Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Alba Berlin on Thursday night in Round 15 Euroleague action as they will look to get back onto the winning track after splitting games in Italy last week. With a 7-7 record, the yellow-and-blue will be facing a German squad who have lost 11 games in a row after starting the season out with three straight wins. However, despite their 3-11 record, there are never any easy games in the Euroleague and this one will be no exception especially with a couple of very familiar faces on Berlin.
Israelis Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman are in the midst of their second season with Alba and both are feeling more and more comfortable with the club and under second year head coach Israel Gonzalez. Just ahead of the game, The Sports Rabbi sat down with Blatt to talk about his time so far in Germany, the opportunity to play in the Euroleague as he continues to develop, his father David’s current role and the prospect of facing one of his former coaches.
“To be able to face Oded Katash at Maccabi Tel Aviv is going to be an unbelievable experience,” Blatt who had won a pair of Israel State Cups together with Katash at Hapoel Jerusalem began. “Oded and I have been through a lot and won titles together. We have had wonderful years together and we are close and it will be an exciting game for both of us.”
The 25-year old Blatt started off his professional career when he signed a 4-year deal with Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2014. After spending the first year of the contract in the Leumit League, the guard began to make waves in the top division with the Reds where he became an All-Star in 2017. The Netanya native then moved to Hapoel Holon for a season where he captured his first Israel State Cup under coach Dan Shamir in 2018 and then featured for Hapoel Jerusalem where he won two more Cups in three seasons before taking his talents abroad for the first time in his career.
In his debut season in the Euroleague, Blatt put up modest numbers averaging 5 points and 3.5 assists in a shade over 15 minutes per game. This year has seen Blatt flourish with ALBA scoring 9.4 points and dishing out 5.1 assists in over 24 minutes per contest.
“I feel really, really good with ALBA Berlin,” an exuberant Blatt said. “The first year was a big adjustment, coming into a new city, with new weather and everything was new outside of basketball. As for the basketball side, playing in a new system and having a new teammates was a big adjustment and it took me time to adjust and it took them time to know me as well.”
“After a few good months I felt mentally strong and I was not giving up and I was staying with it, came a good turning point. I began to play more and better as well and it was great being part of the team and winning the championship and the cup in what was a great ending. This year, everything was so familiar and it felt like home as I am continuing where I stopped the year before. It’s incredible being on this wave and I am feeling great with my situation.”
Last season, Blatt’s first in the Euroleague saw his team finish the campaign with a 12-16 record good for 10th place as it seemed that ALBA were making positive strides in continental play while being a power in domestic competition. In fact, this season Gonzalez’s club is 9-1 in German League play and started the Euroleague season off with a 3-0 record, however, the club is now in the midst of an 11-game losing streak but Blatt sheds some light on the current situation and why his team has struggled.
“At the beginning of the losing streak we had a lot of injuries, guys were out and it took them time to get back into playing shape. There were a lot of issues with availability of players and this could have messed up our rhythm. The Euroleague is the highest level in Europe and there were a couple of games that we fell. I hope it will turn around.”
Before moving to play with a team in the Euroleague, Blatt had gotten his feet wet in European play as he participated in the Basketball Champions League for his three seasons with Jerusalem as well as one year with Holon. In 2019, Blatt won the BCL’s “Best Young Player Award” as the guard really made his mark on the continental map making the possibility of playing in the Euroleague that more realistic.
“For sure, it was the biggest dream of mine. When I was ten years old this was my goal. I set my goals very high and I did everything in my power to reach it. I have worked extremely hard and took responsibility for my career at a young age and I couldn’t wait to start. When I got the offer from ALBA Berlin I was very excited. Last year I was a rookie and I was trying to understand and adjust and now the second season I know my role more and more and I am feeling more comfortable. I am living my dream. How blessed are we that we are doing what we love and can wake up every morning and enjoy it.”
Blatt’s time in Berlin has also been that much more fun due to the fact he has been able to share the floor and the experience with Yovel Zoosman, who has been not only a good friend for many years but also a good teammate as well. “Zoos” as he is called by many had a bit of a different journey to ALBA having already played in the Euroleague with Maccabi Tel Aviv, in essence the forward was a veteran so to speak, whereas Blatt was a rookie when they both arrived in Germany. However, Blatt feels that this hasnot been an issue whatsoever for the pair of competitors.
“We don’t feel the difference and we are in a great place together at an organization with an unbelievable staff and teammates. We are really happy here, we are very close friends and have each others backs and speak Hebrew all the time, I don’t know how I would have felt if he wasn’t here with me the first year. It’s a huge difference that he is here and I am happy we are together which is something we can take with us for the rest of our lives.”
Last week, Blatt had the opportunity to share the floor with a European giant in Milos Teodosic when ALBA played at Bologna and throughout the past two seasons the Israeli floor general has tipped off against many continental making each one of these an unforgettable learning experience.
“Every time you get a chance to play a legend it is a great experience. They were the guys I wanted to be when I was growing up and I wanted to learn from them and compete against them.”
Blatt’s father David who is battling MS, returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv this past summer in the role of the chairman of the professional committee and external consultant which is definitely something that has brought a big smile to Tamir’s face.
“It feels good from that he wants to stay connected to basketball and I am happy for him that he is so passionate about work despite not being in the best physical condition. I am happy for him and I want him to be happy.”
As for the possibility of Blatt himself one day playing for the club that his father once coached and won the 2014 Euroleague title with, the guard markedly said that at this point in his young career anything and everything is open.
“I leave all the options open because you never know where your career will take you, but you never know. Every team is an option.”
With Blatt continuing to make strides as each day, month and year goes by, he feels that he will also keep trying to be the best version possible of himself as time goes on.
“I don’t want to give myself a ceiling and I want to try to continue my story, enjoy every day and get to new highs every year. That is what I will continue to do.”
Finally, as we are in the midst of the holiday of Chanukah, Blatt welcomed some very special guests to Germany as his mother and sisters have descended upon his Berlin home which of course will make the holiday that much more enjoyable and fun.
“Happy Holidays! I hope everybody will spend it with their close ones. Enjoy it, eat Sufganiot (doughnuts) and have a good time!”