Jake Cohen looks to ride Israeli league wave back into tight Euroleague rotation

Nov 4, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv has been hot, red, red hot over the past two weeks with absolutely everyone contributing in win after win after win. Whether it has been in Euroleague play or in Israeli league action, the yellow-and-blue just can’t stop picking up the victories.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad will look to continue their fine run of late against Baskonia in Vitoria, Spain in continental competition on Friday night as they will search for their 5th Euroleague win in a row which is a mark they haven’t hit since the 2019/20 campaign when the team won at least five games three separate times.

There’s no question that Maccabi is playing their best basketball since the pandemic hit with full force back in March of 2020 but that doesn’t mean coach Sfairopoulos is not having tough decisions to make with his roster which currently consists of 15 top flight professional hoopsters.

Euroleague regulations state that a team can only dress 12 players per game and that has left a number of Maccabi members out in the cold and having to watch their teammates from the stands and not on the bench or as participants themselves on the floor.

Recently the three players who have had to dress in street clothing have been Jake Cohen, Oz Blayzer and Oded Brandwein. While Brandwein is not expected to play in Europe, Cohen and Blayzer had been consistent participants over the past few years.

The trio do get to play in the Israeli league because only five foreigners may be registered per game and Maccabi with 9 imports have to sit three of them which opens up roster spots for the Israelis and in this case Cohen, Blayzer and Brandwein to get playing time.

Although it is certainly not ideal, it does give them the chance to show their wares and compete, but of course their main goal is to get back into the 12-man squad that is registered for Euroleague action.

Cohen was a Euroleague regular for Maccabi during his second stint with the team between 2017-2020 while last season he moved to Spain’s ACB League and played with Obradoiro. Now back with the yellow-and-blue he has seen his continental time evaporate in part due to having nine imports but also now in the mix is youngster Roman Sorkin who joined the team over the summer from Maccabi Haifa.

Sorkin who plays as a power forward which is the same position as Cohen has been playing extremely well despite having very little experience at this level and has earned his spot in the lineup after putting in a number of impressive performances.

For the 31-year old Cohen it’s not easy to sit back and want to be out there on the floor with his teammates what are always make or break Euroleague games. With that in mind, Cohen who scored 10 points with a pair of 3-pointers along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists against Bnei Herzliya earlier in the week, will need to ratchet up his level of play in the Israeli league to prove to Sfairopoulos and his staff that he deserves to regain his place in continental ball.

“I’ve been in the situation many times before,” Cohen began. “It’s sort of the nature of beast here Maccabi with 15 players and that’s how it’s going to go sometimes. The only thing that you can control is how you respond to it.

“Are you going to put your head down and pout or keep working doing the things you do and do your routine and stay ready. Thankfully, my experience has taught me to stay ready and be patient. Hopefully Euroleague minutes will come.”

One of Maccabi’s nine imports, Mathias Lessort is on a short term contract which will end at the end of November should the club not renew it which is the likely scenario, so that will eliminate one roadblock in Cohen and Blayzer’s way.

“I am ready at any time the coach calls upon me,” Blayzer said. “It may be in a week or in a month but I will continue to work hard, continue to believe and I know that my opportunity will eventually come.”

During the 2019/20 campaign, Cohen scored 5.4 points in 13 minutes per game and held an important role with the team as one of its vocal leaders. Obviously, he would like to return to the same standing he had back two seasons ago, but ultimately the frank Cohen understands that the team is playing well right now and the time to make changes may need to be put on the backburner for the time being.

“It’s important for me, but the reason I’m here is to help Maccabi win games. If the coaches or whoever feel that the best way to win games is for me not to play then that’s my role and I have to come to accept it. I’m not going to like it and I am going to work to change it.”

“Like I said, I’ve done it before and hopefully with us continuing to play well enough to win games, it’s not really the right time for me to demand minutes. We’re playing well right now, It’s something difficult for me to grapple with right now on a personal level. Of course, I want to play and want to contribute but that’s how it goes when you play for a big team and you have to be humble.”

Coach Sfairopoulos knows full well that he has quality players on his squad and some will play while others will not. But at no point in time will he ever look at them as separate squads he explained.

“I’m very happy with their play but I don’t split the team in units. For me all of the players are important and all of the players are the same. Although some players may not have participated in the Euroleague, they are not a separate unit. They are part of the team and we have one squad. Everybody needs to be ready to play and everybody is important for the team. As for the players who do not play a lot in Euroleague, some of them were good and some have to push themselves more.”

Sfairopoulos spoke specifically about the challenge of figuring out which players will play and which ones won’t a couple of weeks ago and as he said it’s all tough love, “I have 15 good players who are ready to help and it’s tough as to who to keep out and who to keep in. It’s tough who to play.”

“As a coach I love my players and I have a relationship with them like my kids as their father. To help them, to support them and to be critical and sometimes I have to say no. They have to fight and if they get everything easy they won’t fight for their lives. This is how I treat my players with love and respect and sometimes I am tough.”

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