While Maccabi readies for Zalgiris, Omer Mayer impresses in Israeli league

Dec 26, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv will visit Zalgiris on Thursday (20:00 Israel time) as they will look to get back onto the winning track after falling to Red Star Belgrade last week in Serbia. While the yellow-and-blue sport a record of 9-7, they find themselves in a huge traffic jam so to speak in the standings where they are in 10th place but tied with 7(!) other teams as the 4th place Panathinaikos all the way to Maccabi are all fit to be tied.

Head Coach Oded Katash’s squad will meet the 5-11 Zalgriris who are way down in the standings but Kazys Maksvytis will no doubt have a number of surprises waiting for Maccabi including a pair of former members of the yellow-and-blue in Austin Hollins and Keenan Evans. While neither player played with each other at Yad Eliyahu both will want to show what they can do against their former employer.

Maksvytis is definitely hoping that Hollins will especially be able to make a difference as his club looks to lock down Lorenzo Brown and perhaps an injured Wade Baldwin should he be able to play.

Austin Hollins – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I hope that like many players who go up to play with anger against their former teams, Austin will also seek revenge on Maccabi Tel Aviv for letting him go,” the bench boss said. In fact, that happens to be the case on many occasions especially against Maccabi as their former players usually come back to haunt them time and time again.

While it is unclear if Baldwin will play after suffering an injury last week in the Red Star game but doesn’t look to be as serious as once feared, John Dibartolomeo will be back in the saddle after a groin injury of his own.

Without the import pllayers who did not return to Israel for the games against Hapoel Haifa at home and against Hapoel Beer Sheva on the road, the captain played in both this past week and looked to be getting back into the swing of things which was a good sign going 5/10 from 3-point land and averaging 10 points in the pair of games that he featured in.

Rafi Menco – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Another positive is the minutes that Rafi Menco received back in Israel after having played sparingly in Euroleague action, as he scored and scored in bundles. In the two games he scored 43 points went 6/17 from deep (1/7 in the 2nd game) and grabbed 17 boards.

However, the most crucial addition may have been 17-year old Omer Mayer who recorded 11 points and dished out 5 assists in 24 minutes in the second game and didn’t look one ounce out of place on the court.

Mayer who has been with the team and training in Belgrade, became Maccabi’s youngest ever Euroleague player on October 26th along with scoring his first points in continental ball roughly a month later on November 30th when he knocked down a 3-pointer against Alba Berlin.

Oded Katash and Omer Mayer – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Katash was thrilled with how Mayer has been developing as hopes are high that the guard will no doubt be a future star and another Israeli that can impact the team in more ways than one.

“He is one of the club’s projects,” the bench boss began. “The youth department is doing an amazing job. It’s beautiful to see and fun to train. He will be a star, he is already a star. He is a youngster but if you consider his age but he is already a star. In the situation that we are in, it is one of the best things that happened for him. He is getting opportunities that he might not have gotten and he is taking advantage of them.”

A modest Mayer also spoke about the whirlwind that he has been in through over the past week and how he was thrust into a senior role without the foreigners.

Omer Mayer – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“It’s fun to play for team like Maccabi and I did what I could to help. The situation is complicated and I tried to give the players some rest that they needed. But regardless, I’m a player on this team and that’s my job. For me, it’s not just a situation but an opportunity but it’s just too bad as to how this is the case for me to get this chance. I thought maybe that I could play at some point this season, but I didn’t know that this would be the case so quickly.”

There is no question that it’s not an easy task for a 17-year old to move part of his life to Serbia, but he is making the best of situation that he is in, “It’s not easy to travel to Belgrade and not to be with our families. But I am looking at this as an opportunity to see and experience something different off of the court, but it’s not just that simple.”

As the most junior player on the team, Mayer’s role is to just do as instructed so to speak. There are of course some high hopes for him down the line but he is in control of what he can be in control of and nothing more or less, “I can control the fact that I am coming in to help my teammates and bring energy from the bench if they are tired and that is my role. I understood what the situation is and that situation of the team as a whole and of course we wanted the imports to come with us but that’s the situation and not in my control.”

Omer Mayer – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

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