1) Maccabi Tel Aviv received big time play from two veterans, Scottie Wilbekin whose contract with the club was extended before the break and Amare Stoudemire who looks like he has turned back the clock in a big, big way. Let’s talk about Wilbekin first. The Yellow & Blue signed him for a reason, because he is a leader, a winner and all around great player; that is why they invested their future with the guard and put the keys of the Maccabi car in his hands. Not only did he check in with a double-double, it was his intelligent play at the end of the game that helped Ioannis Sfaropoulos’s squad to the win. With the score 78-77 in favor of the hosts, Wilbekin fed Elijah Bryant a brilliant pass in the paint that the BYU man put in for an easy layup. Wilbekin could have taken a shot but he decided to defer and find a better chance to score which was given to him on a platter. Bryant them drilled a 3-pointer off another Scottie helper and it was game, set, match for Maccabi. His vision and IQ was terrific all game long, but especially in money time where he came up huge once again. Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about his floor general in glowing terms, “Big presence from Scottie as he scored 21 points and added ten assists. He showed why he is our leader. He is a player that can read the game and if the team needs scoring he scores and if it needs passing, he passes. That’s why he is our leader.”
2) Amare Stoudemire must have been a happy man after his 17 point, 12 rebound performance, especially as it came against his former team. A player can say that playing his former team means nothing until the cows come home, but athletes as athletes are, will always want to show their past teams that they perhaps never should have given up on them. And that is what STAT did. The last time Amare played Jerusalem was right before the coronavirus break and he has a disastrous showing with only 2 points in 8 minutes while he was sporting a protective mask due to an injury. It was certainly a performance that he has wanted to forget. But that is what is great with sports, you always seem to have a chance to redeem yourself and that is exactly what Stoudemire did. “Amar’e has a big presence within the team,” explained Sfairpoulos. “He fits our system and he has been much better since the resumption of the league because he now understands our structure and philosophy both offensively and defensively. This was able to happen due to the practices we gave conducted and that could not have happened before the break because of the amount of games that we had been playing.”
3) Another player who wanted to show his wares against his former club was Jeremy Pargo as he made his Hapoel Jerusalem debut. How did Pargo do in 21 minutes of play? Not too bad; 13 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists as the guard certainly didn’t look out of place in Red. Pargo has win a championship over Maccabi Tel Aviv ten years ago when he teamed up with coach Oded Katash at Hapoel Gilboa Galil, so there is no reason to think that he may not be able to duplicate the feat. “I think Pargo was great,” said Jerusalem center Idan Zalmanson. “He helped us a lot and I am sure with time, slowly but surely, we will see even better things from him.” Katash felt that he had a decent debut for the Reds, “For his first game I thought he played some excellent minutes. There are still some other things that we have to work on with him and due to the short time he has been with us we haven’t been able to get everything down. I believe that he will get a handle on those things and that the rest of the players will enjoy playing with him even more.”
One of the things about playing in an empty arena is that you can hear so many different things being said on the court and off of it. One of those was getting to hear Coach Sfairopoulos absolutely shrieking at his players to play defense as he had called a timeout. The yelling also may have indeed caused Maccabi to end up pulling out the win after being down for the majority of the game. He was quite animated to say the least as his voice reverberated throughout Yad Eliyahu. I asked Angelo Caloairo about his coach being quite vocal on the sidelines, “Coach is always active on the sidelines. You can hear it more because there is no crowd.” And boy did we hear it along with all of the Maccabi players and the rest of the people scattered throughout the lower bowl of the arena.