An abundance of riches for Maccabi Tel Aviv?

Maccabi Tel Aviv have been red hot for the past two weeks, with absolutely everyone contributing victory after victory. Whether in Euroleague or Israeli league action, the yellows and blues just can’t help but get the wins.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team will be looking to continue their hot streak lately against Baskonia in Vitoria, Spain, in continental competition on Friday night, as they will seek a fifth consecutive victory in the Euroleague, a mark that yellow and blue have not reached. since the 2019/20 campaign when the team won at least five games on three separate occasions.

There is no doubt that Maccabi is playing his best basketball since the pandemic hit in full force in March 2020, but that does not mean that coach Sfairopoulos does not have to make difficult decisions with his squad, which currently consists of 15 professionals from first level. hoops.

The Euroleague regulations state that a team can only dress 12 players per game and that rule has left several Maccabi members in the cold and having to watch their teammates from the stands and not on the bench or as participants in the track.

Recently the three players who have had to dress in street clothes have been Jake Cohen, Oz Blayzer and Oded Brandwein. While Brandwein is not expected to play in Europe, Cohen and Blayzer had been consistent participants in recent years.

MACCABI TEL AVIV guard Scottie Wilbekin performs a nifty behind-the-back pass during the 104-80 conquest of the Hapoel Jerusalem yellows and blues over the weekend. (credit: DANNY MARON)

The trio can play in the Israeli league because only five foreigners can register per game and the Maccabi, with nine imports, have to sit three of them, opening up spots on the roster for the Israelis, in this case Cohen, Blayzer and Brandwein. to get playtime.

While certainly not ideal, it gives them the opportunity to show off their wares and compete, but of course their main goal is to get back to the 12-man squad that is registered for Euroleague action.

Cohen started the Euroleague for Maccabi during his second spell with the team from 2017-2020, while last season he moved to the Spanish ACB League and played for Obradoiro. Now back in yellow and blue, he has seen his continental time evaporate in part due to having nine imports, but now also young Roman Sorkin, who joined the team during the summer from Maccabi Haifa, is in the mix.

Sorkin plays power forward, which is the same position as Cohen, and he has been playing extremely well despite having very little experience at this level and has earned his place in the lineup after putting in a series of impressive performances.

For the 31-year-old Cohen, it’s not easy to sit down and he wants to be on the court with his teammates in what are always decisive Euroleague matches. With that in mind, Cohen, who scored 10 points on a pair of 3-pointers along with four rebounds and four assists against Bnei Herzliya earlier in the week, will need to increase his level of play in the Israeli league to show Sfairopoulos and his squad that he is deserves to regain his place on continental ball.

“I’ve been in the situation many times before,” Cohen began. “It’s kind of like the nature of the beast here Maccabi with 15 players and that’s how it’s going to go sometimes. The only thing you can control is how it responds.
“Are you going to put your head down and pout or keep working doing the things you do and doing your routine and being ready? Fortunately, my experience has taught me to be ready and to be patient. Hopefully the minutes of the Euroleague will come ”.

One of Maccabi’s nine imports, Mathias Lessort, has a short-term contract that will end at the end of November if the club does not renew him, which is the likely scenario, thus removing a roadblock from Cohen and Blayzer.

“I’m ready anytime the coach calls me,” Blayzer said. “It may be in a week or a month, but I will continue to work hard, I will continue to believe and I know that my opportunity will come.”

During the 2019/20 campaign, Cohen scored 5.4 points in 13 minutes per game and played a significant role with the team as one of its vocal leaders. Obviously he would like to get back to the same position he was two seasons ago, but ultimately frank Cohen understands that the team is playing well right now and the timing of making changes may need to be put on the back burner by him. moment. .

“It’s important to me, but the reason I’m here is to help Maccabi win games. If the coaches or whoever feels that the best way to win games is for me not to play, that is my role and I have to come to accept it. I’m not going to like it and I’m going to work to change it.

“Like I said, I’ve done it before and hopefully if we continue to play well enough to win games, this is not the right time to demand minutes. We are playing well at the moment. It’s something that is difficult for me to deal with on a personal level. Of course I want to play and I want to contribute, but that’s what happens when you play for a great team and you have to be humble ”.

Sfairopoulos knows very well that he has quality players in his squad and some will play and some will not. But at no point will he see them as separate squads.

“I’m very happy with his game, but I don’t divide the team into units,” said the Greek Maccabi manager. “For me all players are important and all players are equal. Although some players may not have participated in the Euroleague, they are not a separate unit. They are part of the team and we have a squad. Everyone should be ready to play and everyone is important to the team. As for the players who don’t play much in the Euroleague, some were good and others have to try harder ”.

Sfairopoulos spoke specifically about the challenge of figuring out which players will and won’t play a couple of weeks ago and, as he said, it’s all tough love.

“I have 15 good players who are willing to help and it is difficult to decide who to leave out and who.
“As a coach I love my players and I have a relationship with them as my children as their father. To help them, support them and be critical and sometimes I have to say no. They have to fight and if they get it all easy, they won’t fight for their lives. This is how I treat my players, with love and respect, and sometimes I am tough.

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