Scottie Wilbekin: With Maccabi I think we would’ve made the Final 4 and possibly could’ve won

May 23, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

The Euroleague Final Four is getting into full swing on Thursday with the traditional pre-game press conference held at the Uber Arena noon while the evening gives the assembled media a chance to to see the players practice as well as the chance to speak to a number of them about their feelings and thoughts ahead of the semifinal games slated for Friday.

The first semifinal will pit Fenerbahce against Panathinaikos which has a tremendous amount of storylines from a Turkish club facing PAO who are managed by a Turkish head coach in Ergin Ataman. Fenerbahce’s bench boss Šarūnas “Saras” Jasikevičius who is not only a 4x Euroleague champion player but won one with the Greek Greens back in 2009 but has not been able to yet win one as a coach.

From Nick Calathes who played for PAO and Kostas Sloukas who won a Final 4 with Fenerbahce it’s just an amazing matchup from top to bottom.

One of the most interesting players who is making his first appearance at a Final Four is Scottie Wilbekin. The guard starred for Maccabi Tel Aviv between 2018-2022 has been one of the top players in the competition for years and will now have a chance to take home continental glory.

Just ahead of taking to the floor in order to reach the promised land, Wilbekin spoke to The Sports Rabbi about the opportunity to be crowned the champion of Europe.

“We played here before but obviously it’s a different court and a lot more people in here for our practice. Hopefully we can stick to our regular game, push the nerves aside and play good basketball.”

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While this will be Wilbekin’s first time in the Final 4, he’s says on one hand that he’s not bothered by it but he does know that there had been chances in the past to advance to the league’s crown jewel, one of which was the 2019-20 season when he was with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“No. I think if I’m bothered by anything it’s that we didn’t make it last year and the one COVID year I had with Maccabi because I really think we would have made the Final Four and possibly had a chance to win. Other than that I don’t think I have a right to be disappointed, but last year I think we could have made it.”

Wilbekin still keeps tabs on the yellow-and-blue and has visited Israel a number of times since departing a few years ago. Last night there was a Tel Aviv Derby and he made sure to have his eyes on it while arriving in Berlin, “We were watching on our way to the hotel. It wasn’t looking good early but they pulled it out, I guess.”

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While Wilbekin has tons of Euroleague experience, the Final Four will be a new one for him and he’s not sure if that will make or break the opportunity that he has in front of him, “Your guess is as good as mine. I have zero experience in the Final 4 but 8 seasons in the Euroleague and everybody says that the Final Four is different so I guess I’ll see in Friday.”

The season started with Dimitrios Itoudis on the sidelines for Fenerbahce but was reaplevd by Saras when things started to get shaky with the Istanbul based club. Working with the Lithuanian has been special Wilbekin said, “It’s been great. His basketball mind is incredible and I’m lucky to be able to learn from him, he’s a great guy too and fun to be around.”

Not having played in the Final Four is one thing but Wilbekin is also the games played leader in having not won the championship, “It would be amazing that’s the goal for every Euroleague season so if we were to do that this year I would just be incredibly happy.”

Saras Jasikevičius – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Both Saras and Wilbekin are no doubt Maccabi legends but the guard doesn’t feel that he has to win the title or beat Panathinaikos because the Greens knocked the yellow-and-blue out in a tough five game quarterfinal series, “I’ve gotten plenty of tweets suggesting to do it for Maccabi but I got enough on my plate I’m just trying to win it for myself and win it for my teammates and win it for Fenerbahce.”

The guard was one of the main reasons that Darussafaka won the EuroCup in 3018 when Wilbekin was named the tournament’s MVP, however, he’s not quite sure that this will play any effect on his game play itself, “Yes and no because Euroleague and EuroCup are incredibly different and i can’t say that experience in the EuroCup finals or Final 4 can relate to this but I don’t know so I’ll see on Friday.”

Berlin is home to over a million Turkish nationals which will no doubt give Fenerbahce some support but Panathinaikos is also coached by a Turk in Ataman so it’s unclear if that will play a factor, “I know that there’s a lot of Turkish fans here in Berlin but I don’t know how that’s going to end up in the arena tomorrow so it’ll be interesting to see.

One of Wilbekin’s teammates happens to be Israeli guard Yam Madar whi has played sparingly in the Euroleague under Saras since taking over, but the American guard believes that he’s one player to watch, “He’s a great guy first of all. Great to be around and I’m interested to see how his career shapes out because he definitely has a lot of talent and I think a lot of potential so we’ll see. I’m interested to see what happens next year with him.”

Wilbekin also spoke, about the concept of opportunity which has been a big key to his career with credit going to David Blatt, That’s huge. Opportunity has been probably the biggest factor for me and it started at Darussafaka and specifically David Blatt giving me the opportunity to lead the team at a young age. I’ve had great opportunities since then with Maccabi and now Fenerbahce so I’m blessed I think.”

The guard also had some sound advice for players who potentially view their future in Europe just like he did many years back, “It depends on the person but if I can give general advice it would be to be a team player and not try to do everything but sacrifice for the team by boxing out and stuff like that that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, things like that are important to set yourself up to be on good teams and get the respect of your coaches.”

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While Wilbekin said that the game five win against Monaco was his favorite game is also definitely built up a huge amount of confidence especially while becoming the first team to win a decisive game on the road, lIt was great. We believed that we could do it last year and we came up short and we wanted to take advantage of it this year so it was nice t9 be the first but it was short lived as Olympiacos did it right after us.”

As for keys to the win, the small details will be critical in deciding the game Wilbekin explained, “It’s hard to say because it can be anything but we have to limit the turnovers that okay a big role and obviously just making big shots. I think the turnover will be a big key and if we can limit the turnovers that will put us in a good position.”

Scottie Wilbekin and Nick Calathes- Photo Credit:

In the game five win over Monaco, veteran Nick Calathes made the big game winning 3-pointer, but for Wilbekin it doesn’t matter who will find that winner shot when it comes down to money to money time, “I hope so, if any of us make the winning 3 I’ll be happy.”

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