Maccabi Tel Aviv will face a star-studded lineup when it comes up against Real Madrid in Game 1 of the Euroleague quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
Nikola Mirotic, Jaycee Carroll and Sergio Llull are just a few of the players Maccabi will need to keep a close eye on, but there is little doubt that Rudy Fernandez is the team’s biggest name.
After beginning his career at Joventut Badalona, Fernandez was selected 24th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2007 NBA draft, but was subsequently traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, who he eventually joined ahead of the 2008/09 season.
The Spanish swing man shined in his rookie season, averaging 10.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in over 25 minutes on court and was an important member of the side in the following two years before being traded to the Denver Nuggets.
He began last season in Madrid, playing for Real during the NBA lockout, eventually joining Denver for 31 games before having his campaign cut short by a back injury.
Fernandez surprised many by choosing to leave the NBA and sign a threeyear deal at Real Madrid last summer and has predictably become the team’s star.
The 28-year-old is Real’s top scorer, averaging 14.0 points in 22 Euroleague games so far this season, while adding 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
For all his talent, Fernandez has never won a title at club level, a drought he is desperate to end with Real this season.
Madrid comfortably leads the Spanish league standings with a 25-3 record, already clinching home-court advantage in the playoff quarterfinals despite losing 88-79 to Valencia on Sunday. However, its focus over the next few weeks will be on overcoming Maccabi and progressing to the Euroleague Final Four for the second time in three years.
”The series against Maccabi Tel Aviv is a very big challenge for us and we are preparing for it very seriously,” Fernandez told The Jerusalem Post
. “Maccabi Tel Aviv is a massive club in Europe and we really want to prove that we are a quality side and that we can overcome big challenges.”
Fernandez is hoping Real can claim the first two games in Madrid on Wednesday and Friday to “seize control” of the best-of-five series and he already seems to be well briefed on Maccabi.
”Maccabi had an amazing second round in the Top 16 and played some exceptional basketball,” Fernandez noted. “In my opinion, Devin Smith is Maccabi’s leader. One of the keys to the series will be to find a way to stop him and deny him big plays. Ricky Hickman also seems to be a player on the rise, but Smith is Maccabi’s barometer. Maccabi coach David Blatt has also proven in recent years that he is one of the best coaches in Europe and we will have to create problems for him. Facing Maccabi in a series is one of the toughest tasks in European basketball and we will have to work extra hard and make sure we execute our plays.”