Firsts and debuts: Maccabi Tel Aviv newcomers reflect on Euroleague opener

Oct 7, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

There were plenty of debuts and firsts for Maccabi Tel Aviv in their 84-83 victory over Zalgiris as the Yellow & Blue opened the 2022/23 season on the right foot with a win in front of over 10,000 fans at Yad Eliyahu.

Whether it was Oded Katash on the sidelines coaching Maccabi for the first time in 15 years, to Lorenzo Brown playing his first game for the Yellow & Blue or Bonzie Colson who played in his first Euroleague game to Israeli Rafi Menco who for years has played in Israel but finally was able to play in the top continental competition.

In fact, there were a total of 9 players who pulled on the Maccabi jersey for the the first time.

Lorenzo Brown – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While it was great to see so many new faces playing at Yad Eliyahu with many of them playing well, having an almost totally new team also creates growing pains as well which is something that was glaringly obvious as Maccabi was out-rebounded 43-26 with Zalgiris grabbing 17 offensive boards.

On the other side of the coin though, Maccabi turned over the ball only 7 times to 15 by Zalgiris, dished out 21 assists to 8 and stole the ball 10 times compared to just 3 on the other side of the court.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We were confused on defense in the first half,” Katash explained. “The players adapted at halftime and we played better defense. Zalgiris hit some tough shots at the end of the shot clock and some were contested. There are very few games that you win when you lose by 17 rebounds on the boards. We have to be more consistent but I’m happy for the W and we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

“We know the difference between the EuroLeague and Israeli league. Zalgiris does very well on the offensive glass and we knew that they would be tough but we didn’t react well enough. That is one thing that worries me. We still have to work on things but better to do that after win.”

The bottom line is that the most important thing is to win especially as the season gets underway and players are still trying to get used to one another. Win and then figure out what needs to be done after that.

Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The other important factor in winning early and often is to silence the doubters and critics.

Wins bring calm and confidence.

Losing brings upon chaos and concern and that’s the last thing Katash and Maccabi want to have happen early on in the season which could case issues galore.

Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Bonzie Colson, who made his Euroleague debut was stellar and picked up the game’s most valuable player award. The Notre Dame product didn’t look to be out of place whatsoever in his first game and actually looked to be quite at home whether it was scoring 16 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, blocking 4 shots or recording a team high 29 efficiency rating, Colson was on the ball.

“It felt great,” Colson began. “Just to finally play a real game was good for all of us, adapting with different guys and stay in character, was a great game for us. We stuck to our principles and we played hard.”

Katash spoke about Colson and the positives he brings to the game, “We very much like Bonzie and he can play two different positions. He can move without the ball and he’s a scorer.”

Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

But there is also a lot of upside as well. The forward said he wasn’t nervous as he stepped onto the Euroleague court for the first time and that certainly looked to be the case, “I wouldn’t say I had butterflies but I fed off of the energy, took a couple of deep breathes and played hard on defense no matter what happens.”

Another player who played in his first Euroleague game at the age of 29 is Jarrell Martin who played close to 200 NBA games and featured in Australia. Katash said that Martin is working well as he makes the move to the European game.

Jarrell Martin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Jarrell hasn’t played in Europe, it’s different and it’s a jump. He can do even better on defense, rebound and shoot. He’s trying to learn to do these things better. He will be able to be even better and I do see an upside.”

Rafi Menco who began his way in Israeli basketball with Hapoel Jerusalem has spent most of the past decade in the Holy Land playing for numerous franchises as he captured the domestic league title with Hapoel Holon last season while also having played in the Basketball Champions League Final 4.

The Jerusalem native looked like a natural in the 6 minutes and change he received as he scored 5 points with a field goal and a trio of free throws.

Rafi Menco – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“It’s a great feeling,” Menco commented. “Everyone was out on the court and there was an amazing feeling with this crowd behind us. It’s basketball at the end of the day. I am here and happy we started the season with a win.”

Katash also shared his thoughts on his forward, “Rafi is in the right place at the right age and and ripe to play well. He was playing in his first game in the Euroleague and his first game at Yad Eliyahu so you need to temper the expectations that he will do everything well. I trust Rafi and I believe in him.”

Colson smiled when asked about Menco as the pair are breaking into the Euroleague at the same time, “Rafi, he’s great. We guard each other in practice a lot, he played great. He attacks and defends well. Guys are starting to understand their roles.”

Menco paid the compliments right back to Colson, “Bonzie’s energy is huge for us and he was the biggest factor in tonight’s win. But at Maccabi every night can be someone else.”

Lorenzo Brown – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Lorenzo Brown who put in a tremendous game with 13 points and 11 assists has just continued from his time at the Eurobasket where in any one game any player has a chance to step up as well, “The defense made all the difference. We are learning and there is plenty for us to improve. We battled and that is what won us the game. I feel that I am fitting in well and we are an athletic team that wants to win. We didn’t want to lose our first game at home, especially for our fans. So we gave them what they wanted.”

Colson who was on the receiving end of plenty of compliments knows very well that the American/Spanish guard will make everyone around him better, “We have good chemistry going on and he is a great point guard. So I’m just trying to feed off of the guys and play hard no matter what happens.”

Menco played with star guard Joe Ragland last season at Holon and the diminutive floor general arguably has been one of the best point guards in Israel over the last number of years sees that Brown is right up there as well without a doubt, “Lorenzo is a player at the highest level and so is Ragland.”

Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While Maccabi keeps putting the pieces together and looks to have a successful season, the club has to make sure that the fans are all in which of course they are right now but one never knows what can happen down the road.

Colson concluded, “I love the fans and I feed off of their energy. We have the best fans in Europe.”

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