Trust, confidence and the fans are back: Maccabi’s Sfairopoulos and Wilbekin optimistic ahead of Bayern Munich opener

Sep 30, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Bayern Munich to Yad Eliyahu this evening, Thursday night at 21:05 as the Yellow & Blue gets their Euroleague campaign underway.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos is be under the microscope this season with an almost full complement of players at his disposal save for Ante Zizic who will be out for roughly 6 weeks. However, management moved swiftly to secure the services of Mathias Lessort who joins Maccabi on a short-term, two-month contract.


The bench boss knows full well that the squad that he has surrounded himself with has the goods to deliver in crunch time which is something that the Yellow & Blue struggled with all of last season. In addition to losing close game after close game during the 2020/2021 campaign, there were times when the team suffered from a power outage and just couldn’t buy a bucket when they needed some scoring.

This season’s version seems to not have that problem with plenty of players who can deliver whether it’s James Nunnally, Keenan Evans, Iftach Ziv or Jalen Reynolds. Add to the mix a lethal Scottie Wilbekin and offensively Maccabi should not have any such problems coming up empty when the game is on the line.

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Not only will Wilbekin not have to be relied upon as he has been in the past, the fact that the club now has players who can ball handle and play beside him, Scottie becomes an even bigger weapon that can be unleashed.

“I think we have a really deep team,” Wilbekin commented at the pregame presser. “A lot of guys who can score in lots of different ways, so it’s going to be interesting and exciting to see how it all comes together.”

It was clear this past season that Chris Jones was not the answer that the team had hoped. He had difficulty adjusting to Euroleague play and putting that aside, he never got into the rhythm with Wilbekin which is crucial for Maccabi to succeed.

When asked throughout the season, Wilbekin would never give a confident answer about playing with Jones and there were plenty of minutes when they were not on the floor at the same time. There never seemed to be a comfort level and that was also the case with Coach Sfairopoulos as well.

While there were games that Jones excelled, in Eilat during the playoffs for one, those were few and far between.

With the addition of Evans and Ziv both Sfairopoulos and Wilbekin have already sung their praises whether it was at press conferences or interviews. It’s clear that they have the confidence in the newly acquired recruits not only on the attack but on the defensive end as well.

Keenan Evans – Photo Credit:

Sfairopoulos couldn’t stop gushing with excitement and enthusiasm when he analyzed how many points Evans had scored in the final game of the Winner Cup preseason tournament and stated that he is far ahead of previous players who had arrived at Maccabi during his tenure.

That bodes well for all involved, including the fans.

“We are all very excited that we will play a EuroLeague game in a full gym after almost two years,” the coach said at the pregame presser. “This makes us excited, that our fans will be with us again for a EuroLeague game. We are already sold out and we know they will support us to the end.”

Management, from the ownership group to the general manager in Nikola Vujcic, have done on a paper as good a job as any to find what looks to be the correct parts of the puzzle that will be needed to finally make it to the promised land, the Euroleague playoffs which Maccabi has not tasted since 2015.

The fact that the Yellow & Blue swiftly approved bringing in a replacement before one could bat an eye speaks volumes of the confidence they have in the squad but also the desire to get the season off to a good start and also take advantage of the quality of players they have on and off the court.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency because of the effort that management put in to put this team together,” Wilbekin said. “And just the guys I have around me in the locker room, we all have a sense of urgency and believe that we can do something special as a group.”

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I want to thank the owners to go over budget for this unlucky moment,” Sfairopoulos said. “We will have injuries all season and this is part of the game. The most important thing is that our management, general manager and scouting department reacted really fast to have a player in place of Ante.”

Wilbekin also feels that there may be something cooking in the bowels of Yad Eliyahu with a window of time that is limited, “There’s definitely a sense of urgency because of the effort that management put in to put this team together. And just the guys I have around me in the locker room, we all have a sense of urgency and believe that we can do something special as a group.”

The first test will be a semi-depleted Bayern Munich team who have a number of players unavailable due to injury and COVID-19, but Sfairopoulos isn’t looking at this challenge as a walkover, “It will be a big trap if we think that Bayern will come here to just play with the absences they have. We don’t know how they will play, but we respect them a lot because they are a very good team with a very good coach.”

Andrea Trinchieri – Photo Credit: Bayern Munich

Maccabi will need to make sure that they don’t fall into any sense of false security that this version of Bayern will be not be dangerous as previous Andrea Trinchieri teams.

They may have lost their German league opener but Bayern will not be an easy out for the Yellow & Blue as it seems they never are. Trinchieri likes to lay it on thick and is arguably one of the best interviews in the business, but he knows full well how to coach his team.

“First game, new season. We would like to come here in a different situation, having a team that knows each other and having played together. But it’s not like that so we must cope with that and play with great personality. We play against a good team that won the Israeli SuperCup destroying all their opponents.”

Personality is Trinchieri’s calling card, he will let it all out and last season he flew out of Israel with a win. Except that was when the stands were empty. Tonight he will need to contend with over 11,000 rabid fans which is never a bonus for any visiting team to contend with.

Angelo Caloiaro – Photo Credit:

“I’m excited for tomorrow,” veteran forward Angelo Caloiaro said. “We didn’t have any fans last year, so I kind of forgot what it’s like to have them in here. I’m excited to have everyone back for a EuroLeague game.”

Angelo, not only are you excited to have them back, but the fans are even more excited than you would ever believe.

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