Maccabi Tel Aviv will face CSKA Moscow on Gameday 2 of the Euroleague season and one of the most important players on the Russian side’s squad is forward Will Clyburn who is beginning his 4th year with the team. The 30-year old played in Israel back in 2015/16 with Hapoel Holon and today is considered one of the best players in the continent.
In order to get to know Clyburn a bit better, The Sports Rabbi spoke to a number of people who collaborated with the Detroit, Michigan native during the 2015/16 season in Israel including the coach that brought him to the Holy Land, Elad Hasin who today is the man in charge of Hapoel Haifa.
“It actually began two years earlier when he entered the NBA Draft and wasn’t selected. I already knew then that this was a special player and one who could do many things on the court as well as play various positions from forward to guard. I followed him for a while including during his two seasons with Ulm in Germany.”
Hasin finally got his man as he began his third season at Holon, “Ben Reis was injured and I was looking for a player who could feature at a number of positions, the 3 and the 4 who could pass the ball and put it on the floor. These aren’t easy players to find.
“When I first spoke to Will and to his agent, he said there was no chance that he would come and was looking to sign in Turkey or perhaps a Euroleague team, even Italy. I called him every few days as well as his American and Israeli agent and they all said, move on, there’s no chance. But I didn’t give up and as the summer came to a close I put pressure on them and had some players on the team call him to sat that he should sign and come play in Israel. I did the same with former players of mine who said that if you go play for Elad you’ll continue to develop and also be able to eran more money.”
Hasin continued, “In the middle of September Clyburn’s American agent said that he had an offer in Turkey which was also for much more money than we had offered about $70-80K more than Holon. At that point I needed an answer and he said to give him a week and if he didn’t have a contract on the table from the Turkish club we would talk. Along with the players we all kept pressing Will and the agents.”
“Finally, I told him that he has one day to make a decision and then we move on as I had another player at this point who I could have brought. I said that I had chased him for close to two months and that within two years I thought that he could be a Euroleague player. I continued telling him that I believed in him in that he was a player who could be at a much higher level and that right now he would be a perfect fit for my style of basketball and that of the Israeli league, but that I couldn’t wait any longer. 24 hours later he gave me a call and said, coach lets go for it and he signed for $100K.”
Clyburn ended up leading the Israeli league with 20.9 points per game while playing 36.1 minutes, more than any other player. However, his beginning in the Holy Land had some rough patches.
“His first week to ten days he was nothing as to what I had expected. One of the players even asked if I had made a mistake, that perhaps he’s not that good. A few days later we had an exhibition game against Nahariya and the coach asked me if this was really Will Clyburn because he couldn’t get by the opposing players. He couldn’t even score a basket as his shots didn’t even get near the rim, airballs and turning the ball over.”
Despite the rough start, Hasin had belief in Clybrun and showed a lot of patience, “I got a tip from a very good friend of mine who I trust and he said to take my time with him and give him the time. Don’t pressure him and he will begin to pay dividends and become the player that I thought he would be. Two weeks later he began to show exactly why I wanted to sign him and he became a beast, a player that would soon be above the league and how he could influence a team with his abilities.”
Isaac Rosefelt played with Clyburn in Holon and he spoke about what it was like sharing the floor with the 2019 Euroleague champion, “Will was so dominant on both ends of the floor our year together in Holon. He was the best scorer and defender in Israel. He also NEVER got tired and was playing damn near 40 minutes a game. Had we not started the season so slowly due to injuries , we would have made some noise in the playoffs that year. So no it wasn’t a shock he moved up so quickly and was able to continue getting better. I’m pretty sure he even led our team in rebounding that season. Which is crazy bc I’m the best rebounder in Israeli history!”
Hasin has worked with many players over the course of his career but Clyburn’s character was much different than any other player, “Not only was he a great player, he was a person of the highest level, really the top of the players who I coached over my career. He is right up there with Anthony Parker and maybe another 2-3 players.”
Center Amit Bier Katz who currently plays with Ramat Hasharon spoke of the honor to play with someone like Clyburn, “I really enjoyed playing with Will, he’s a good guy, modest, a family man who ha a very high work ethic. You could see he was something special, something different. He took a huge lead in such a short period of time. I believed that he would fo far.”
Hasin recalled a story from one of the practices, “One time his daughter swallowed a coin and his wife called him. He came to me right before practice an he said coach I have to go and I asked hi what happened and he said that his daughter had swallowed a coin and asked permission if he could leave. I told him of course, what are you doing here, go! That’s the type of person Clyburn is, there are very few people like him. Winner, always thinking about the team first, always smiling, positive, just an all round good guy.”
Ironi Kiryat Ata forward Dor Goldenberg also reflected on playing with Clyburn when he was much younger, “What a great experience. He was a player at such a high level, focussed with the abilities of a top Euroleague player. I said from the start that he was just above the league and it was a steal that he came to Holon.”
Hasin knew what type of player he had in his hands the minute Clyburn put ink to paper when he said that he would go far and then gave an example of one that had done so in the past, “I told him that within a year or two he would be playing with Maccabi Tel Aviv and a year later he was already with Darussafaka. This was similar to Doron Perkins. I was the assistant coach at the time with Maccabi Haifa and when I tried to get him to sign he had an offer with a club from Italy. His agent at the time said there is no way he will come as Haifa just was promoted to the top league. I told him that if he comes to Israel he will be the best guard in the country and within a year he will be with Maccabi because he is a top player. After a half a season we had an offer for Perkins in exchange for a few players. Jeff Rosen refused and that year we ended up playing Maccabi in the final when they had Carlos Arroyo and Pini Gershon as coach. The next season he was already playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv.”
Ramat Gan guard Eyal Shulman spoke about his time with Clyburn at Holon, “We could see the first week at training that this was a player that will go far and that he had no business being with Holon. We all knew he was a Euroleague player form the get go.”
Clyburn will face his former Darussafaka teammates Scottie Wilbekin and Ante Zizic as well as Othello Hunter who he played with when CSKA won the Euroleague.
Hasin who has worked with many players over the years summed up what its as like coaching Clyburn, “As an assistant coach I worked with Anthony Parker, Saras Jasikevičius as well as Arvydas Macijauskas at Olympiacos. Sofo was amazing in the Euroleague and Perkins was a great player. But as a head coach Clyburn was the best player that I have ever worked with.”