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“They put on their pants the same way we do” Silent but deadly Elijah Bryant readies for Maccabi vs CSKA

Sefi Magriso, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Maccabi Tel Aviv visits CSKA Moscow in Euroleague Gameday 2 action on Thursday night at 20:00 as the Yellow & Blue will look to continue their wining ways after defeating Alba Berlin at Yad Eliyahu last week in the season opener.

The Russian club enters the clash without three regulars, Semen Antonov, Nikola Milutinov and Janis Strelniks who are sidelined due to being infected with the coronavirus. Maccabi won’t have the services of a number of players due to injures as Omri Casspi, Yovel Zoosman and John Dibartolomeo are all out.

The last time the two squads tipped off in Moscow, Zoosman starred in the shocking 93-76 win which was the first time since February of 2004 that Maccabi won in the Russian capital.

Sefi Magriso, Maccabi Tel Aviv

One of the players who may play a central role with Zoosman on the shelf for the time being is Elijah Bryant. The BYU product had been out of action for some time due to an injury, having played his last competitive game back on July 2nd in a 92-90 loss at Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion as he missed out on last campaign’s postseason.

Bryant made his return to the court last week against Alba Berlin where he scored 9 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and dished out 3 assists in a shade under 20 minutes as he began to shake off the rust. In fact, after a ho-hum eight minutes of play in the first half, the 25-year old turned it on after halftime where he scored all of his points and collected all of his rebounds, helping to seal the win during the final frame when he played close to 7 minutes.

Many didn’t notice his contribution including yours truly as he went about and did what he had to do in a silent but deadly manner. He was quiet but lethal when Maccabi needed it most, however, the focus was on Chris Jones, Oz Blayzer, Othello Hunter and of course Angelo Caloiaro.

This time around, I’m here to give Bryant his due which is deserved. It’s never easy to get back into a rhythm after a break and that’s even more true coming back from an injury.

Sefi Magriso, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Last season, Bryant played in almost all of the club’s continental games, featuring in 27 contests while averaging 8.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2 assists in 19:45 minutes per game. If you break down his shooting, Bryant shot a solid 41.7% from 3-point land (35/84) and 55.4% from 2 (56/101) while only taking 13 (!) free throws all campaign long. That’s a solid first season in the Euroleague for sure.

Over in the Israel league, Bryant averaged 23.5 minutes, 9.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in his second season in the country. His first campaign with Hapoel Eilat saw Bryant flourish in his first season as a professional when he averaged 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 32 minutes per game. But you can’t compare playing for the Red Sea squad to the Yellow & Blue, however, it was clear that Bryant was brimming with talent.

You can also add roughly a steal a game for Bryant in Euroleague action with 1.5 in Israel to his list of accomplishments which shows that he has some good hands and perhaps as good as Zoosman’s. Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about the work that the shooting guard put in all throughout last season to raise his game on the defensive side of the court and those efforts have paid off handsomely. Bryant will be relied upon to make stops even more than ever this year and he’s proved that he has the goods to do exactly that.

On Bryant’s personal side, he and his wife Jenelle welcomed a new addition to the family with the birth of baby boy over the summer. Now with a child in tow, Bryant also knew the minute he decided to return to Israel that he would have to deal with playing basketball under the pale of the coronavirus which has been ravaging the world.

Is there any fear of heading to Moscow and playing a team that have three players infected? “We made the decision to play during corona when we got on the flight to come back to Israel. Now that we are here we’re focussed on basketball. If they have, they have it, if they don’t, they don’t. We’re going there to play basketball and that’s what our main focus is.”

Sefi Magriso, Maccabi Tel Aviv

“Whatever team is there when we are ready to play is who we will play. We will prepare for the best team and we will play against whoever is there. They put on their pants the same way we do.”

Bryant also referenced that although some may have thought Maccabi didn’t play a solid team game especially at the start of the Alba Berlin clash, the players did feel that they played well together and that it’s juts a matter of time for the club to get into tip top shape, “We felt very connected on the court and we didn’t have preseason. With time it will come.”

CSKA will have fans back in the stands which will be the first time since March that Maccabi will play with people in the arena, although they won’t be supporting the Yellow & Blue. But more importantly for Bryant he’s just thrilled to be able to get back onto the court and play the game he loves, “I’m just excited to play the game for a living whether there are fans are not. Having fans will be a bonus but I’m really excited to play and play an away Euroleague game.”

Dov Halickman Photography

Notes & Quotes
Ioannis Sfairopoulos on the COVID-19 situation at CSKA:
“Our concern is to stay healthy and we know that we can trust CSKA and the other Euroleague teams will do the best for the safety of the opponents just as we do. This is part of every game this year but at the end of the day when you go to play you need to think about the game and pray that someone doesn’t get infected.

“We talked to the players but they are human beings and if they aren’t feeling very comfortable playing in a country that has lately a lot of cases, what can I say to them, don’t think about their safety? This is part of the difficulties of this season.

“We are also missing players. On one hand they are missing experienced Euroleague players and its a minus for every team that doesn’t have 3 players They will have a shorter rotation and they may be tired but their chemistry will be better. We have to think ourself first and play our game.

Sefi Magriso Maccabi Tel Aviv

Tyler Dorsey also commented on the Coronavirus:
“We are flying with our own plane and we’re there for one night, play the game and then we head home. I don’t think we are worrying about it and everyone is taking precautions to stay healthy.

“We only have one game a week and we’re practicing which is helping our chemistry. We now each other better and we will continue to grow together. It’s still the start of the season and we want to win.

“We’re mentally ready as we have been through this already last season.”

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