Sfairopoulos certainly has a headache but not just at center

Oct 21, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv gets back to continental action as they tip-off against Panathinaikos in Euroleague play on Thursday night, 21:05 at Yad Eliyahu. The Yellow & Blue will look to get back onto the winning track after falling to Hapoel Gilboa Galil at Gan Ner earlier in the week.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos will have Ante Zizic back for the matchup after having been injured during the Winner Cup preseason tournament which gives Maccabi a clear post presence that they didn’t have over the past few weeks when just Jalen Reynolds and Mathias Lessort were playing the center position. Having a target man to dump the ball inside to as well as having the big attract the double team which would allow Zizic to kick the ball out to the open man is something that the club has been lacking.

Ante Zizic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While many criticized Zizic’s performance last season, especially on the defensive end, he was able to show in the short time he did play in the Winner Cup the patience that would be needed to make the correct decision when an extra defender or two would try to close him out inside and that’s a real positive that we didn’t see last year.

This will be Ante’s first game since the injury and he practiced really well the last few days,” Sfairopoulos said about the big man’s return. “We will use him for sure tomorrow. It’s very early to answer this question as we have three big guys and this is my headache how to get them to play. It’s not easy to get into the rhythm after being out for five weeks.”

It would be surprising to see Zizic get major minutes in his first game back especially the three bigs games coming up next week beginning on Saturday with the Israeli Classico against Hapoel Jerusalem followed by a pair of Euroleague home dates against Zalgiris and Barcelona.

John DiBartolomeo and Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

But regardless of how much Zizic sees the floor it’s clear that he will make an impact explained captain John DiBartolomeo, “It’s great and Ante’s a very big presence for us on both ends and we want all of our guys healthy and together so we can get some good momentum going.”

However, with yet another player back in the saddle for Sfairopoulos, the club now has 16 players who are available for both continental and Israeli league play which means four players won’t be dressed for the Panathinaikos game.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Two of those players will most certainly be Oded Brandwein and Ido Menchel who are with the team pretty much exclusively for the Israeli league. The other two will most probably be Oz Blayzer and Jake Cohen both of which have already been held out of Euroleague games which means less Israelis dressed for the game plus for sure fewer minutes for them as well. There is a chance Sfairopoulos will hold out Roman Sorkin but his performance on Sunday at Gilboa was one of the bright lights from that contest.

How much fewer minutes?

Well probably not 6 seconds worth which is what the coach gave last Thursday on the road in total which went to Iftach Ziv who interestingly enough addressed the media ahead of the Panathinaikos clash.

Iftach Ziv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“There’s no question that we have to make an adjustment and that is part of having a rotation for the good and the bad which is one of the challenges in front of me as an Israeli,” Ziv said. “I’m sure with patience, belief and the knowledge that good things will happen then it will occur. It’s not easy for sure and I’ve never been in this situation before. But I’m happy with the team and the staff around the club and I’m sure that I’ll be able to give back also in the Euroleague.”

It will be much more difficult to not play the likes of Ziv, Sorkin or John Dibartolomeo, a massive fan favorite and captain at Yad Eliyahu. Yes, Sfairopoulos has stated on numerous occasions that he doesn’t look at passports, but the facts are the facts. It’s easier to keep some players on the bench on the road than at home.

There’s a big self confidence factor at play as well and we saw how the lack possibly led to the disastrous defeat in the Galilee. Sfairopoulos will say the players didn’t follow the plan and had a lack of concentration which is 110% true. But there’s the mental side of the game and pressure imposed of not marking a mistake or else they’ll find themselves back riding the pine.

Jake Cohen and Ante Zizic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

With an Israeli league game coming up on Saturday he’s got to rebuild that confidence as there will now be two regular players most probably not in uniform against Panathinaikos including one who was a solid contributor two seasons ago during a successful Euroleague campaign. Jake Cohen can’t be a happy camper sitting in the stands when his teammates are on the court battling. How much of the mental side of the game has and or will Sfairopoulos need to work on?

However, Dibartolomeo didn’t want tofocus on the negative but on the positive, “Those of us who have been here understand that you have to be prepared all the time and every game is different with a lot of matchups. We also play close to 80 games every season and we have to be ready and prepared with our deep roster at all times.”

Maccabi definitely have a deep roster no question about that but how Sfairopoulos will manage it is really the bigger question. With one more regular rotation player back in action it certainly gives the coach a headache, but not just around the center position but the entire squad as a whole.

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