“I’m challenging the past” – Coach Sasa Djordjevic talks Bologna, Israel & More! Rishon Le’Zion falls 85-79 in EuroCup Action

Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion just came up short against Bologna, falling 85-79 at Beit Maccabi. After a tight first half, Guy Goodes’s squad blew the game open with a 14-0 run to go up 69-52 in the third quarter. However, that’s when superstar Milos Teodosic got going as Sasa Djordjevic’s team ripped off a 24-1 run of their own to storm back and take the win.

Teodosic scored 18 points, added 6 assists but had 7 turnovers in the victory while Julian Gamble added 19 points and Frank Gaines chipped in with 13 points. Alex Hamilton led the way for Rishon with 19 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists but 7 turnovers, as Johnathan Williams notched 19 points and 11 rebounds while Frederic Bourdillion scored 15 points in the defeat.

Oded Carni

Rishon began the game off well as Johnathan Williams and Frederic Bourdillon led the way for the hosts. But once Milos Tedosic entered the contest midway through the first quarter Vince Hunter and Julian Gamble helped Bologna take a 25-22 lead as the latter hit an off balance triple at the buzzer to end the frame.

Oded Carni

Williams dominated both ends of the floor for Rishon as Alex Hamilton began to score as well while Gamble kept finding the bottom of the basket for Bologna along with Frank Gaines and Stefan Markovic but Rishon held a 2-point 47-45 lead at halftime.

Williams continued to score to start the third quarter while Hamilton scored an uncontested layup, Oz Blayzer went hard into the paint for an and-1 and Bourdillon hit back to back triples to give the hosts a 14-0 run and a 69-52 advantage midway through the frame. But Bologna went on a 11-0 run of their own to end the frame down 69-60.

Oded Carni

Teodosic drained a pair of 3-pointers to complete a Bologna 24-1 run and give the visitors a 76-70 lead with six minutes remaining in regulation time. Sasa Djordjevic’s team kept attacking the basket as time wound down while Rishon ran out of gas the Italian squad wrapped up a 85-79 victory.

1) This was a fun game. Perhaps not for the coaches but we saw 40 minutes of rock’em sock’em action on both sides of the court. We had a couple of huge runs, one by each team, we had clutch shooting and masterful action all over the hardwood. There wasn’t a dull moment. “Every win on the road is very valuable to create a character to play these types of games,” explained coach Djordjevic. “This is very tough court and a very tough team. Great shooters we had to put our best effort on defense to win these games. Our 3rd quarter was terrible. Some turnovers from Milos Teodosic and Stefan Markovic allowed Maccabi to take advantage of quick 3’s and layups. If you want to win on the road you need to play smarter and read the mismatches and we are still away from that offensively. When we want to we are good on defense but we don’t do that for 40 minutes and that is a job we need to do. I’m happy for the win but we need to stay humble.”

Oded Carni

2) At the end of the day Rishon Le’Zion just didn’t have the depth to handle a Euroleague aspiring team in Bologna. Even if Guy Goodes’s squad would have had Darryl Monroe who was out sick, beating a team led by Teodosic would have been a tall order. But it wasn’t just Milos, it was also Gaines, Gamble, Vince Hunter, Kyle Weems and on and on and on. “We were close but we had a tough time over the final minutes due to Bologna’s depth and experience,” said Goodes. “We have a lot to be proud of and we battled and fought super hard but against a squad like Bologna’s we can’t really fool ourselves. We were close and pressed for 30 minutes but it’s difficult to play a full 40 minutes being with such a short bench. Everyone gave it their all and the players deserve all of the credit as the EuroCup games have done us a lot of good. Playing in this competition raises the profile of the club which is the second best in the continent.”

Oded Carni

3) With Israel under attack and many sporting events at risk of being postponed, cancelled or moved, all the credit in the world has to be given to Coach Djordjevic and Bologna for coming to the Holy Land, practicing as usual and playing the game under trying circumstances to his players. The public address announcer thanked the club and honored them before the game as the fans gave Bologna a standing ovation. “I have to thank the fans and you feel the passion in Israel,” commented Djordjevic. “The passion you give us back I do appreciate and respect. Knowing what happened yesterday and today I know it’s tough here but we are doing sports and we are doing a better battle. What you guys are living through we want to show the right attitude in the job that we do.” Guard Frank Gaines also spoke about the challenges of playing in Israel this week, “It was a little nerve wrecking when we first got here and I got a lot of messages and some ex-teammates that played here sent me a lot of things. It put us on edge but we tried to focus on the game and I thought we weren’t even going to play the game but once they told us we were going to play we focused and tried to get the job done.” Rishon Coach Guy Goodes also spoke about the effect the situation in Israel caused his players who were experiencing it for the first time while also giving credit to Bologna, “The foreigners were a bit concerned but we worked with them and explained the situation to them. Sports trumps all. The fans came out and even in war time we must continue our daily lives. We have to give Bologna credit for being here, practicing and playing the game and they deserve all the accolades for doing so.”

Coach Sasa Djordjevic is one of a kind and it’s not everyday a basketball person of his caliber comes to Israel. The former star won almost everything possible as a player whether it was with a club team or with his national team which at the time was Yugoslavia. As a coach he has begun to develop as one of the best of the best. After taking Serbia this summer to a 5th place finish at the World Championships this past summer he resigned from the post to put all of his energies into Bologna, a team which he won the Champions League last season after joining the club in mid-March. I had the opportunity to speak with the coach in Antwerp for a bit during the BCL Final Four and once again now in Israel and he explained the project he is working on, “I really do enjoy this project and I took this challenge personally. It’s becoming my obsession to pick up the atmosphere around the club, both on the sports side and organization wise to get to the level of the bigs. Our obsession must be to bring the great competition to Bologna. I am challenging the past and I respect the past of this club, it’s one of the bigs and I know this club is missing in the biggest club competition in Europe right now. This is my goal; to make everyone understand what is needed and slowly construct and create something good. Will we do it or not? I don’t know. But that is what we work for and stay at this club for ten years. I’m really enjoying it. The fans came here to support us and it’s getting bigger and bigger around the club. Not all of the players know how to behave once you create these expectations. It’s a process of explain everyday and teaching behavior not only on the court but in everyday life; how to get better and better and understand what is needed to be among the bigs. It’s not just signing with a club that has a big name but you have to do something extra. Are we going to do it or not? I don’t know but this is the goal and it’s something I put in my notebook as my personal challenge.”

Dov Halickman Photography

Djordjevic also spoke about the development of Israeli basketball including Rishon’s 17 year old wonder Noam Dovrat and potential lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft Deni Avdija, “Once you start playing in the big leagues the age doesn’t make a difference. The Under-20 with Deni Avdija was a huge result. All the basketball environment here should take advantage and it’s the base of the future. It’s a great message to all of us. You have your best player coming back to Maccabi from the NBA. I felt this with the Serbian National Team window it was a hard loss. Obviously there is a huge talent. We follow them.”

Oded Carni

They said it:
Alex Hamilton: “I take the majority of the blame; 7 turnovers as a point guard with the ball in my hands. I just got to do better. A lot of guys got tired at the end and we were only 7-8 deep especially after pressing and turning the ball over. We were up 17. There is no excuse. I will still go to war with these guys. I’m confident in the guys in the locker room even though we don’t have the roster or the extra man that we needed to get our rest like Bologna have… It’s a different type of game as every country plays a different type of basketball. In Europe it’s more of a set offense but we shouldn’t change the way we play. We should play Maccabi Rishon basketball.”

Frank Gaines: “It was really tough. We finally woke up and found a way to get the job done. We know they are a great team, especially at home and they want an up-tempo game. They took advantage of our slow start, but we found a way to get the win. We got a great group of guys and stay together no matter how bad it gets… Coach Djordjevic is the best coach I have had. It’s a learning experience and the system and the way he coaches. He puts us in the right situations and with a different coach we probably wouldn’t have won this amount of games. I’m happy being here with him.”

Hapoel Holon has been playing terrific basketball of late and defeated ACB side Manresa 90-88. Coach Pedro Martinez’s squad got off to a strong start and it looked like they would cruise to victory but Sharon Drucker’s inspired side chipped away and came back to record the 2-point win. Marcus Foster led the way with 23 points and 6 assists, Latavious Williams clocked in with a Double-Double of 16 points and 12 rebounds while Malachi Richardson and Rich Howell each scored 11 points in the win. Ryan Toolson was the top scorer for Manresa with 26 points.

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