“Our strength is in our teamwork” Mateusz Ponitka goes from Poland Eurobasket success to Panathinaikos

Oct 26, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Panathinaikos in Euroleague Gameday 5 action on Thursday night at Yad Eliyahu (21:05) as the Yellow & Blue will look to improve on their 3-1 record against one of their classic foes. The Greens come to Israel after winning their first continental clash of the season over Monaco last week to move their record to 1-3 early on in the campaign.

Dejan Radonjic’s squad is a mix of new players including Derrick Williams who played for Maccabi last season along with Paris Lee, Arturas Gudaitis, Marius Grigonis and veteran Mateusz Ponitka as the small forward joined PAO for the campaign after having featured for Zenit St. Petersburg over the past three years.

Mateusz Ponitka – Photo Credit: FIBA

Ponitka had signed a short term deal with Reggio Emilia in August right before the Eurobasket, but after a spectacular showing in the tournament with Poland, the Ostrow Wielkopolski native joined Panathinaikos just a couple of weeks before the opening of the season and the rest is history.

Just ahead of Thursday’s clash, Ponitka took the time to speak to The Sports Rabbi about his country’s historic European Championship run, his new club, expectations, the game itself and how he ended up signing at the 11th hour with a top flight club like Panathinaikos.

“It came up after the Eurobasket, me and my Polish team had played very well at the tournament,” Ponitka who averaged 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists in Prague and Berlin. “We had the chance to go to the semifinals and we finished in the top 4 in the competition. After that Panathinaikos had a really strong interest in me and we just made the deal. They were very straightforward, we quickly found a solution as to how to join forces together and here I am as a Panathinaikos player right now. I’m really happy about it.”

Mateusz Ponitka – Photo Credit: Euroleague

As for what Ponitka believes will be the key to Panathinaikos success for the upcoming campaign, the marksman who is beginning his 6th Euroleague campaign feels that it all comes down to playing as a unit, “In the Euroleague it’s not just about one player who needs to contribute for the success of the team and that is not only the case in the Euroleague but the Greek league too. It’s not just about me but about the whole team and that we can compete, play together, lean on each other and support each other to win as a team. I will try to do my best to help the team in every aspect of the game that I can.”

While Ponitka has many years of experience from his time at Oostende and Zielona Gora to Karsiyaka, Tenerife and Kuban, he sees himself as a member of the team and not above it, he explained, “I don’t see myself as a leader and I am one of the twelve players that will be fighting for Panathinaikos on the floor and I will do my best for the team. I believe that our strength is in our teamwork and not having five leaders on the court at the same time but five teammates. When we understand that as a team we can achieve more, then it will be clear that the team will be above all. We are working hard at the practices, we will improve our game every day and win as many games as possible and make our fans proud which is most important for us.”

Coach Dejan Radonjic takes over at the OAKA Arena after a number of successful seasons with Red Star Belgrade where he helped the team overachieve and will look to use the same formula with his new team together with Ponitka who has averaged 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in his own Euroleague career.

Dejan Radonjic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Coach Radonjic has a lot of experience in the Euroleague and he has been a coach with a lot of teams,” Ponitka explained. “Of course, for me personally it’s another chapter of my professional career. I know a little bit about basketball but of course his knowledge is much greater and I will try to learn from him and do whatever he wants me to do to help the team in every aspect. Not only scoring, rebounding and defending but whatever he needs from me during the games and during the season. For sure I want to help and everybody wants to help so that we can win.”

The 29-year old Ponitka who featured in his 4th Eurobasket was a very important and influential player for Poland at the surprising tournament this past summer and understands how much pride the team brought to the country, “I think everybody was a little bit surprised as to how Poland did in the Eurobasket because it was historical success for us. I believe that it will be very difficult to best this but we have young players who will be improving and developing their skills every year. I believe that in a few years we can do it again.”

Mateusz Ponitka – Photo Credit: FIBA

“The Eurobasket was amazing and an amazing time for us,” Ponitka exclaimed. We had a great time and an unbelievable experience. I can’t even describe in words what we felt during the tournament and afterwards. We are proud of what we did and the country is proud of what we did in the Eurobasket.”

As for the secret to Poland’s success, Ponitka went back to the old adage of being one for all and all for one, “The secret of our success is the teamwork, the good atmosphere and that we knew what we were going to do in every game and everybody stepped up and gave something extra for the team. As a team we were a collective, spending time with each other, hanging out and playing basketball and I believe that this is the biggest thing that happened to us and everybody had a small share in the success. Players, coaches and staff, president, sponsors, absolutely everybody had a share in the success.”

Igor Milicic – Photo Credit: FIBA

Coach Igor Milicic who had taken over for Mike Taylor was able to guide Poland to the final four of Eurobasket has not yet had the opportunity to coach in the Euroleague, but as Ponitka explains, making that jump is not so simple no matter how much success one may have, “I don’t know what Coach Milicic will do and I don’t know what his options are. In the Euroleague you need to have skills and also some experience. We will probably see what will be over the next months.”

Ponitka has played alongside with a number of current Maccabi players including Alex Poythress and Austin Hollins at Zenit, but he is also aware that the Yellow & Blue have plenty of other weapons as well at the disposal including the fans.

Mateusz Ponitka – Photo Credit: Euroleague

“Maccabi definitely has some really skilled individuals. I know personally that Alex Poythress is a great player under the basket and Austin Hollins is a great shooter. Of course, Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin create the most on the team and will have the ball in their hands most of the time. They have some very good Israeli players who I remember from the national team including Roman Sorkin and Rafi Menco and also John Dibartolomeo. They can all play basketball at a very high level and as well as Guy Pnini, although I don’t know if he will play against us.

“They have a lot of good players and they are playing better every game. You can see that they are a new team that has started to click step by step. It will be a very physical game for sure with a very good atmosphere in the Arena. The Israeli fans are really loud and cheer for their team very strongly so I am sure there will be a good atmosphere. We have to be focused, disciplined, play our game against their defense and we have to make some big plays and stay together as a team. When you play as a team you have a chance to win many games. Definitely playing as a team will be the most important thing for us.”

Mateusz Ponitka – Photo Credit: FIBA

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