Maccabi Tel Aviv will return to the court after an almost two week break due to the war when they visit Valencia in Euroleague action on Wednesday (21:30 Israel time). The yellow-and-blue’s foreign players have been in Cyprus since the onset of the Hamas attacks on the Gaza Periphery while the Israelis recently met up with them a few days ago as they now ready to get back to business.
Head coach Oded Katash’s squad will try to build off of their season opening win over Partizan Belgrade while Alex Mumbru’s team will look to move to 3-0 in the first game of double-week play in continental action. Following the game, Maccabi will head to Athens where they will tip-off against Panathinaikos on Friday evening.
Just ahead of the game, Kassius Robertson spoke to The Sports Rabbi about the early success that Valencia has experienced, his time with the Canada National Team and how he is looking forward to seeing Jake Cohen whom he played with at Obradoiro a few years back.
“Jake is an amazing guy and we bonded pretty well during the COVID year,” Robertson said. “We were pretty close and had a lot of nights together, he is an awesome guy and can’t wait to see. We have been talking a bit and we will catch up.”
Cohen had been in Israel during the last couple of weeks before heading out to Cyprus to rejoin the foreign players, ahead of the game, but Robertson said that the contest had been in doubt up until Monday evening, “My mind has been on basketball, we weren’t sure if the game was going to be played. We only got the confirmation last night that we would play and we are focusing on the game. We know a lot is going on outside but we have to prepare for another game.”
The 29-year old shooting guard made the move to Valencia after three seasons at Obradoiro located in Santiago and so far the experience has lived up to expectations, “It’s awesome, we are doing great as a team and we are building something special. The weather here is beautiful, I’m enjoying myself and adjusting trying to find myself. I want to start knocking down some shots but we are winning. The first game (in ACB) woke us up about our attitude and what type of team we should be and since then we have turned 180 degrees.
Head coach Alex Mumbru is in his second full season at the helm and has been a smashing success with the players, “Definitely a players coach and his style of coaching is exactly that. He’s not someone who will yank you for a mistake, he wants the best for you and the team. I have a lot of trust in him and we are still learning about each other and growing together.”
While it’s early in the Euroleague season, Robertson has been able to see a number of differences than in his previous experiences especially that at Obradoiro, “There are a bunch. It’s completely different than my last 3 years were when I only played one game a week and there were 5 days of practice to prepare for one game and one team. Here it’s totally different. We played Fenerbahce then we travelled to the next city and played the next day, we had one walk through in the hotel and we are doing the same here this week. There is a lot less time to practice and I like it because last year if you lose a game you have to sit on that loss all week until you get back on the court where here it’s one after the next.”
“As for the Euroleague itself, you can definitely tell the individuals are better and the ACB is a very tough league. It’s tough because of the systems, the scouting and team defense is on point, every game is tough, and teams who play once a week are locked in and fresh, that is the biggest difference. The scouting is really key as they know everything you want to do and know your opponents tendencies. As for players, the size of them, their strength, they are faster and individual skill is better.”
Without question, Obradoiro head coach Moncho Fernandez was the one who molded Robertson as a player and person, “I got everything from him and we are still super close. It was such a hard decision to leave, but I knew I had to make the jump and experience the best of the best and I love him. We have a super tight relationship. He taught me so much and put me in a position to succeed. He helped me so much as a shooting guard and created so many opportunities for me. Some think he’s crazy and now when I see him on the sidelines I can laugh. He is such an amazing guy. He’s one of the reasons why I am where I am now. He’s an amazing guy, I we had lunch a bunch of times and when I see him in Santiago we will do that again.”
Canada has not always been a hotbed for basketball but with the Toronto Raptors beginning play back in 1995 and Vince Carter becoming one of the world’s best players, success soon followed as other greats pulled on the Raptors jersey and made an impact on the maple leaf youth.
“My guy was Chris Bosh, I was little bit after Vince and too young to having seen him play. I went to one game when I was a kid and he had like 40 points, he went crazy. I was always a diehard Toronto Raptors fan. The city is amazing although I haven’t been back for the winter, but all in all the city is amazing.”
Robertson has been a fixture with the Canadian National Team and helped the squad reach the 2023 World Cup in the Americas qualifiers, however, despite doing the leg work which was crucial on a personal level as well, he was unable to head to the big dance but not because there were other players in front of him.
“My time with Team Canada is always amazing. One of the best things is the mental aspect as being overseas is tough. You’re away from your family but during the international windows you get to go home and see guys that I grew up playing with and we have the same culture. It’s such a refreshing break and breaks up the season, it was more of a mental thing.”
“As for not playing in the World Cup, it’s a tough one. I was at camp and performed pretty well but pulled out once I signed with Valencia as I had to be there at camp at a certain time and if I would have gone I would have been late which I didn’t want heading into start my first Euroleague season.”
While Robertson and Valencia have been playing consistently over the past couple of weeks and Maccabi hasn’t due to the security situation, that doesn’t necessarily give them an advantage over Maccabi.
“I think they will be motivated and they have a deep roster who are very familiar with each other. I don’t think the time off will hurt them and that time helped them rest. It can make you sluggish but they have that chemistry and have super talented players who can come in and just ball. It will be a tough game for us and they will have a lot of things on their minds they are professionals and basketball players when they step onto the court.”