1) How about the cool, calm and collected Deni Avdija? I think that the word “Wow” can describe his performance against Khimki in what was his Euroleague coming out party. 11 points, 9 rebounds in 26 minutes which were all his continental highs, just moved the potential NBA Draft Lottery Prospect up another notch on the totem pole. Whoever takes him in the 2020 Draft will be getting not only a player who will continue to grow on the court but has all the intangibles off of it as well. If it’s his fun loving joy of the game, his leadership skills or just plain old sense of humour, Avdija is one guy that EVERY and ANY team needs to have in their lockerroom. I’ve experienced it first hand covering him from his first days with the senior team back on a road trip to Belgrade in 2017 when he was just 16 years old to having him ask me to imitate how the Yad Eliyahu PA Announcer says his name (Deenii Aaavvvvddijja) before we begin every interview. What a pleasure of a young man that has a brilliant future ahead of him in the NBA. “Deni shows confidence, he works hard and his work ethic shows,” said NBA veteran forward Quincy Acy following his magnificent performance. Captain Jake Cohen who is close to the forward had this to say about his teammate, “Deni was great was a big part of our game tonight offensively and defensively with his versatility as he can cover multiple positions.” What did MVP Elijah Bryant think of Avdija? “You see why Deni is a top five pick. When he has patience, you see him run the floor, a guy that is 6”9 who can shoot, dribble and pass, he definitely helped us a lot tonight.”
2) The praise for Avdija is certainly spectacular, but who has been able to mold and influence the basketball prodigy’s game? Coach Sfairopoulos who has given Deni the tools and keys to help lead the team, “We expect that he will be like that. He’s in a good momentum and has picked up a great rhythm in the Israeli league and lately in the Euroleague. It’s really satisfying that Deni is finding his big role in the team. Everybody believes in him. The team has worked with him this season as we have him here for the full year and he is preparing with us he has performed very well.” However, the coach sends a warning shot to make sure he doesn’t let the success, well shall we say go to his head, “He needs to stay humble continue to play and work hard and he can continue to improve with a bright future ahead.” What did Avdija think of his own performance? “I think it’s the game that I fought the most, I was part of the team when we were down and then when we got up at one point. But it’s so much fun to make the game go for our side and help out. Coach is always talking to us about what we needed to improve and we knew we needed to sacrifice defensively and we did that in the second half.” Finally after 26 minutes of Euroleague ball plus having played 38 minutes in Eilat this past Saturday night, is he ready to roll against Fenerbahce? “I’m ready baby! I’m there any time you need me.”
3) Paging Sandy Cohen! Sandy Cohen hasn’t featured very much for Maccabi this season and due to a hold up with his immigration papers he hasn’t been able to play in the Israeli league which in itself is a shame. However, Cohen came off the bench early for Maccabi and provided a huge spark especially defensively as he clocked in a season high 6 points in 12 minutes. Cohen showed confidence, while being cool, calm and collected for the Yellow & Blue as he has earned the trust of Coach Sfairopoulos. “This is why I have said before that some players who didn’t play so far this season much will play like Sandy. We have a plan for Sandy and now he has his chance. I wanted an extra player who is good defensively to try to fatigue Shved and he did a great job; he helped for the win.” Quincy Acy was impressed with Sandy’s play, “Shoutout to Sandy, He had some big defensive stops and some big buckets.” The other Cohen, Jake had this to say about Sandy, “I’ve said it before that’s one of the best parts about this group is that guys who haven’t played so much stayed ready and professional. Sandy has been working the whole year, he’s had the ups and downs of the passport and he stays hard and ready and he deserves a lot of credit.” What did Sandy have to say about his game? “It just felt good helping my teammates and being on the court. Everyone is so close so every win matters. Big win.”
It’s always fun to watch Alexey Shved play basketball. Sure, he may be a one man show sometimes but from an entertainment standpoint, he’s an absolute blast to watch ply his trade. I was able to spend a bit of time with him at Khimki at the start of the season and watching him once again in Israel slicing and dicing up Maccabi in the first half was impressive as he scored 12 points and added 9 assists in the first half. However, Maccabi came out strong the second half and stymied Shved holding him to just 6 points and 1 assist while shooting 3/12 from long distance. I asked Coach Rimas Kurtinaitis what had changed, “In our three timeouts, we were talking about mismatches that we got because Maccabi started to switch with five guys. We got our best playmaker, Alexey Shved, against Hunter in the middle of the court. We were pushing Alexey to play one-on-one, not to shoot from the three-point arc, because he is faster. Okay, he took other decisions. He scored some balls but missed a lot of ones. As I told earlier, some of our decisions were not good because we have not bad big guys inside. In this kind of mismatches, we had to put the ball inside. Usually, I always talk at practices, in the games, within the team that we don’t have good balance with two- and three-point shots because we made more three-point shots than two-point shots. The numbers that I like is one three-point shot to two two-point shots. This is the balance for the win. As for us, sometimes we score well but tonight our three-point percentage was not so good. This is how I sometimes say we are close to good or bad luck. It’s impossible to win in the EuroLeague against clubs with good organization and good discipline, like Maccabi.” Quincy Acy was one of the players who helped in shutting down Shved, “Coach told us what we were doing wrong at halftime and we tried harder, and we rebounded the ball. For sure Shved is a great player and we tried to limit his production as much as we could.” Deni Avdija described Shved to perfection, “Shved is an offensive freak. He shoots from everywhere in the court and he’s a great player. We knew that if we wanted to stop this team we needed to stop him first and that’s what we did.”
They Said It…
Quincy Acy – “It was a big win. We showed a lot of toughness we have been battling injuries all year. Like our captain Jake likes to say- gutsy win.”
Jake Cohen – “Good speech by the coach at halftime got us pointed in the right direction, we were a little all over the place in the first half, not thinking enough but we got it straightened out and the second half was a big difference.”
Ioannis Sfairopoulos – “What we said at halftime is we had to fight in a different way. Step by step, play by play. I relaxed them, because you need to understand that the players want the best for the team. They are fighting, and sometimes the pressure is too much. But I love how they played in the second half.”
Israeli European basketball action
Hapoel Jerusalem won their final Champions League Group Stage game over Antwerp in Belgium 88-73 ahead of the best of three Round of 16 playoff series in March. Tamir Blatt with 13 points and John Holland with 11 points helped the Reds to an 11-3 record. A draw will take place in two weeks to determine Jerusalem’s opponent which will be one of the following three teams, Peristeri, Besiktas or Lietkabelis.
Hapoel Holon lost a heart breaker to Lietkabelis 69-68 as a Marcus Foster (17 points) foul with a second left in regulation time allowed Paulius Valinskas to sink 3 free throws to snatch the win from the jaws of defeat and knock out Stefanos Dedas’s squad from Champions League playoff contention.
Nes Ziona fell to Cluj 82-71, ending their Europe Cup campaign.