The Minister of Defense is back: Yovel Zoosman looks to help Maccabi turn Euroleague season around

Maccabi Tel Aviv heads to Vitoria, Spain for a Euroleague date with Baskonia on Gameday 13 of the season as the Yellow & Blue will look to notch their second continental win in a row. After last week’s victory over Red Star, Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad will look to inch closer to the .500 mark, however, that won’t be an easy task with three tough games on the road.

Following Baskonia, Maccabi not only has a single elimination State Cup game at Hapoel Haifa on Sunday, they visit ASVEL in France and then go back to Spain to play Barcelona in a Euroleague Double-Week.

At the pregame press conference, Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about the challenges of the team’s schedule, “I am focusing on one game at a time with three games on the road. After these games our difficult schedule finishes. We will fight in these games beginning with Baskonia. We will stay concentrated and go one by one. The last game against Baskonia is history (Maccabi 113-83 in Vitoria) and it’s just good for the fans to watch. Every year is a new year and we played like this against Zalgiris. You never know when you will have a game like this. We just have to focus on tactics and the game at hand.”

The concerning thing about Sfairopoulos’s statement is that while this is a difficult stretch, it really doesn’t get any easier. Following the trio of road tilts, Maccabi will welcome Panathinaikos and Zenit, then head to Berlin and then have three home games against Olympiacos, Baskonia and Real Madrid.

Granted that ASVEL, Panathinaikos and Alba all have sub .500 records they have all ratcheted up their games over the past month and have looked better than Maccabi a team that hasn’t been able to string together two Euroleague wins in a row. Why should there be optimism that Maccabi can chip away at their current record and find a way to get close to even by mid-January?

Perhaps the reason is that Maccabi has a full complement of players at their disposal with the return of Omri Casspi, John DiBartolomeo and most importantly Yovel Zoosman who retuned to the hardwood this week for Israeli league games against Holon and Nes Ziona.

Zoos, the minister of defense will be a crucial piece to the Maccabi puzzle especially this coming month and he’s ready for the challenge at hand, “It was very hard to watch the games from the side and I tried to be a part of the practices as much as I could but that wasn’t easy. Now I’m back on the floor I can really focus on my defense which isn’t something that people really pay attention to but it’s what I enjoy the most. I’m happy to have played a couple of games to get back into shape and I’m ready for the Euroleague.”

Not many players look to do the dirty work but it’s clear that Zoosman takes a tremendous amount of pride it stopping the opponent, something that Maccabi hasn’t been very good at doing this season especially on the perimeter.

It seems that almost every game one of the opposing players score 3-4 triples and that aspect alone should now be a bit more under control with the return of Zoosman and John Dibartolomeo who also has the know how to play lock down defense.

It’s unclear if the injured Luca Vildoza will play but it’s certain that former Hapoel Eilat guard Pierria Henry will be on the court to cause all kinds of problems for the Yellow & Blue. The UNC-Charlotte product is averaging 11.3 points and 6.9 assists a game and is the motor that runs Dusko Ivanovic’s engine.

“They are a team that aren’t just one player,” said Zoosman. “But they put in a real team effort with a number of solid players including Pierria Henry whom we have to stop. They have size and strength and we have to be intelligent.”

Coach Sfairopoulos concurred about the defensive effort that will be needed to stop Baskonia, “We need to be concentrated on playing good defense, disrupting their game, while offensively read their protection and attack their weak parts. Our most important task is to have high energy and great concentration.”

Zoosman also picked up the issue of energy while sitting on the sidelines over the past six months, “When there isn’t fans the energy is lacking and we have to do that ourselves. Defensively we have to focus more and the last five minutes and we have been lacking focus. We have to use our defense to make the games easier for us.”

Hopefully, Maccabi can ratchet up the D which will make their lives that much easier with a tall mountain to climb. That first step to the top is going to take place against Baskonia and with Zoosman back in the saddle for Sfairopoulos, maybe, just maybe the Yellow & Blue can start to make a dent before it will be too late.

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