Maccabi Tel Aviv entered the final stretch of its preparations for the Euroleague Final Four after arriving in Milan on Wednesday afternoon.
Maccabi held its first training session in Italy at the Pavia Arena on Wednesday night ahead of Friday’s Final Four semifinal against CSKA Moscow. On Thursday, Maccabi will reacquaint itself with the Mediolanum Forum, which will host Friday’s semifinals and Sunday’s final and third place game.
Maccabi has fond memories from the Forum after registering a remarkable win over Olimpia Milano in the arena in Game 1 of the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs last month before wrapping up the series with two home victories.
Despite losing both of its previous meetings against CSKA this season, including by 35 points in Moscow, Maccabi’s players and staff believe they can beat the Russians and go on and claim the club’s sixth European championship in its 12th Final Four appearance.
“I only slept a few hours at night,” admitted guard Yogev Ohayon. “I woke up every two hours to make sure I wouldn’t be late for the flight. The big moment has arrived and we are very excited. We can’t wait to play.”
Ohayon will be taking part in his first Final Four, with only three of Maccabi’s players also being part of the team that lost to Panathinaikos in the Euroleague final three years ago.
Guy Pnini and Sofoklis Schortsanitis were both members of that side, which was also guided by coach David Blatt, with David Blu by far the most experienced player on the roster, winning the title with Maccabi in 2004 and also participating in the Final Four in 2008 and 2011.
“I’m really happy to be playing in my first Final Four. This is a dream come true,” said Ohayon. “I don’t know how to estimate our chances, but we will give our all to return with the cup and we believe we can do it.”
Coach Blatt said on Tuesday that his biggest concern is the roster’s physical condition, with several players nursing injuries.
Shawn James was ruled out until the end of the season several months ago while Sylven Landesberg is doubtful for Friday after tearing a tendon in his leg last week.
Joe Ingles turned an ankle in Monday’s BSL win over Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, but he will be fit to play, while Schortsanitis will surely be slightly rusty having not played since Game 4 against Milano three weeks ago due to the BSL suspension he was handed for storming into the stands in chase of a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan.
“I am concerned about the players’ fitness, but apart from Landesberg and James everyone is ready,” said Blatt. “Joe is in pain, but he is a strong Aussie and he won’t miss this game. We have worked all year to reach this festival, but we need to make sure we play the game and not the occasion.”