Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Olimpia Milano in Euroleague Gameday 11 action on Thursday (21:00) at Yad Eliyahu. The Yellow & Blue enter the contest with a record of 3-7 as they will look to wipeout a two game losing streak from their road trip to Spain, while the Lombardi region squad defeated Zalgiris last week and sport a 4-3 record with 3 games rescheduled due to COVID-19 issues.
For the first time this season and close to the one-third mark of the campaign, a member of Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team has dared to utter the words I have been using for a number of weeks; “It’s a must win.”
Othello Hunter finally said those four words that Maccabi perhaps needed to hear, before it will be too late to save their season.
Almost every game going forward right now is a must win with a record of 3-7 as the Yellow & Blue have to get back onto the wining track and take it step by step to get back into Euroleague contention. It will be a long arduous process, but one Hunter knows the team owes to their coach, by “Being responsible on the court as we’re not playing great basketball and are not playing together and are not listening to coach.”
Stark words from the center who has never really been the politically correct sort of guy and that’s fine, because the rest of the team needed to be told exactly like it is.
There is no more pussy footing and dancing around the facts. Maccabi must win.
However, that won’t be an easy task against Ettore Messina’s team. “The have the second best offense and are really talented team,” Sfairopoulos stated about his counterpart’s squad. “They have been able to bring the roster together recently after issues with corona. They are very good offensively and defensively and they have disorganized the opponent’s game.”
The key for Maccabi will have to come on the defensive side of the game as they will need to slow down the high octane offense featuring Malcolm Delaney, Sergio Rodriguez, Kevin Punter and Zach LeDay not to mention the inside force of Kyle Hines.
“We come out to win every game and Milan is a very challenging team,” explained captain John DiBartolomeo who just returned to action this past Monday night against Hapoel Haifa after being out for close to year due to a pair of injuries. “They have a lot of weapons on offense. Our focus will be on the defensive end that is where we want to pride ourselves and where we want our identity to be. Milan is a good test for us.”
While DiBartolomeo will be able to take part in the Euroleague clash, Omri Casspi who also graced the basketball court for the first time since last December earlier this week, will be held out said Sfairopoulos, “Omri’s injury needs a bit more time and we don’t want to overload him. We don’t want to have problems with his knee so he won’t play tomorrow. If we overload him we will kill him. We will go gradually. After such a long period out, we won’t kill him with maximum participation.”
With two home losses this season they have already doubled their defeats at Yad Eliyahu from last campaign but playing at home isn’t quite what it used to be according to the Maccabi coach, “The club isn’t the same as last year if we don’t have the home court advantage. We brought back the atmosphere from 15-20 years ago. Teams that have tough home courts will have issues. Zalgiris and Panathinaikos have a number of losses at home.”
For the captain, regardless of the situation he’s just happy to get back on the court and play especially in continental play, “I’m extremely excited to be back with the team and playing basketball. I’ve been looking forward to the Euroleague games and I’ll come out focussed as it’s a very important game for us.”
Hunter who has not had an ideal start to the season averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds down from 10.5 points and 6.7 boards laid his feelings out on the line for the team, “I want to win and when you’re not winning you look at yourself and see what you can do better. Right now we got to find a way to win. I believe in this team but right now we’re not a final four team and I can say that out loud, but I believe we can get there. It’s putting in the work believing and trusting in what we can do. At that point when we get there I think we’ll be ready.”
Of course that had to start with Milan in a game that’s a must win.