Looking within to help Maccabi get back on track: Captain John Dibartolomeo talks to The Sports Rabbi ahead of PAO

Jan 24, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv is preparing for a date with Greek giants Panathinaikos at their home away from home in Belgrade on Thursday (9:05pm Israel time) as they look to get back onto the winning track and move their Euroleague record up to 13-10 on the season.

While Maccabi may have had a rough go of late, they will look to get back to the basics as assistant coach Josep Berrocal said following the yellow-and-blue’s loss to Kiryat Ata and Hapoel Tel Aviv earlier in the week in domestic league play.

Maccabi flew to Belgrade on Wednesday morning as did The Sports Rabbi staff to bring you the best coverage both in English and Hebrew as “The Sports Rabbi On Tour” continues in Serbia after a trip to Spain earlier in the month.

John Dibartolomeo – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

John Dibartolomeo, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s captain spent some time with The Sports Rabbi in Serbia as we looked back at the team’s recent slump, head coach Oded Katash being with the team following the passing of Lior Lubin, the upcoming Panathinaikos game and of course playing and living in Belgrade due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

“It’s a challenge in its own way,” Dibartolomeo began. “Going back and forth between Belgrade and Israel but we are used to being in Belgrade at this point. We know this gym and we know what the atmosphere will be at the game. We are focussed on playing better and getting a win.”

Obviously there have been some serious consequences for the club and its players since October 7th, but the captain explained that they are doing the best that they can due to the circumstances.

“There is a lot that has changed since then not just for us but for everybody. We are trying to focus on the things that we can control. We are in Israel more, that a lot of us like, although we have to play our Euroleague games away from home which is tough on us but we find a way to manage and push forward.”

John Dibartolomeo and Mike McGuirl – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

Maccabi has no doubt gone above and beyond in how they have tried their best to handle situation that no one had ever experienced and Dibartolomeo knows that at the end of the day it’s still a privilege to play basketball.

“The people have been very good to us. When stuff first happened and there was uncertainty where people felt unsafe, the team reacted in putting the players outside of Israel for the time being which was the right decision for our group and while we weren’t at home, it allowed us to get some sort of routine with some sort of normalcy then. Now our schedule will change again and we will have to adapt. That’s our reality and that’s our situation at the end of the day we are all happy that we can play basketball for a living.”

Lior Lubin, the former coach and player as well as best friend’s with Oded Katash passed away this week and despite the very difficult circumstances that the bench boss is in, he is with the club which is something that Dibartolomeo doesn’t take for granted. While the captain did not get a chance to really know Lubin, he does have a sense as to how important he as to the fabric of the game in Israel.

Oded Katash and Lior Lubin – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

“We love and support Oded and we know what a tough time it has been for him and you can see it. Our heart goes out to him and his family and all those who loved and admired coach Lubin. I never had the privilege to really get to know him or play for coach Lubin, but based off of how people talked about him and how Oded would talk about him, one would understand how great of a person he was and it just speaks the truth as to who he was. I wish I would have had the privilege to getting to know him better.”

Dibartolomeo had been injured earlier this season and missed a big chunk of games this season but now he’s back and in prime shape to help the team, “I’m happy to be back and trying to impact the game as best as I can. I think I can give more and a lot of us need to look within ourselves and see what we can do better individually to help the team win to get through this rough spot.”

Dibartolomeo knows that the team needs to get back to basics to find a way out of the slump and hopefully that will happen against Panathinaikos on Thursday, “It is a slump and playing for Maccabi is a roller coaster as there are a lot of ups and downs throughout a ten month season and this is definitely one of our down points. But if we get back to the basics and focusing on basketball and enjoying playing and playing hard and controlling the things we can control and letting the chips fall as they may.”

John Dibartolomeo- Photo credit: Dov Halickman

“Back to basics and playing the correct way. I think we need to do a better job of putting together more good minutes like we’ve seen in recent games as a couple lapses here or there cost us and I think that we need to have a little more resilience. When times get tough resorting to what we do best is what we need to do. They are a vary good team arguably playing the best in Europe right now it will be a big challenge for us and we need to be prepared.”

While Maccabi defeated Panathinaikos back in October when they played in Athens, Dibartolomeo remembers very well playing against a movie star, but this time around he won’t be in awe of one Bo Cruz.

“I thought about that the first time I played Juancho Hernangomez when we played at Panathinaikos because I did watch the movie Hustle but I won’t be as star struck this time!”

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