New fight and new battle as Maccabi welcomes Baskonia and Spahija to town

Mar 1, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Baskonia to Yad Eliyahu on Tuesday (21:05) in Euroleague action as the Yellow & Blue will look to out last week’s loss in the rear view mirror and get back onto the winning track.

Former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach and current Baskonia bench boss Neven Spahija will be back in town for the first time since being let go by the Yellow & Blue back in 2018 when the recently departed Ioannis Sfairopoulos took over the reins.

Neven Spahija – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

However, Spahija won’t be going up against the man who replaced him but Avi Even who has been the head of the club’s scouting department and who has been thrust into the role of interim coach for at least the time being.

Prior to last week’s lopsided defeat at the hands of Anadolu EFES, Even had coached Maccabi twice while Sfairopoulos was down for the count with COVID-19 and has also served as an assistant coach under a number head coaches throughout the past decade.

Avi Even – Photo Credit: Elad Goldstein/Maccabi Tel Aviv

“I sat with the owners and they asked me to take on the role and as to what I thought about it. Before I even thought about it, I said yes because they need me. I want to enjoy what I am doing and it’s a huge challenge. I was an assistant with many of the club’s head coaches from Pini Gershon, David Blatt, Zan Tabak, Guy Goodes. I embrace the challenge. This team has beaten CSKA and Olympiacos. I am here to take on this job with passion.”

While the two teams faced each other earlier in the season in which Maccabi won 87-69 in Spain, Scottie Wilbekin sees this game as a totally new chapter and the previous matchup will have no impact on Tuesday’s clash.

“It feels like it was really a long time ago and we changed as a team and have grown in different ways. I think it will be a completely different game as they have a new coach and we have a new coach. Can’t really take away much from that game and it will be a new fight and new battle.”

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

One of Even’s biggest tasks heading into the Baskonia game is to get the players back up mentally and ready to go after having taken a 109-77 beating in Turkey, “Since Friday I’ve been working on one thing, to get back our pride for the game in Tuesday. We want that every child who wears a yellow and blue jersey will come to the game proudly.”

Big man Ante Zizic is also aware that the players must come in focused in order to win the game, “We had a tough game last week and lost by a huge margin to EFES. Baskonia is our opportunity to step up and show our character. It’s a tough game but we will step up.”

Ante Zizic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The key for Maccabi will be to make sure they get back to the fundamentals on defense and make sure that the last week’s performance will not repeat itself by focusing, Even explained, “We have to reduce the open looks that they have and we have to make our adjustments to how we played against EFES. We can’t allow any team to shoot with the percentages that they did in that game. We fell apart in those two games (the loss to Bayern and EFES) in two minutes and we fell totally fell apart due to a lack of focus. There were other tactical things but primarily we lost focus.”

Wilbekin looked at trying to get better as a team and help one another as the way to succeed going forward. “I know as a team we are trying to build chemistry with each other and try to improve upon that and try to make our teammates play better and help me personally to help me play better so that we can get the most out of each other.”

“We haven’t done as well as we wanted to as a team and we are two games under .500. That is what every player in the lockerroom is focusing on. We want to win these two games so we can even it out and move forward on a more positive note from there.”

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