X-Factor? For sure: Maccabi Tel Aviv’s James Webb readies for Panathinaikos

Apr 22, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv is about to embark on a classic Euroleague quarterfinals series against one of their arch rivals in Panathinaikos and the stakes are as high as ever. This year marks the first time that the yellow-and-blue will tipoff against the Greek squad in postseason play since the 2012 series which saw the two teams battle it out to a 5-game classic. That series ultimately saw the greens snatch a razor thin 86-85 win at the cavernous and rocking OAKA Arena in Athens that went right down to the wire.

This year, Maccabi and Panathinaikos will once again look to write the next chapter in their illustrious history and one of the players who may be the X-Factor in the series is James Webb who is in his first season with the club. The 30-year old Webb made his debut in the Euroleague last year with Valencia and has also played in Greece and Germany as well as in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets and in the G-League.

James Webb – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Webb sat down with The Sports Rabbi to look ahead at the big series in front of the club along with the past season, the trials and tribulations of October 7th when Hamas attacked Israel and much more.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to participate in the Euroleague playoffs. As an American, playing in Europe is a dream of the big stage,” Webb began.

Maccabi ended the regular season with a 20-14 record which was good enough for 7th place but also required the yellow-and-blue to take part in the Play In tournament in order to advance to the playoffs proper. Head Coach Oded Katash’s team was clicking on all cylinders in that game against Baskonia and cruised to a 113-85 victory that took place in Belgrade due to the war.

James Webb – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

In addition, for the first time this season since the Euroleague opener on October 5th against Partizan Belgradfe, Maccabi had fans in the stands at the Stark Arena as they were treated to a fabulous performance star guards Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin.

“It was great to have the fans, the more fans the better. It’s been tough playing without fans, but the little bit that we did have brought a little bit of extra energy for us during the game. As for Zo [Lorenzo Brown who just became a father this week], he’s been having difficulties, everything has been going on, but to see your fellow teammate and brother have such a great night and success was great, especially that we made it to the playoffs.”

As for Wade, he’s one of the top scorers and top players in the Euroleague as his numbers show. He’s having a great season as well and he’s one of our captain’s and leaders, he brings a certain tenacity to the team and makes everybody want to get better. It helps to be able to have two of the best guards in the Euroleague and we let them do what they do and we follow their lead. But it’s more of a team effort and our energy will decide how we are night in and night out.”

James Webb – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Maccabi is one of the best rebounding teams and Webb has been an important factor in that aspect coming off of the bench whether it’s on the offensive or defensive ends, “I just try and go out there and grab the basketball, but it helps having Josh Nebo who the a top offensive rebounder and rebounder as well. I think they will be focused on Josh Nebo and I can try and sneak a couple of offensive rebounds. But we also have Roman Sorkin, Jake Cohen, Antonius Cleveland and Bonzie Colson who can rebound the ball as well. I don’t think it’s going to be a single person that’s going to rebound the ball but it’s going to be more like a group effort.”

Just like everyone else in the Holy Land, the Hamas all-out attack against the country caught Webb by surprise as he spoke about the situation and then having to move to Belgrade to continue the continental campaign.

“I was in my house, I think in my bed. I woke up the following morning trying to get ready for practice and got a lot of messages and alerts. When I signed with Maccabi, you don’t go into a basketball season thinking about war, tragedies or something like that, you just try to go in worrying about the season and what it’s going to entail and don’t see a war in the future.”

James Webb – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

As for moving and playing in Belgrade, it’s very tough. You got to fly back and forth, find places to work out and practice gyms. It’s very tough, you don’t expect that. We were there the majority of the time and didn’t feel like Israel was our home place to play at the time.”

When the Israeli league returned to play, a number of foreigners including Webb decided to return to participate in the domestic league as they took to the floor in Herzliya obviously with concerns.

“For one, I didn’t have my family or anything here, and two it was also more of trying to help out the team as well, the situation was a tragedy so I tried to come and show that I’m committed and I’m here for the support. Yes, I was worried as you have that in the back of the mind, for sure.”

James Webb – Photo: Yehuda Halickman

Moving back to the Euroleague, Webb didn’t see much time in the opening game of the season and made sure to work hard to show the staff that he was going to be an important key to the season.

“It’s a long season. I’m a new player coming into a team that had 8 or 9 players return, something like that, and I’m a new face and a new style of play, so my job is always to convince the coaching staff that I can get some minutes. It wasn’t more convincing, it was just trying to figure out what I can do to help the team win.”

As for Oded Katash, Webb only had good things to say about the bench boss, “He’s great. He’s one of the best coaches out there, doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for sure, he does what’s needed and he also makes sure that the players are into top shape, not overworking them and stuff like that, to prepare them for this long season.”

James Webb – Photo Credit: Moshe Halickman

Due to the Israeli league not getting underway earlier on in the season, Webb, who is in his first season with Maccabi perhaps didn’t get the minutes that he truly needed to fully integrate into the team until much later on in the season. However, Webb doesn’t believe it was that hard to make an impact with the squad.

“It wasn’t as tough. As a basketball player, your job is to stay ready. I still practice and work out every day with the team, so missing a game doesn’t effect the rhythm. It’s what comes with the job, you got to stay ready when your name is called, you got to be ready to perform. That’s part of being a professional.”

Some people raised questions about Webb’s finishing near the rim and his consistency from beyond the arc as he is shooting 35% from deep, but he knows that’s part of the job, “Everybody is always going to critique something, it’s part of being a basketball player and the outside sources as well. I don’t really worry about that, it’s the game of basketball. Even Steph Curry has bad nights, I’m not comparing myself to Steph Curry but as a basketball player you’re not going to be perfect and have the perfect game, you just got to do what you can do and provide what you can for a team. You’re going to make shots, miss shots, make layups, dunks and stuff like that, nobody is perfect and shoots 100 percent. It is what it is, but I don’t pay attention to that.”

James Webb – Photo: Yehuda Halickman

Webb without question views himself as a team player first and foremost but also can have those moments where he becomes the center of attention, “100%, that’s what I’m here for. I’m not a star player, nothing like that. I’m here to add to the team whatever that may be, hustle plays, defense, shooting, cheering, energy, whatever is needed. The real me is every night. Some nights I may score a lot and some nights I may not, but how I impact the game is the real me. Over time Oded Katash has used me in different ways, I’m versatile, I can add a lot of different things to the team, so it’s just all about a nightly basis of our matchups and who we are playing at the time.”

Webb, who was a great baseball player before developing as a hoopster is known to be the funniest guy in the lockerroom, “I just like to keep the energy light. I don’t know if you guys know or realize, but being around these players and coaching staff for around 300 days out of the year is like anything else but your family. We’re going to have bad days or your not going to see eye to eye sometimes, but at the end of it we’re still a family and a team, so I just try to keep the energy positive and add little laughter here when I can.”

The outset of the war was without a doubt the biggest challenge of the season for Webb and Maccabi but it was also the moment that pulled everyone together, “Expecting to go to practice and to have a full season in front of fans, it just kind of made it a 180 flip, turned our season into more about trying to win and make Israel proud at the time.”

James Webb – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Webb, who would be happy to continue on with Maccabi sang the praises of the club, “The situation is great here, I’m learning a lot, great coaches and great players, team chemistry, we’re trying to take it as far as we can. It’s a great organization, everybody treats you well like family. It’s great.”

One of Webb’s former coaches was Maccabi standout Devin Smith and he still speaks with him on a frequent basis. Smith, who was part of the 2014 team that won the Euroleague is without question someone that the forward emulates and would love to match his accomplishment as well being perhaps the X-Factor on the court for the yellow-and-blue.

“The goal is to win the championship in the Euroleague. So every day we’re fighting to get better and fighting to get to that spot. X-Factor, for sure. My role changes might in and night out. I’m like a Swiss Army knife and I can do whatever you need me to do. Whatever our game plan is at the time, my role is going to be a little bit of everything.”

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