Maccabi Tel Aviv tips-off against Red Star Belgrade on Thursday night (21:05) at Yad Eliyahu as the Yellow & Blue will look to build off of last week’s opening day win over Bayern Munich. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad will take on the Serbian foe who fell to Fenerbahce 61-57 in a low scoring affair as coach Dejan Radonjic will look to even their record up.
One of the club’s stars is Luka Mitrovic who returned home after a number of seasons abroad with Buducnost, Manresa and Brose Bamberg while also having had a cameo appearance with Hapoel Jerusalem at the Champions League Final 8 tournament in Athens, Greece a year ago.
The 28-year old big man played with Red Star between 2012-2017 and now comes back to anchor the front court of the team where he began to spread his wings in order to help them improve upon their 2020/21 season where they finished in 17th place with a 10-24 record.
Just ahead of his return to the Holy Land, Mitrovic spoke to The Sports Rabbi about the club’s rivalry with a new and improved Partizan, his time in Jerusalem last year, playing with a former Maccabi guard and the challenges and goals for the campaign to come.
“According with club’s history and all the success in past years, our goals have to be high and big. In the Euroleague we want to improve our record from last year and in the domestic competitions of course we want to win titles,” Mitrovic began.
Already sitting at 2-0 in the ABA League, Mitrovic and Red Star understands what the challenges are ahead along with what the keys to success will be, “On this level there’s an every-day challenge to prove yourself that you deserve to be here. To try to be as good as possible every single practice and game during the schedule that we have. Our strength has to be our energy, togetherness and willingness to win and compete. We know that we are not the most talented team in the Euroleague, so we have to compensate it with all the things I mentioned above.”
Along with Mitrovic, Nate Wolters returns to the Euroleague and to a team with familiar faces, “I’ve already played with Nate in Red Star 4.5 years ago. The difference is that today Nate is an experienced Euroleague point guard, who adjusted to European basketball and I think that he can help our team a lot with all of the qualities that he has.”
Scottie Wilbekin who just came off an MVP performance in Maccabi’s win over Bayern will provide a tough test for Mitrovic and his teammates and they’ll need to contain the guard in order to walk out of Yad Eliyahu with a victory.
“Wilbekin for years is one of the best guards in Euroleague and a lot of good things at Maccabi starts with him, so our team defense has to be on highest level to stop him.”
Last season saw the Novi Sad native sign a short-term deal with Hapoel Jerusalem just as they were about to play in the Champions League Final 8 tournament in Athens, Greece. However, the Reds were bounced after just one game to the eventual champions San Pablo Burgos and Mitrovic moved on to play in Montenegro following his cameo appearance.
“For me it was very unusual and a weird situation to spend such a short time on one team and play only one game. Even though I was in Israel for only 2 months, I have only nice memories from there. Unfortunately, Israel was under lockdown so I couldn’t see much but the entire club showed great organization to help us through the situation.”
This season, Red Star will have to stiff competition at home in Serbia as Partizan has not upgraded its roster which now includes Israeli point guard Yam Madar but also the legendary head coach Zeljko Obradovic takes over on the bench. Mitrvoic is well aware of the rivalry between the clubs and has experienced it on many occasions.
“Everybody in world knows about the Red Star and Partizan rivalry. After a couple of years we will have two great teams in Belgrade and I’m sure people will enjoy it. Partizan put together a strong team with a lot of talent and quality led by coach Obradovic. Their ambitions are high this year, so competing against them will be big challenge for us and we are looking forward to it.”