New Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Neven Spahija believes he has a team capable of challenging on all fronts in the upcoming season.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Despite their underwhelming results in pre-season action so far, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv returned home on Monday from their training camps abroad in an optimistic mood.
The reigning BSL champion from Jerusalem was outplayed by Spanish Euroleague side Baskonia in the second half of their encounter on Sunday, losing 97-75 after trailing by just four points at the break.
That defeat capped Hapoel’s 11-day camp in Spain, which new coach, Greek Fotis Katsikaris, believes has helped the team greatly in its preparations for 2017/18.
“We were facing a Euroleague team at its home arena one week before it begins its season, but we wanted a tough test,” said Katsikaris after his team dropped to its third defeat in five games in Spain. “We were in the game for 20 minutes, but it was only a matter of time until they pulled ahead considering our short rotation.”
Jerusalem next faces Ironi Nahariya in the quarterfinals of the pre-season Winner Cup in Holon next Monday.
The semifinals and final will also be played in Holon, next Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
Hapoel also plays Nahariya in its BSL regular season opener a week later on October 8, three days before it visits Lietkabelis Panevezys in Lithuania in its first Eurocup game of the season.
“All in all, I was very pleased with our training camp,” said Katsikaris. “The games were of a high level and we used them to see the chemistry between the players and test different lineups.”
Jerusalem has maintained the core of last season’s roster, bringing back seven players.
Amar’e Stoudemire is among the players who left, but Hapoel signed four new players, Austin Daye, Yogev Ohayon, Alen Omic and most recently Stratos Perperoglou. The Greek forward was brought in to add depth due to Tarence Kinsey’s lingering back injury.
The 33-year-old played for Barcelona in the past two seasons and has three Euroleague titles (two with Panathinaikos and one with Olympiacos) on his resume.
Unlike Jerusalem, Maccabi Tel Aviv only has one player returning from last season, young Israeli center Itay Segev.
Three straight seasons without even reaching the BSL final have resulted in a complete overhaul, led by new head coach Neven Spahija. Maccabi eked out a win over Unics Kazan in the semifinals of a pre-season tournament in Crete, Greece over the weekend before losing to Olympiacos 90-82 in the final on Sunday.
“We had a good tournament.
Before we started it we didn’t know where we stand, but now after two games we understand that we are capable of beating any team,” said Spahija.
Maccabi next faces Hapoel Tel Aviv in the quarterfinals of the Winner Cup next Sunday.
Norris Cole, who didn’t play in Crete, isn’t expected to feature against Hapoel either, but could be back in time for the yellowand- blue’s BSL opener at Hapoel Eilat on October 9. Maccabi visits Bamberg in its first Euroleague game of the campaign on October 12.
“I think you can only say positive things about our future as a team,” said Spahija. “It is still too early to say what our season will look like, but I can say Maccabi will battle for the two local titles and for a place in the Euroleague playoffs.”