The Lead Pointer
Othello Hunter is a master of his craft. He’s bright, intelligent, hard working and pretty much a coach’s dream to have on their team. He’s a Euroleague champion, he will go into the trenches to do whatever is needed to win and go above and beyond perhaps what he himself thinks he can actually do. Because it’s all for the team. “I like to win. I don’t care about anything else, I just try to win. That’s it,” Hunter said.
Well after scoring 14 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, drawing 11 fouls and ending the game with an efficiency rating of 29, no one, but no one can question his heart and desire to win as he hit career highs in rebounds and efficiency rating in the Euroleague.
Back in November when Maccabi visited Milano, the Yellow & Blue fell 92-88 in a thriller against Ettore Messina’s squad. Hunter took the loss to heart. He wouldn’t talk immediately after the game Hunter needed time to decompress and once he did he told me the following, “No loss is good. For me I felt like we need to step up the defense. We lost the game because I didn’t play well on one on one defense. I’m ready to do what I need to do to going forward.”
Well, there’s no question he did exactly that, do what is needed going forward. However, the Ohio State product wouldn’t go as far to say that he was looking to make up for that specific game, to avenge a loss, “Not really. We’re here, we’re at home and we don’t want to lose. If we play and and give everything we got I think we have a chance to beat everybody.”
“It was really just another game to be honest with you,” Hunter continued. We just try to play hard. We had a double week and at the end of the day we wanted to win. We’re just trying to win and protect the house.”
Hunter is a winner plain and simple. I don’t know how many times he used the word win but that’s what he does best. He’s one of the few players that ended his college career with a win when as a senior the Buckeyes defeated UMASS to take the NIT title at Madison Square Garden. He won his final game of the 2019 Euroleague season as a champion and is certainly game to once again duplicate that feat, “I feel that we are a top team and for me I always want to go to the Final 4. Period. Cause at the Final 4 you don’t know what can happen. Our goal is to get to the playoffs and go from there.”
Maccabi is in terrific position to get to the playoffs this season as they sport a 14-6 record after 20 games. Of course nothing can be taken for granted but Hunter is far and away doing above and beyond anyone expected him to do this campaign. Not by design, but out of necessity with the injury to Tarik Black.
Hunter is playing 23 minutes while scoring 10.2 points per game, numbers he hasn’t hit since the 2012/13 season when he played for Valladolid in Spain and he’s doing this at the age of 33. That’s no simple task. But he’s been holding up so far and the staff is keeping him as fresh as possible.
The Yellow & Blue moved quickly to bring in a backup center in place of Black in Jalen Reynolds but Hunter continues to do a yeoman’s job both in Europe and in the Israeli league where he is averaging over 10 points in 21 minutes a game. Reynolds isn’t registered for Israel, which means Hunter will still be relied upon to produce in the paint. It seems that the big man doesn’t tire, or that’s at least what Angelo Caloiaro said.
“You didn’t see me call for a sub.” Hunter said with a laugh. “I get tired. But coach puts me in there at the end of the game and all that goes out the window. I’m just trying to win.”
There’s an obvious trust between Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos and Hunter as they hooked up together during the 2014-15 and 15-16 seasons at Olympiacos in Greece. Both seasons saw the Piraeus based club win back to back Greek league titles and in his first campaign a trip to the Final 4 where they fell to Real Madrid in Madrid in the final.
“Othello Hunter is a player that we can say in Hebrew about him איזה גבר – what a man,” Sfairopoulos said. “He shows up all the time and gives the extra push when needed. I am happy he is here as he gives the guys extra power and an extra push.”
He also brings the know how to win it also what it’s like to be the consummate professional, “I just try to play hard, I’ll tell you that. I try to get every ball. I was brought here for my experience and being a vet and I’m just trying to give everything I can.”
2) This game was no doubt a battle. A war. Rough and tumble inside the paint and outside of it as well. Both teams came into the game tired from their contests on Tuesday, Maccabi at home against Barcelona and Milano at EFES. With that in mind, Coach Ettore Messina tried to keep the game tight and closed up both the key and the passing lanes which held up for a half of play. At the end of the day if you want to win in the Euroleague you’ve got to play defense no matter what, that’s what wins games explained coach Sfairopoulos, “Defense wins the big games. Tonight we saw the great character to win the game and fatigue played a factor for both teams. Milano didn’t score from inside but from the outside. It was very hard for both teams to enter into the paint.”
3) One of the keys on the defensive end was Coach Sfairopoulos using switches on defense which he hasn’t done much of this season. The strategy worked to perfection as Messina’s squad had tons of trouble adjusting, “Their switch is very good, we already knew, and their physicality and aggressiveness defensively gave us a hard time all game long. We don’t have the athleticism to go one-on-one.” Sfairopoulos explained that what’s most important is how you play defense and not which specific type, “We switch some games but recently we haven’t as it depends on the opponent. With some specific tactic reasons we can do this and with other teams we can’t do this. It’s not important what defense you play but how you play the defense. Maybe switching maybe not switching it’s very important how you work with the details and work with energy.”
Maccabi swept their home double week against two quality opponents to whom they lost to back in November when they traveled to Milan and then Barcelona. This is the first season that the Euroleague gave teams one double week where both games are at home and the Yellow & Blue took full advantage of the opportunity presented to them as they avenged the pair of losses from a couple of months ago. However, even though both games were at home it didn’t mean that Maccabi had a picnic or a walk in the park. The pair of contests were high intensity, tough and tumble battles on the hardwood. Coach Sfairopoulos talked about the week that was, “Our players fought very hard after two back to back home games and it’s very hard to win two games in a week against two tough teams. We are happy to win the game for our fans who helped us win the game again.” Newcomer Jalen Reynolds was straight and to the point about the double week and the power the fans had as part of the victory, “It’s not easy to have back to back games but coach made sure we were ready. The atmosphere is amazing. We tip our hats to our fans they are the sixth man and they give us the extra push.” Finally, Deni Avdija has his say, “We trust our defense we played great defense again. It was our best defensive game. There you have it two wins in a row.”
A) With ten home wins and a 14-6 record after twenty games, the fans certainly have something to look forward to in April for the first time since 2015, the Euroleague playoffs. Granted Maccabi still hasn’t qualified for the quarterfinals and there are still 14 games left, it would take a monumental collapse for the Yellow & Blue not to make it to the post season. They would have to try very, very hard to blow the chance. Coach Messina was asked what he thinks of Maccabi’s chances to go all the way, “With the system of the Euroleague if you make the Final 4 you have a chance. Definitely they are a contender for the Final 4. It’s one game anything can happen. If Maccabi has home court advantage it’s not easy to come here and play as you we’ll know.” However, Coach Sfairopoulos wanted to have none of it, “I don’t agree and I know there is great enthusiasm around the team. But it’s too early to celebrate and think to far ahead. We are fighting game by game, I don’t want to hear anything about playoffs. There are a lot of games and anything can happen but we need to stay humble.”
B) I had the chance to talk to Aaron Jackson who joined the team a couple of weeks ago. While he is still getting back into tip top shape for the Euroleague’s stretch run, A-JAX provides veteran savvy experience and he’s a EL winner as well, “Every Euroleague win is good in front of our crowd. I try to do a little of what I do, play D and show my experience by calling the right plays.”
The Hartford native also told me what he thinks he can provide the team, “I think I can be an important piece on this team with some of my skills that I can bring to the table to help us win the Final 4.” NBA Draft Prospect understands exactly how valuable Jackson is and what he brings to the table, “Jackson knows how to manage the game perfect. He’s been on the big stages. For him to play for us, is an honor.”
They Said It…
Deni Avdija – “I don’t need to tell you about Scottie Wilbekin. He can score and shoot from everywhere and makes damage.”
Coach Messina – “We are not a deep team as you well know. Nedovic is still on minutes restrictions and he can’t play more than 15 minutes. We are not a physical team but a skill team and when we pass well and get an open shot we shoot in good percentage usually. But that’s the way the Euroleague is. it’s been and exhausting week and nothing else. We’ll go to bed, sleep and tomorrow is another day.”
Tyler Dorsey – “Great week for us taking a step in the standings. It was a grinding game on the defensive end. We have a little break going into the next week. It’s tough but it gets us ready for the playoffs. It helps us prepare.”