Maccabi Tel Aviv tips-off against Fenerbahce on Thursday (21:05) in Belgrade as both teams will look to get back onto the winning track after having lost their games in the first half of the November Euroleague Double-Week. The Yellow & Blue fell to Olympaicos 79-74 to drop their record to 4-3 while the Turkish team was manhandled by Red Star 87-56 to move to 5-3 on the young season. Unfortunately for Maccabi fans in Israel they won’t be able to see arguably one of the top teams in the continent this season in person as Dimitris Itoudis’s star studded squad includes up and coming Israeli talent Yam Madar as well as former Yellow & Blue guard Socttie Wilbekin.
In order to try and understand why Fenerbahce will be a legitimate Final Four contender as well as to give an up close view of how Yam Madar has fit into the club, The Sports Rabbi was in touch with Turkish journalist Ferhat Yesiltas who took us inside the Istanbul based club.
1) How do you view Fenerbahce’s season so far? Is it what you had expected?
As per their results, Fenerbahçe Beko is the leader in the Turkish League and the third place team in the EuroLeague. In this respect, it may seem that it has met expectations, but this team has not yet reached its full potential, especially due to injuries. I think they can do better in terms of game quality.
2) The team has a lot of depth, do you feel that they need to do anything else in order to compete for a place in the Final 4?
I think the quality of the squad is sufficient for the Final Four. They just need to play as a full roster and achieve a certain stability.
3) How has Yam Madar been received by the team and the fans?
Especially some news, namely that he preferred Fenerbahçe instead of Partizan, attracted the positive attention of the fans here. The energy he brought to the team the moment he stepped on the court made him respected as if he had been here for a long time, despite his young age. Turkish fans always love players who fight on this type of field, both in football and basketball. From the team’s perspective, they seem happy to play with him as he covers the defensive gaps of many players on the court.
4) How does coach Itoudis view Madar’s role with the team?
In this structure, his primary task is to put pressure on the opponent’s creative ‘star’ guards. In the EuroLeague, his offensive role may be limited due to the team’s wide rotation, but he is one of the players who stays on the court the most in the matches he plays in the Turkish League and has an average of 11.4 points and 6.6 assists. Although his role on offense is still limited, he is the most important name of this team in terms of defense because it is not easy for opposing guards to get past him and disrupt the balance of the entire defense.
5) What level of trust does Itoudis have in him?
Of course, he is not among the team’s first options yet bcause there are players like Wilbekin, Calathes, Guduric and Dorsey, who are very experienced at the EuroLeague level in the rotation. However, the fact that he is a more energetic and a tough player compared to them makes Itoudis respect him more and more day by day. Of course, he cannot be expected to have as much freedom on offense as Wilbekin, but he will definitely gain Itoudis’ trust with the different contributions he makes.
6) How can Itoudis help Madar continue to develop?
Itoudis is actually an old school coach. Sometimes his immediate reactions to the players can seem problematic, as you know, because he was Obradovic’s student. But it is a fact that he is one of the most popular coaches on this continent. Madar’s chances here are that the team’s point guard position is not very crowded. So, there is only Calathes as a clear PG and there is no Turkish player in that position. This will of course reflect very positively on his game. As I mentioned before, he gets a lot of playing time, especially in the Turkish League, and this will definitely affect his development. No player can improve without playing enough.
7) It seems that the war between Hamas and Israel has not had any type of effect on Madar both on and off of the court. Is that surprising to you?
The situation in the first days of the war actually created some anxiety. This was true for both Yam Madar and Nimrod Levi, who also plays in Turkey. Even football players playing for Antalyaspor, Sagiv Jehezkel and Ramzi Safuri, can be added to this list. However, they all continued to play matches here and there were no problems. In fact, those two football players asked not to play in a match so as not to participate in the moment of silence and the club allowed them. If we talk specifically about Madar, of course his heart was with his country there, but he continued to do his job here and did not encounter any negative situations. Frankly, it both surprised me and made me happy from a human perspective that he stayed here and fought with the same effort despite all the negativity.
8) What have you seen in Madar’s game that can take him to the next level in the Euroleague?
He is definitely a player that never gives up and reveals his heart. The fact that a legend like Obradovic tells him “I definitely want to keep you in the team” reveals his potential. Being a complete team player and open to development will also bring him to good places in the long run. He needs to improve his offensive skills a little more, then he will join the most elite names of this level.
9) Can Madar make it to the NBA?
This is definitely possible because the talent ceiling of him is very high. He is still developing and as I said, when he adds a little more variety to his offensive game, he will be a player who can take part in those levels.
10) What are your thoughts about the Fenerbahce/Maccabi game?
First of all, the conditions of the injured players in Fenerbahçe are important. The situations of Calathes, Guduric, Pierre and Şanlı are still unclear and will be evaluated within the week. If they do not play, Maccabi has an advantage because you know it is a double match week and Fenerbahçe will play against a tough opponent like Crvena Zvezda two days ago. However, another situation that will affect both sides is that, unfortunately, this match will be played without spectators in Belgrade. In other words, it is difficult to talk about a clear favorite in all this negativity. This match may only be competitive until the last seconds.