“To be the best, you gotta beat the best” – Sfairopoulos, Roll, O’Bryant, Kane, & DiBartolomeo Unplugged! Maccabi captures the Championship!

1) Congratulations to Maccabi Tel Aviv for winning the Israel Basketball Super League Championship. There’s no doubt that the Yellow & Blue was at the head of the class all season long in the Israeli league from the get go. They were dominant game in and game out while also competing in the Euroleague and rightfully deserved to take home the title. When Eilat had Maccabi on the ropes in the semifinals, all of the non-Maccabi fans were cheering the Red Sea City side from the Jerusalem to Rishon and to of course Eilat. However, one thing that the Jerusalem and Rishon fans have to understand is that as Ric Flair said, “To be the best, you gotta beat the best”. I’m Jerusalem’s case they couldn’t get past Rishon in the semifinals while as much as Guy Goodes knew the Maccabi roster, the Yellow & Blue’s talent was superior. Michael Roll who won his second championship had this to say while soaked and smiling in the hallways of Yad Eliyahu, “Back to back Champions. We know what it was all season; best team. We had to handle business and we came out and did it. I’m very proud of our team and we played great.” What were the keys to the win after the first half in which Maccabi was only up by two points, “Just stick to the plan, they’re going to wear out as they didn’t have very much depth and were 12-13 players. We had more talent and it showed.”

Dov Halickman Photography

2) There were a number of players who won their first championships from Tarik Black to Johnny O’Bryant. The Sports Rabbi had a chance to catch up with one of Maccabi’s big men right outside of the lockerroom following the game as he spoke about the excitement of capturing the title, “It feels great man. It’s actually my first ever championship so it really feels great. We fought hard all year and over the last two months we really picked it up. We won the championship as a team effort because everyone played hard, everybody’s scoring, were passing the ball and sharing the ball. It was cool.” Coach Sfairpoulos spoke to the team at the half about what Maccabi needed to do in order to take the win, “We got to look at their second chance points and that was keeping them in the game. We also had to keep them out of the paint and we did that and were able to pull out the win.” And where will O’Bryant be next season with Maccabi, the NBA and EFES as being some of the reported options? “That’s a great question. Right now I’m enjoying this championship and when we get to the summer we have to negotiate and see where it goes. I like Tel Aviv but basketball is a business. I got to talk to Maccabi and talk to my agent and see where it goes.”

Dov Halickman Photography

3) Michael Roll has been a rock for Maccabi over the past two seasons and was really excited after winning his second league title with the team. Roll had undergone a bit of change with the roll he plays on the team but he also understands what kind of great people and team he has around it, “You don’t get many moments like these in your career. To win a championship, that’s huge no matter where you are or what you’re doing.” Where does Roll’s future lie after he plays with Tunisia at the World Cup in China this coming September, “I don’t know my future. I hope to stay, I really do. I love this place and I was taking it all in. The fans are absolutely incredible. I enjoy coming here every single day so I would like to continue it.” It’s clear where Roll wants to be next season, it will he continue? That’s an open question.

Dov Halickman Photography

Another player who would like to come back is DeAndre Kane. #7 is a player that leaves it all on the floor every minute he’s on it. He will defend his teammates, stick up for what’s right and of course is one of the most colorful characters in Israel today. He is also what I’d call a player that likes to stir it up after covering him for two seasons. During the game I tweeted out that Kane is a player that Hapoel Jerusalem could have used and former Hapoel Gilboa Gali Star D’Angelo Harrison gave it a like. Every team needs a DeAndre Kane and after last night’s Sports Rabbi MVP performance he basically all but sewed up a contract for the 2019/20 season. Here’s what he had to say about his special relationship with Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos who according to reports would like Kane to continue next season, “Coach is my guy. I respect him and he respects me. He’s an even better. He taught me a lot and he’s a guy you want to play for, who you want to lay it on the line for because he’s going to lay it on the line for you. That’s my guy and hopefully I can play for him again.”

Dov Halickman Photography

And One And Some
A) Now onto Coach Sfairpoulos. It’s not easy to come and work in a foreign country and it’s certainly not a simple task to take over a team that had such a poor European start. I asked him if in his wildest dreams he thought he would be here celebrating an Israeli League Championship last summer after completing four seasons at Olympiacos. “From the first moment I arrived at Maccabi I felt not only welcome but privileged to be the coach of a club that has has so many great coaches on the past. When you’re a foreign coach it’s not easy to integrate into a system but the management gave me the opportunity to lead the club. This is the beginning of a project and I hope we can continue to build the team for next season. We have a plan to improve the team and to take it to the top.

Dov Halickman Photography

B) Last but not least here’s an interview with the Final Four MVP John DiBartolomeo who was chosen as the Most Valuable Player over the two games. “I’m happy we were able to come out with the win. We had a lot of ups and downs during the season and the fact that we are finishing it on a good note means a lot to us.”

Back to Back and Belly to Belly:
“It’s a great feeling to capture back to back championships. We come to Maccabi to win championships and I’m happy we were able to come out on top tonight. That’s a good Rishon team and they deserve a lot of credit. They had an amazing year and gave us a lot of trouble throughout the season and it was a tough one again tonight.”

On being named the MVP:
“It’s a great feeling to win the MVP. But our team is so deep and we have so many different players and so many stepped up at different times. But once again individual accolades speak more to the team than anything else.”

Focusing on defense first:
“We want to be the best we can on defense and that’s where our focus lies and that’s where we need to be the best at all times. When we play good defense it makes it much easier for us in the offensive end.”

Looking ahead to next season:
“There’s always turnover from year to year and it’s not something you can worry about it because you can’t control it. Right now we’re going to enjoy tonight and the off time a bit and come back next season and get to work like we always do.”

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