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Is Basketball 90% Mental? Maccabi readies for Fenerbahce in Euroleague action

Dov Halickman Photography

Maccabi Tel Aviv tip-offs against Fenerbahce Thursday (21:05) at Yad Eliyahu on Gameday 6 of the Euroleague as both teams come into the contest with identical 2-3 records. The Yellow & Blue defeated Khimki last week in Moscow 89-87 in a clash that went into overtime as Tyler Dorsey starred with 26 points while Fener enter the contest having lost three games in a row.

The great New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra always came up with some great quotes including one that speaks to all sports when it comes to the mental state of the game, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Well, is basketball 90% mental? How mentally prepared does a team need to be as they step onto the court? In Maccabi’s case the mental side of the upcoming clash made be the deciding factor as coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos is well aware that his squad has a dangerous game coming up against a wounded animal just as the Yellow & Blue were themselves last week in Russia.

So much so, right off the bat in his opening statement in the pregame press conference he addressed the issue, “Fener is a team that has lost three games in a row which makes it more dangerous. We expect that they will fight hard and when you know this you have to be mentally ready. There should be no surprises and if there are, then we weren’t prepared mentally for this game. Everyone understands that.”

The mental side of the game will be a theme throughout this season due to the coronavirus and the changing environment that the players are facing on a daily basis. In fact when you look at the standings you can see that in some cases a team has played 5 games and others only two which speaks volumes as to where the Euroelague and makes for an even more challenging situation.

“Some teams have played two game some five and you can’t predict how each team will face the pandemic even if you don’t have cases but the conditions are all different,” Sfairopoulos continued. “There are no fans and the players don’t leave their homes other than for basketball. Everything is influenced by the coronavirus.”

The coach also feels that despite the 2-3 record, Fenerbahce has played very well thus far, “They also lost like us (close games going down to the wire) other than the PAO game at the end. I believe that this makes them more dangerous. We have to be tougher and follow the tactical plan which will make our job easier offensively and defensively on the court.”

Tyler Dorsey believes that the teams defense will be critical against the Turkish team, “For us, it’s going to come down to playing defense. They’re a well-coached team that can score the ball with a lot of great scorers and veterans, so it’s going to come down to getting stops and slowing those guys down. That’s the key for us going into this next game, offensively it will come for us, and we will get it going on that end, but it’s going to be a defense tonight for us to get the victory.”

Sfairopoulos agreed that the squad has to ratchet up their defense as well when the likes of Jan Vesely, Nando de Colo and company arrive in Tel Aviv, “We can’t underestimate any player from Fener everyone of those players can give us problems if we don’t play defense.”

But without his defensive stopper in Yovel Zoosman, Maccabi has been a bit inconsistent on that end of the floor, however, Sfairopoulos feels that his team is up to the challenge, “We’ll find solutions for the players we have and I trust them to play defense.”

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