donatas Motiejunas will look to play as they did in those two games, how important have they been to the team’s success?
“I will not be wrong that if I say that on the top 8 players list in the Euroleague you will see point guards and bigs, the front court and the backcourt. Even for us it is important with Dino, Donta and John Brown who is an undersized big and is energetic who we can play switching defense. Each of these guys compliment the other one and the Maccabi bigs are also different.”
Many have called Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin the best backcourt in the Euroleague, however, Mike James and Jordan Loyd will have plenty to say about that. How do you see that matchup?
“It will be a clash of the best offensive teams in the competition who are 4th and 5th in offensive rating. The offense of both teams depends on the guards and the creators and it will be very interesting. But there will be surprises from the coaches and the teams. We will see a real creation from the team itself. We are talking about the backcourts but in both of our games against Maccabi, Roman Sorkin was an X-Factor and because the backcourt realized they needed to feed him the ball. It’s not about just scoring guards but guards who can make right decisions.”
How do you feel about having the opportunity to play a 6x Euroleague champion in the quarterfinals and what will Monaco need to do to come out on top?
“What we missed last season was experience and when we came to game one in Athens it was our first ever playoff game. I think that experience is very important if not crucial in the postseason. Maccabi has that and we don’t but if we want to be competitive we need to be calm and stay focused on the game. You can do that in high pressure games only if you are calm, are experienced and we will feel huge pressure in Tel Aviv.”