Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s Path to Revival

Tel-Aviv, Israel — The last time Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Euroleague was in the 2013/2014 season when David Blatt was the head coach for Maccabi (it was also the last time they won the Israeli league). At the end of the season Coach Blatt left to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA (his assistant coach at Maccabi, former player, Guy Goodes, replaced him as the head coach), Tyrese Rice (Maccabi’s hero during the championship run) signed with Khimki Moscow and David Blu, Maccabi’s beloved veteran retired, which lead to Maccabi’s fall, and that fall started off slowly before becoming rapid. The following season, Maccabi got swept by Fenerbache/Ulker Istanbul in a best of 5 series, 3-0 in the quarter finals. They wouldn’t make the Israeli league finals either, falling to Eilat, 2-3 in a best of 5 series in the semifinals which ended 22 consecutive years of reaching the finals.

The 2015/2016 season rolled in and Guy Goodes was still the head coach and Maccabi made some new additions, most notably, bringing back former NBA champion with the Lakers, Jordan Farmar (played for Maccabi during the NBA lockout in 2011), and signing Nizhny Novgorod (VTB League, Russia) star, American guard, Taylor Rochestie. Needles to say, Maccabi’s new guards did not mesh well together and the team got off to a 1-3 start in the Euroleague and 3-2 in the Israeli league, leading to the departure of Guy Goodes on November 9th, naming Zan Tabak as the head coach 5 days later (November 14th). The season did not get better as Maccabi fell to the Eurocup for the first time in franchise history after having a 4-6 regular season Euroleague record. Needless to say, Maccabi embarrassed itself, finishing with a 2-4 record in the round of 32 group stage and eliminated from the Eurocup in February. To make matters worse, in between their final two games on the Eurocup season, Maccabi Tel-Aviv was embarrassed at the hands of now Maccabi Tel-Aviv captain, John Dibartolomeo and Maccabi Haifa, 91-56, as he posted a career high 22 points in that game. The loss was one of Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s worst ever defeats. Maccabi once again did not win the Israeli league, highlighting a miserable season.

Then came the 2016/2017 season and after a few unbelievable signings, Maccabi seemed to be back on the right track. But, again, things didn’t go so well. The big names Maccabi signed were Andrew Goudelock, Sonny Weems, Quincy Miller, and Maik Zerbes (the last two were stars on Red Star Belgrade leading it to a top quarterfinals appearance in the Euroleague, where they would fall to Powerhouse CSKA Moscow, 3-0, in a best of 5 series) and bringing back Joe Alexander (played for Maccabi in the 2014/2015 season). They also signed Israeli National Team head coach at the time, Erez Edelstein.

Let’s start with what happened a few weeks after the signing of Quincy Miller, who at the time was one of the Euroleague’s best players and the 23 year-old had a lot riding on his shoulders. Just a few short weeks after signing with Maccabi, Miller tears his ACL during a pick-up game in July at UCLA and is out until late December, which I believe was a mistake to bring him back so soon. What’s next? Oh yeah! Sonny Weems gets injured in a Euroleague preseason game against David Blatt and Darussafaka and is out for two weeks, returning for Maccabi’s home opener against Real Madrid, posing a 0-1 record after falling at Milano, 99-97 the previous week. Maccabi, minus Miller, fell to Real Madrid, 89-82 at home. Two days later, on October, 21st, after a 81-72 victory over Hapoel Holon, Maccabi management decides to part ways with the head coach, naming his assistant, Rami Hadar, as the head coach for the time being. Hadar’s coaching career with Maccabi got off to a great start as he lead the Yellows to a 5-4 Euroleague record. However, his time with Maccabi was short lived. Maccabi lost its next three Euroleague games and Hadar decided that he’s seen enough and resigned in Mid December as Maccabi had a 5-7 Euroleague record. The other assistant, Lior Lubin took over head coaching duties until Maccabi Hired Ainars Bagatskis, 8 days later and even he couldn’t dig Maccabi out of the hole.

If you thought things would be any different after the hiring of Bagatskis on December 24th, well…things…did not change. Once Miller returned he was in and out of the lineup for the majority of the season because of pain in his knee. During Bagtskis’ first month, Maik Zirbes, who did not find himself with Maccabi, was loned to Bayren Munich where he still plays today. To add to it, Sonny Weems was dismissed from the team for a failed drug test. But that wasn’t the biggest blow to the team. The biggest blow came when Andrew Goudelock suffered a small tear in his thigh and was out for six weeks. By the time he returned, it was a little too late as Maccabi finished its Euroleague season with a record of 10-20. In April, after the Euroleague season ended, Bagatskis too, was shown the exit. Maccabi then hired well known coach and former Israeli National team head coach, Arik Shivek without pay to try and save the season. Maccabi swept B’nei Herzeliya, 3-0 in the quarterfinals, but would lose to Maccabi Haifa in the semis, ending one of worst seasons in franchise history. The lone bright spot was when Maccabi defeated Hapoel Jerusalem in the Israeli Cup Final, 82-68.

And now to the offseason prior to the 2017/2018 season, what has Maccabi done? A full roster turnaround! They got rid of 11 players, most notably, Goudelock, Miller, Victor Rudd, Star Devin Smith (retirement), Alexander, Yogev Ohayon, Gal Mekel, and captain, Guy Pnini. However they did keep one player, Itay Segev who was named captain. They signed 11 new players, including 2-time NBA Champion with the Miami Heat, Norris Cole, Pierre Jackson, Deandre Kane, Art Parakhouski, Deshaun Thomas, Michael Roll, Karam Mashour, Jonah Bolden, calling up the U20 Israeli National Team star, Yovel Zoosman, and reigning Israeli League MVP, John Dibartolomeo. They also brought back three old friends, Center, Alex Tyus who helped Maccabi win it all in 2014, Power Forward, Jake Cohen, and former head coach (2006/2007) Neven Spahija.

Now it’s time to get into specifics of the 2017/2018 season. Maccabi started off their season by winning the Israeli League Cup with a 93-79 win over Ironi Nahariya, 93-79 lead by John Dibartolomeo. Shortly after that the Euroleague season started and the real test for the Yellows was set to begin.

Maccabi opened up its season on the road playing at Brose Bamberg of Germany, with an impressive eye-opening, 88-71 victory lead by newly signed Pierre Jackson who led the team with 27 points, 14 of which came in the 4th quarter. That victory was followed up by an impressive 74-68 home win over Baskonia, whom is now battling Maccabi for the 8th seed and the final spot in the Euroleague quarterfinals. Their next meeting is Thursday, March 29th in Spain. The following week Maccabi had two games, both of which they lost by one basket to Olympiacos and Red Star Belgrade. Maccabi’s impressive defense would hold up giving up just 77 points per game, while scoring 78 points per game, good enough for a 6-4 record.
While Maccabi’s defense has looked impressive so far, it wasn’t going to last. Over their final 5 games of the first round Maccabi would score 83.2 points per game, while allowing 88.6 points per game. Big change, to say the least, but overall, management seemed pretty happy as the team was taking big steps towards the right direction. First half of the season signature wins include, 74-68 win over Baskonia, 90-83 win over Real Madrid, 77-69 win at Khimki Moscow, 81-74 victory over Saras and Zalgiris Kaunas, and a huge home win over the defending champion Fenerbache/Ulker Istanbul, 82-73. Tough losses to swallow include, 68-69 home loss to Olympiacos, 89-67 loss at Barcelona, 87-84 loss in Belgrade to Red Star, and a home loss to Unicaja Malaga, 89-78. Maccabi finished the first half with an 8-7 record. It’s notworthy that during the first half of the season Itay Segev complained too much about not getting minutes and asked to be released by the team. However, the team to his dismay, refused to let go of him and named John Dibartolomeo captain.

Maccabi’s defensive struggles have continued into the second half of the season, as to this point they have given up over 80 points 11 times, seven of them over 90, one over 100, and three over 80, below 90 points. In the second half of the season Maccabi is just 5-8, 13-14 overall and is currently tied with Baskonia for the 8th seed, all this with the Israelis not being main contributors, getting little to no minutes throughout the season. Maccabi’s remaining schedule after last night’s brutal 87-73 loss at Fenerache/Ulker Istanbul, has games against Panathinaikos (home), at Baskonia (13-13), and finish off the regular season in Valencia. Meanwhile, Baskonia, does not need to leave Spain for the rest of the season. Their remaining games are home for Brose Bamberg, at Barcelona, home for Maccabi, and finish the season at home against Anadolu Efes Istanbul.

Maccabi Tel Aviv this week: (Tuesday, March 20th) Loss 87-73 at Fenerbache/Ulker Istanbul, (Thursday, March 22nd) home game vs Panathinaikos

Baskonia this week: (Wednesday, March 21st) Home for Brose Bamberg, (Friday, March 21st) at Barcelona

So now for my final thoughts of who will advance to the quarterfinals? This one is a tough one. My heart says Maccabi, but realistically, I believe Baskonia, judging by their weak schedule should advance to face CSKA Moscow. Maccabi hopes that next week’s game in Baskonia will still be meaningful. However, even if Maccabi does not make the playoffs as they had hoped, Maccabi fans and management should be happy with the progress that they have made. Back to the management for a second, Maccabi’s main goal is to win the Israeli league for the first time since the 2013/2014 season and put an end to their longest drought in franchise history. However, in order to do that, Norris Cole and Pierre Jackson must play better together and of course captain John Dibartolomeo will be a huge contributor to that possible championship run, they’ll have to overcome Glen Rice Jr. and Hapoel Holon who have owned a 3-0 record against the Yellows, most notably winning the Israeli Cup on Rice Jr.’s game winner with 1.6 seconds remaining to give his team an 86-84 victory.

This week’s article is ghost written by my intern, Shai Boker.

About the Author
Ari Louis's media career spans 14 years, in this time he has been the play by play man for Maccabiah Tel-Aviv basketball, the Israel football league and served as color commentary for the Maccabiah baseball of 2013. Louis has also interviewed many famous athletes from Pete Rose, Roy Jones Jr., Curt Schilling and media personalities from ESPN, NBC, CBS and Fox Sports. Louis has been called Israel's best English sports' broadcaster.