INTERVIEW: Haifa star, 1st Sabra to play in Italy & Spain, now Israel National Team coach – Guy Goodes talks

Nov 23, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

The Israel National Team readies for the beginning of FIBA World Cup 2023 qualifying on Thursday against Poland and Sunday at Estonia and there will be a new face on the sidelines as veteran Israeli head coach Guy Goodes will make his debut guiding the Blue & White.

Goodes replaces Oded Katash who led the squad for the past few years but did not have his contract extended by the Israel Basketball Association when it expired last month. The 50-year old has not only coached a number of the country’s youth national teams but also was a stalwart as a player between 1985 and 2004.

Ahead of tip-off, The Sports Rabbi sat down with Goodes for an extended conversation about his career, the highs and the lows as well as what it means to him to become the head coach of the nation’s national team.

“I’m very excited and it’s something totally new after having coached youth national teams. As soon as I found out I told my immediate family and thought about both the challenge it presented as well as the joy involved to represent the country. It’s a big honor especially as one who has been a player and a coach in the national team program.”

The new national team boss is well aware that he along with his staff will be put to the test immediately, “This is a big challenge because you meet up with the players just a few days beforehand and the you go straight into the games. So you have to get everyone on the same page in 2-3 days in order for the team to play together which the team has done up until now. In general the guys know one another so our number one goal now is to win.”

Goodes, grew up in an athletic family by the Carmel Mountain up north and was playing sports right from the get go as his father was a former basketball player and coach, “I grew up in a home that loved the game of basketball. My oldest sister was a point guard for the women’s Hapoel Haifa team and was also a member of the Israel National Team. My father played for Maccabi Kiryat Motzkin and was also part of the National Team. From there he also became a coach and took part in the first ever coaches course at the Wingate Institute.”

“While I also played soccer as a goalkeeper, at the end of the day I fell in love with the game of basketball and when I was 6 or 7 years old I signed up to play at Hapoel Haifa’s basketball program. Everyone used to ask me why I joined Hapoel and not Maccabi but that was because my sister who was already playing with the team would take me with her to the Hapoel training center.”

Goodes developed quickly into one of the up and coming stars of the game and made his first team professional debut as a 15 year old! “You don’t see young teenagers getting the opportunity to play with the senior team like I had done back in the day. At 15 I didn’t expect to play much, but it was like a dream to be a part of the real team. As a child, I was watching the team play and then all of a sudden I was on the floor together with them.”

“My big game as a youngster was against Hapoel Tel Aviv. It was my 3rd game the coach put me out on the floor when we were down by 15 points. I came in and scored 15 points and we made a huge comeback and won the game.”

While Goodes began starring for Haifa at such a young age, he was doing the same for his high school club as well as the youth Israel National Teams. Back in the day it was common for players to be a part of numerous teams and competitions at once, “I would be playing with Haifa’s youth team and then there were times when I would also be playing with the senior team. That was also the case when I was in high school when on a regular day I would go to school play for Hapoel Haifa’s youth team and then be a part of the senior squad at night. I was jumping around from one competition to the next which is something that you barely see these days due to not wanting kids to pickup an injury. It was unbelievable.”

“There was one time I scored 30 points in a high school championship game in the afternoon and then I scored 28 points later at night against Maccabi Ramat Gan in a regular league game. Here I was, Guy Goodes with almost 60 points in a day! You can’t even think about doing these things now.”

Goodes spent four seasons with Hapoel Haifa between 1986-1990 with arguably his biggest moment coming during the 1989 Israeli league playoffs against Maccabi Tel Aviv in what would go down as a classic semifinal series. The Yellow & Blue took game one of the best of three series 104-89, but the Carmel Reds came back to win game two 88-85. As the series went down to the decisive game 3, Goodes who was only 18 years old at the time took the bull by the horns and scored 24 points including seven 3-pointers as he willed his squad to an 84-84 tie game at Yad Eliyahu with just seconds remaining. However, Lavon Mercer scored a jumper from just inside of the arc to take the win 86-84.

With a fantastic showing by Goodes averaging 18 points per game in that series, his name moved to the top of Maccabi’s wish list.

However, the move wasn’t as easy as 1-2-3 he explained, “I had two options before I moved to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Hapoel Galil Elyon and their coach Muli Kutzurin offered $80K and Maccabi’s offer was $50K. It was a tough choice because on one hand Galil would have given me the chance to play a tremendous amount of minutes and going to Maccabi would be an opportunity of a lifetime. But when Maccabi comes calling you have to take it and see what will be. If things don’t work out then there is always a chance to go to college or go down another avenue.”

“When I was in high school my father wanted me to play with the senior Hapoel Haifa team with an opt out clause for a move to another team but they didn’t want to budge at the time. So he flew to Los Angeles and closed a deal for me to go to Fairfax which was a big high school in LA. The team didn’t believe that I would pick up and leave Haifa so they called our travel agent to see if I really had tickets to go to Los Angeles. When they heard that I did in fact have airline tickets they called my father and said we will give you whatever you want with an out clause after two years if you would want to go to Maccabi Tel Aviv and that is what eventually happened.”

After Goodes moved to Maccabi Tel Aviv they had an exhibition game in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Magic Johnson. UCLA sent scouts to watch Goodes play and they wanted him to drop everything and go to play for the Bruins. But at that point Goodes was already earning a salary with Maccabi and it didn’t make sense to consider heading to college at that stage of the game.

“Playing for Maccabi was an amazing experience with all of the luxuries of a big organization. Everything is taken care of for you and all you have to concern yourself with is playing the best that you can. I grew up playing hard and doing the best that I could and that is what I did when I got to Maccabi and became the starting point guard. I moved to Ramat Aviv all by myself without knowing many people but it all came together very quickly.”

Over the course of his playing career, Goodes incurred a number of knee injuries that kept him off of the court for long stretches of time. As he was just returning to action and still under contract with Maccabi, it was decided that in order to get playing time Goodes would head abroad as he became the first Israeli to play in both Italy and Spain.

“I had been coming off of injuries when I made my first foray to Europe. Maccabi wasn’t really counting on me and I had an offer from Italy (JuveCaserta). I still had a few years on my contract so it was perfect as I was able to get back into real game shape in the 2nd division and then return to Maccabi the following year. After my year in Italy I received an offer from Bologna to stay in the country for an additional season but I still had my contract with Maccabi and I went back and played.”

“Once my contract was up in 1999 I played in international competitions with the Israel National team and I received a big offer to go play in Spain which was a terrific opportunity and experience. I then went back to Italy and then returned to Israel.”

The knee injuries which Goodes suffered stunted his playing career and if there were the same treatments available now back then his career may have taken a bit of a different turn despite averaging 8.7 points per game and helping Maccabi win 7 league championships and 3 State Cups.

“If I had suffered the injuries which I had over my career now, there is no question that the doctors would know now much better how to handle them. Even at that time I went to the San Francisco 49ers doctor who was the best in the business. But now it’s a totally different story.”

In 2004, Goodes hung up his sneakers for good and turned his attention to his coaching career where he took up the post with Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion, “Coaching Rishon Le’Zion for the first time was very challenging after just having been a player and we were battling relegation. But we stayed in the league and then I was able to build a young and dynamic team that battled and finished in 6th place. We lost against Hapoel Jerusalem in the last seconds of our playoffs matchup but we pressed and played great ball. It was a lot of fun.”

After two seasons with Rishon, Goodes made his way back to Maccabi where he was an assistant coach under Neven Spahija and Tzvika Sherf. From there Goodes spent two seasons as the head coach at Hapoel Jerusalem and then it was back to Maccabi as David Blatt’s assistant beginning in 2010 and culminating with a Euroleague championship in 2014.

“Being able to work with David for four years was a gift from above. I learnt literally everything I use as a base today. What ain’t broke, don’t fix it he would always say. That is how he looked at the game. Those years gave me the knowledge and experience to become a much better coach, plus we ended up winning the Euroleague championship which gives you the stamp of approval that the methodology that had been used was correct.”

During those four years, Goodes also was an assistant coach with the British National Team as his mother is from England and he also spent time in the Israel youth national team program as well. In fact, when he was working for Great Britain his squad faced the Blue & White.

“It was tough to have to coach against Israel, but the advantage was that I knew who the players were and what their advantages and disadvantages. We were able to win that game due to all of my knowledge.”

“The time that I coached the Under-20 Israel National Team was one that was very challenging. We decided to take very young players including Bar Timor, Nimrod Tishman and Oz Blayzer. We said that we would get them ready for the second year of the program. We played in Bosnia and it was a really incredible to see the players who were able to come out of those years.”

After winning the Euroleague title and Blatt departed for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the NBA, Goodes took over the reins with the Yellow & Blue to mixed results and although he was able to win the State Cup, Maccabi fell in the Israeli league playoffs as well as in the Euroleague.

“It’s always difficult to be able to duplicate and continue success after winning the Euroleague. All of our guards left and we had an issue with Sofo (Sofokolis Schortsanitis) who wasn’t in shape when he came in and we had to sign Aleks Maric until he got into shape. Everyone looks at the end of that season when we lost to Hapoel Eilat when we were up 2-0 in the series but had many injuries. I would rather look at the path that we took that season which was great.”

“We were able to beat Real Madrid and Barcelona at home which was something that Maccabi hadn’t been able to do for a very long time. We won many road games and we made it to the playoffs in what was the last time that the club was able to advance to the Euroleague postseason. We beat Hapoel Jerusalem in the State Cup Final and they were an excellent team on paper. But we had tons of injuries at the end of the campaign and that cost us. To be able to be in the playoffs after winning it all is something that can’t be taken for granted.”

After being let go by Maccabi in November of 2015, Goodes took some time off to work on various projects as well as seeing and experiencing the game of basketball in a totally different light.

“That year and a half was time for me to just sit back and relax a bit after so many years of constant travel and coaching and I was able to spend time with my family. I needed the break and I was able to see some things about myself and spent times on other activities.”

Goodes had been good friends with Neven Spahija ever since their time first time together with Maccabi in the 2006/07 campaign. During the Israeli’s self imposed sabbatical a trip to the NBA to be with his Croatian pal was in order in what was an eye opening experience.

“Neven called me up and said that I should join him with the Atlanta Hawks and see what goes on in the NBA. I was able to experience up close how Mike Budenhozer and his staff worked and it opened up a totally different world for me. I sat with the Hawks staff and asked questions as well as reviewed so much of what they did and I can say that this was one big school for me.”

“In the NBA, I understood how coaches split up the minutes. It didn’t matter if a player had 20 turnovers, the players on the court are already determined in the preseason and it works on how many minutes each player is allocated. I asked Neven one time after seeing Denis Schroder turn over the ball so many times and he said, it didn’t matter, he would get his minutes. I understood then that European basketball is totally different. Neven and I tried to do something like this at Maccabi but the game in Europe is a totally different animal from the NBA and it’s very hard to do so.”

After their time in the NBA, Spahija once again took over at Maccabi and asked Goodes to once again join him on the sidelines, “Neven and I became great friends over the years. When he called and asked me to be his assistant at Maccabi I was hesitant to go back to a time where I wasn’t going to be a head coach, plus going backwards to Maccabi. But he asked me for my help and as a good friend I did so.”

After a season and change Spahija and Goodes were replaced by Ioannis Sfairopoulos and a new staff but almost immediately he found himself back on the sidelines at the club he began his head coaching career at, Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion where he has had much success in taking the team to various finals.

“I think that it’s the way that we work as to the success we have had at Rishon. Playing in the EuroCup one season also gave us experience. We never give up on any game, always go for a loose ball and just work hard. Going into a knockout game needs one to have a certain mentality and it’s not a matter of who has a better squad. That is why we were able to reach these finals over the past few years.

Over the years Goodes has come closer to Judaism and one of the reasons why that was the case occurred soon after he took over at the Wine City he explained.

“I became more observant once my father passed away. I was an assistant that year with Maccabi and then moved soon thereafter to Rishon. It was the State Cup quarterfinal matchup against Maccabi just weeks after leaving the club. I made a “Neder” (vow) and I told God that if we win that game, then I will begin to put on Tefillin every day. We get to the game and there were so many crazy things that happened. We were one of the worst teams but everyone shot the ball and it when in from everywhere. After the game I realized that I had made a vow and since then only good things have happened in my career.”

One of Rishon’s Modus Operandi is the development of young talent which we have seen over the past few years in Noam Dovrat and Tal Peled.

“The day I arrived at Rishon I asked the chairman Itzhak Peri what type of team he wanted. A team that is like Gilboa Galil that develops players and is fighting near the bottom of the standings or a team that will compete at the top. But I have to make sure that this isn’t effected by developing the younger players.”

“Developing players is very important and you also have to be aware as to what success the team is having as well. You need to know when to push harder, when to go down a gear and understand how to manage the player properly. We have a very strong connection with our youth departments whether it’s Dovrat or Tal Peled and they continue to develop players.”

Over the past summer, Goodes was out of contract and could have left Rishon astheir was an opening in Jerusalem or even perhaps going to coach abroad.

“There was some discussion with Jerusalem but there wasn’t clarity as to if they had money or not and I decided to stay at Rishon and continue the work that I began. There are people who are investing in the club and they are discussing building a new arena as well within the next few years.”

“While I was off for the year and a half I went all over Europe and did a ton of networking but one of the issues for Israeli coaches run into is that there are standards for coaches in other countries. To be an ACB coach you have to fulfil certain requirements including to speak the language. Italy as well and in Germany coaches stay in their jobs for a very long time and the salaries are low. In Greece there are only a few clubs that can compete in Panathinaikos and Olympiacos and the Greek coaches are looking at other countries to go to including Israel. Russia has some very tough places to live in and Turkey may not be the most comfortable of places to coach as an Israeli. France there are rules as well. There are standards just like they now have in Israel.”

Over the years, Goodes has been able to coach many fine players including some that are currently stars in the NBA and others who have had successful careers all over the globe.

“I really enjoyed coaching Jeremy Pargo who had such a high IQ, Brain Randle and Joe Ingles who is now with the Utah Jazz. When he was with Maccabi the year we won the Euroleague title, everyone said he can’t play defense and get rid of him. Why is he here at Maccabi? Meanwhile now in the NBA he is a superstar and making millions.

“I coached so many great players, some who developed under your watch, some who starred. Darryl Monroe is a superstar who is s genius on the court. He was able to do anything and he understood everything. Coaching Sofo may have been a big challenge but he was so intelligent, one of the smartest. He could run every play including those for the point guards.”

Right now as a club coach Goodes has a very simple yet daunting goal to fulfil, “My biggest dream is to win the league title as a head coach. I won the cup as a coach and have gotten to finals, but I want to take the league championship as a head coach.”

Could Goodes ever make a return to Maccabi? “You never know if I will again be a head coach again at Maccabi. Sports are so dynamic and you can never say never. If you would have told me four years ago that I would be in the finals with Rishon Le’Zion and the head coach of the Israel National team I would have thought you were smoking a joint. You never know what will happen the next day. Just work hard today as you never know will be in a week, a year or two years down the road. If you work hard good things will happen.”

As for his most immediate challenge and goal, that will be to qualify for the FIBA World Championship for the first time since 1986 along with preparing for next summer’s EuroBasket.

“It’s always a challenge to put together the team because there are many players who are worthy to be part of the squad. I will have to choose very wisely and see which players are in the best shape and who are the right ones to help the national team succeed.”

“It’s never simple to have to let players go because everyone wants to be a part of the team. But we will do our due diligence in order to call up the highest quality players that we can bring in who are also healthy, however, this will have to wait until the 90th minute. The bottom line is that the base, the core of the national team is set and there are just going to be some changes here and there.”

As we finish up together, Goodes shared the top moments of his career ahead of what one day may be added to the short list of highlights.

“I would have to put my finger on three things. The game I played with Hapoel Haifa against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the semifinal series where I scored seven 3-pointers in one game. When we won the Euroleague title with David Blatt in Milano back in 2013/14. The third I will take the Tefillin game when we beat Maccabi in the State Cup. These would be the three games that I would mark down as being the top of the top for me.”

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