Maccabi Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV WEBSITE)
Maccabi Tel Aviv enters the pre-season Winner Cup with plenty to prove. The preparation tournament is mainly meant to help teams gear up for the new season. However, after what happened last team, Maccabi is desperate for any piece of silverware it can get its hands on.
Maccabi, which faces Ironi Ness Ziona in the quarterfinals in the new arena in Holon on Thursday, was knocked out in the BSL semifinals for the first time since 1993 last season and ended the campaign with just one title, the State Cup.
The yellow-and-blue also lost to Hapoel Jerusalem in the Winner Cup final last year and is determined not to let any local trophy slip its grasp, even if it is only a pre-season tournament.
“We lost the Winner Cup last season and we need to get it back,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes, who remained at the helm despite last term’s failure.
“We mustn’t forget that we are only at the start of the campaign and a lot of teams are still trying to find their way.
“Nevertheless, we want to give our all and win this tournament.”
Maccabi underwent a complete overhaul during the summer, with only five players continuing for another campaign (Yogev Ohayon, Devin Smith, Sylven Landesberg, Guy Pnini and Brian Randle).
The club has brought in five new names, including former NBA guard Jordan Farmar, who spent a two-month stint in Tel Aviv during the NBA lockout in 2011. Last season’s Euroleague top scorer Taylor Rochestie, Trevor Mbakwe, Dagan Yivzori and former Boston Celtics center Vítor Faverani were all also added to the roster.
Maccabi looks to be entering the Winner Cup in promising form after winning the Pro Stars tournament in Angers, France last weekend.
Maccabi beat Villeurbanne 77-62 in the final, with Farmar leading all scorers with 22 points and being named as the MVP of the tournament.
Randle added 12 points, while Trevor Mbakwe and 17-year-old Croatian phenom Dragan Bender, whose back from a one-year loan, contributed 11 points each.
“This was an excellent tournament with some very good teams,” said Goodes. “It was important for us to face physical opponents to see where we stand. After less than a month of training, we can already see progress as individuals and as a team.
Players are learning about each other and the coaches, and the coaching staff is learning to get to know the players better.”
Coach Nadav Zilberstein will be starting his seventh straight season at Ness Ziona, but Israeli forward Tal Dan is the only player back from last term.
In Thursday’s second quarterfinal, Hapoel Holon plays its first game at its new arena when it faces Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
“We are really excited to be hosting our first official game,” said Holon coach Elad Hasin.
“We are treating this encounter as more than a preparation game and we will be ready to win.”
The semifinal lineup will be completed on Friday at the Drive- In Arena in Tel Aviv, with Maccabi Haifa facing Hapoel Eilat before Hapoel Tel Aviv plays last year’s winner Hapoel Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has maintained the core of last season’s triumphant roster, while signing Josh Duncan, Yancy Gates, E.J. Rowland and D’or Fischer.
Hapoel will be aiming to kickstart its preparations after losing to Olimpija Ljubljana and Zalgiris Kaunas with a shorthanded roster last weekend.
“This was a very important preparation tournament,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco.
“We are still a long way from being ready, both from a basketball and a physical standpoint.
We have a good team and we will continue to improve with every week.”