Oded Katash and Maccabi Tel Aviv open up the second half of the Euroleague season with plenty of challenges and unknowns ahead

Jan 1, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv ended the first half of their Euroleague season as best as they could have possibly hoped for with a 10-7 record. With a double week coming up with games on Tuesday and Thursday against Monaco and Fenerbahce respectively, the Israeli team hopes that they can use these contests as a springboard for the next part of the campaign.

Despite having to play their home games at an empty arena in Belgrade, save for the season opener when the yellow-and-blue defeated Partizan Belgrade at Yad Eliyahu, two days prior to the October 7th massacre by Hamas, Head Coach Oded Katash couldn’t have been any more satisfied with a situation that see his club in 6th place.

After defeating Zalgiris 78-70 in Lithuania, Maccabi, who has been without their star guard Wade Baldwin for seven of the 10 games showed the grit and character that has been their calling card all season long as they have had to dealt with one challenge after the next. From having to leave the Holy Land at the start of the war and make their home base in Serbia to playing games with no fans and from the restart of the Israeli season to the many questions abound as to which foreign players if any will play in those games, what Katash has done is no less miraculous.

Following the win at Zalgiris and just before the second round of games gets underway, the Maccabi maestro spoke in depth about a myriad of topics about his squad as they head into half number two of their continental campaign.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman


“This was a great win for us under the circumstances, it wasn’t easy,” Katash began. “We were together for just 24 hours to prepare for the game and losing Wade Baldwin wasn’t easy for us, but players stepped up to the situation and we were really focused defensively for 40 minutes. It was a great effort from the players, the third quarter we are smart offensively using our advantages, we played against a good team and we knew coming into the game they were better than their results. They missed out in the end of their last 3 games and we made the right plays at the end of this one.”

While Maccabi may be 3 games over .500 with 17 games to go in the regular season, there are plenty of hurdles that they will have to maneuver around, over and under during the first few months of 2024. Of the 17 remaining games, 10 of them will be on the road with the first one of those ironically being held in Panevezys where Fenerbahce will host their “home” game due to the difficult security situation the war has wedged between Israel and Turkey.

One of the reasons no doubt to play in “Ponovezh” is due to the fact that Fenerbahce’s new head coach Saras Jasikevicius is Lithuanian and was also a star per for Maccabi when they won back-to-back Euroleague titles in 2004 and 2005.

Lorenzo Brown – Photo Credit:Djordje Kostic and Dragan Tesic


“We knew we wouldn’t be able to play in Turkey for security and political issues,” Katash said. “We were waiting to see where we could play. I like to come here to Lithuania as basketball is more than just a game here. I love being here and have spent time here. But in our crazy world since October 7th we can’t really plan more than 4-5 days ahead. It’s not the optimal situation and we are facing a number of difficulties and this is one of them.”

From there, the yellow-and-blue have 4 Euroleague games coming up in two weeks with one being against Monaco in Belgade while the following week will see two more games in Serbia, at home against Bologna and on the road at Partizan. Four very, very tough games await Katash without a doubt.

Throw in a trip to Greece and Spain along with four domestic league games including a Derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi has one difficult month of January ahead. Add to that the fact that Katash doesn’t even know which import players that will be able to count on to return to Israel after having played the past two domestic clashes with Sabras only as all of the foreigners refused to over the Christmas holiday and the situation becomes that much more challenging.

Oded Katash – Photo credit: Dov Halickman


“I can say as a coaching staff this wasn’t a perfect situation and nothing is the same since October 7th when they war started in Israel,” Katash commented. “I know management is putting a lot of effort to keep the team together and traveling back home, I hope we will get there. We have to handle this crazy situation which is not easy and hopefully things will be better and we can keep the team together. The schedule is challenging and in general the Euroleague schedule is tough too as well as playing without our home crowd. We are putting a lot of effort and emphasis into that.”

“As for the players returning to Israel, there are different reasons and each one has his own issues and hopefully we can solve that. Obviously as a coaching staff we want the entire team together and we know we will have travel. I hope we will find a way to do it.”

Every one of the players has had to step up whether it has been the Israelis in the domestic league or in the Euroleague due to injuries whether it has been Baldwin or captain John Dibartolomeo. With that, the roster still does not have the depth that it has had in the past and any player who may not be 100% is going to be tough to replace.

Josh Nebo – Photo credit: Djordje Kostic and Dragan Tesic


In fact, as the Zalgiris game neared its end, Josh Nebo who had a career night with 22 points in one of his old haunting grounds, he came up lame which is no doubt a concern for Katash, “Hopefully it’s not that bad and that he will be OK, he will be checked out. I think Wade Baldwin will be ready next week as we decided just an hour before the game that he wouldn’t play as we were scared to take a risk with that and didn’t want to take a chance.”

With Baldwin’s absence, Tamir Blatt has been able to fill in more than admirably as the guard has raised the level of his game both in scoring and creating with 14 points and 8 assists, while Rafi Menco who was stellar in the two Israeli games, also received a chance to show his wares in the Euroleague that he grabbed with both hands.

“It was a great performance from Tamir Blatt, he really helped us and has given the team a lot from the beginning of the season. He stepped up and John Dibartolomeo helped with that as well while Rafi Menco from the bench and Josh Nebo had a great game. Tamir is confident and he knows what he is doing.”

Tamir Blatt – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman


However, all in all Katash knows that the upcoming 17 games will be no picnic and that begins this week. All eyes will be on Maccabi Tel Aviv to see if they can continue their solid play from the first half of the season but also if the team will return home and perhaps the spotlight on them due to the ongoing war will begin to dim a bit. But until then, the bench boss will continue to hold out hope that sports and especially basketball will be a light onto then nations.

“I think basketball always has to be above politics but unfortunately things happen. I don’t even know what the main reason is about not playing in Turkey if it’s politics or security. I wish basketball and sports will bridge us for world peace and I wish that it will be like this. We play sports for the fans and I hope things will be better. I wish that the entire basketball world will all have solidarity.”

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