With Casspi back, Maccabi has more options inside, outside and on the bench

Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Zenit St. Petersburg to Israel for a Euroleague Gameday 17 clash on Tuesday at 21:05 to close out the first round of continental games. The Yellow & Blue will look to edge closer to .500 as their record sits at 7-9 good for 12th place while the Russian squad cliches by veteran bench boss Xavi Pascual are 9-5 and in 6th place as one of the surprises of the competition this season.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos will have Omri Casspi available for this game with a minute restriction is place after the 10 year NBA veteran starred in Maccabi’s WINNER Cup final on Saturday night against Hapoel Holon. The forward will also be able to play in Thursday night’s league game against Hapoel Jerusalem as well as in the State Cup Derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Omri Casspi – Photo Credit Dov Halickman

With Casspi back and raring to go, Maccabi has a huge ace, joker or X-Factor up their sleeve and his teammates are overjoyed with his return to the court. Against Holon, Casspi not only scored 14 points but drilled home 4/5 from long distance and also was the catalyst in helping the Yellow & Blue true around a 57-50 deficit to a 67-63 lead over the last five minutes of the third quarter.

Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about how the 2009 NBA Draft pick was able to change the complexion of the game, “Omri is a very smart player and he read that they (Holon) were weren’t guarding him on the perimeter and they waited for him inside. At the beginning he started inside and he scored and passed the ball in the first half. But when they packed the paint in the second half he had a lot of open looks and the has the quality to adjust during the game and to read what the defense gives him. He took these good shots and made them.”

Casspi’s 3-point barrage was the first time we saw him really use that part of his weaponry since returning from the injury that kept him out a year. “One thing that was very important for me this season was to bring something back into my arsenal that I lost when I returned to Europe. I think that I can add a lot and this will give the team another option,” Casspi said.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We have had a great relationship from the first minute when I told him to come and play for Maccabi after the NBA,” explained Sfairopoulos. “It’s not easy for a player to be out injured for a year. Omri was very crucial today and I am very happy as to how he played. I expect that he will continue.”

The first Israeli to play in the NBA described how he is feeling as he takes his return to the hardwood slowly but surely, “I’m starting to get back to myself. I didn’t play for a long time and it’s not easy. I believe that the injury that I had is one of the toughest in sports if not the most difficult to come back from and many players don’t return from it. You can’t take anything for granted. Slowly but surely I’ll increase my minutes and Ioannis is doing a great job making sure I don’t play too much.”

Interestingly enough, forward Angelo Caloiaro is only playing together on the court with Casspi for the first time this season despite the two being on the Maccabi roster last year as well. Caloiaro was only registered to play in the Euroleague once Casspi was injured and then began playing in the Israeli league for the end of the season in June-July when he was still out.

Omri Casspi and Angelo Caloiaro – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I love playing with Omri and I am so happy I’m able to do it,” explained Caloiaro. “He’s a playmaker. He’s smart; a high IQ guy.”

The University of California product brought an example of what Casspi brings to the table, “He catches the ball in the low post and he’s looking for the right basketball play. He can pass the S—- out of the ball. So when he’s in the low post it’s dangerous. It’s not only how scoring it’s how he passes and talks to guys. He told Ante who was waiting on the weak side to duck into the center and he passed him the ball for an easy bucket.”

Omri Casspi – Photo Credit Dov Halickman

Casspi does so many things that don’t show up on the stat sheet which Maccabi had been missing and one can see that every game as his basketball intelligence is second to none as he can act as a coach both on the parquet and on the bench during the course of the game as he did throughout the WINNER Cup.

“I play my game and I always try to be valuable when I’m on or off of the court,” said Casspi. “Especially defensively I have to be there. To block a shot, take a rebound or cut off the passing lane I’ll do what I need to and I’ll play aggressively.”

A smiling Caloiaro couldn’t contain his excitement to see Casspi back for the club as they continue to climb the Euroleague standings, “He’s huge whether he scores or doesn’t. He’s a playmaker. He knows the game and he’s smart. He’s a great player.”

Omri Casspi – Photo Credit Dov Halickman

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