Interviewing Sofoklis Schortsanitis is a little like defending him.
hard as you may try, you undoubtedly end up finding yourself completely at the
mercy of the 2.05-meter, 150-kilogram center.
If the 25-year-old Greek
international doesn’t want to answer your question, he won’t; just as if he has
his mind set on putting the ball in the basket, he likely will.
were many doubts regarding Maccabi’s decision to sign Sofo to a two-year
contract this past summer.
Some pundits claimed it was no more than a PR
stunt to try and sell more season-tickets, while even ardent fans questioned
Schortsanitis’ ability to lead Tel Aviv under the basket considering the
supporting role he played in his previous five seasons at
However, Sofo has exceeded all expectations so far this
season, and seems to only be improving as the campaign progresses.
just came here to do my work,” Sofo told me in his typical soft-spoken
nonchalant style after Monday’s State Cup semifinal victory over Maccabi Ashdod
at Nokia Arena.
“I do what I do. I play basketball, that’s
For Maccabi, that’s plenty.
Without Schortsanitis, Tel Aviv
would not have been able to play so extraordinarily well, regularly blowing out
opponents with ease.
Sofo’s presence under the basket is crucial to coach
David Blatt’s game-plan, allowing Maccabi’s guards to pressure their opponents
on defense and freeing up wing weapons on offense thanks to all the attention
the gargantuan Greek center attracts.
In 19 Euroleague game for
Olympiacos last season, Sofo averaged 7.2 points and 2.5 rebounds.
games in the competition before joining Maccabi, he had never played more than
However, he has been on court for more than 20 minutes in all
but two of the yellow-and-blue’s Euroleague games so far and is ranked seventh
overall in the Euroleague’s index rating, averaging 13.6 points and 4.8
rebounds, while hitting 57.4 percent of his field goal attempts.
that Sofo has not only had a great season, but he has also made a big
adjustment,” Blatt told me on Monday. “It’s not an easy adjustment and he’s done
it in a classy and admirable way. I spent last year in Greece. It’s very
different basketball, especially the lifestyle and what’s going on around
“I think that Sofo came in here with the right approach and
the crowd has embraced him and he has responded well to that.
simply been one of the best big men in Europe this season.”
undoubtedly deserves much of the credit for getting more out of Sofo than any
other coach has been capable of in the past, but the big man remained totally
diplomatic when asked of the impact his current coach has had on his
“Every coach can teach you something and give you some kind of
advice or skill,” he said. “Every coach in my life has helped me a lot and so
Sofo may not be willing to say it, but Blatt has got him
playing the best defense of his career and has taught him the importance of
passing out to his teammates on the perimeter when he is being doubleand
triple-teamed in the paint.
Sofo’s play has only gotten better with every
week that passes and he has scored in double-figures in his last seven
continental games, recording his first ever Euroleague double-double against
Lottomatica Roma two weeks ago.
He has also scored 10 points or more in
10 of the last 12 BSL games, averaging 13.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in the
league, connecting on a mind-boggling 72 percent of his shots.
has been extremely impressive from the start of the season, amassing a record of
28-3 in all competitions to date.
In recent weeks, however, Tel Aviv has
completely obliterated its opponents.
After thrashing Roma by 41 points
in the Euroleague, Maccabi beat Bnei Hasharon by 46 points in the BSL before
crushing Olimpija Ljubljana by 37 points last Thursday.
Monday’s cup semifinal by outscoring Maccabi Ashdod 27-3 in the first period on
the way to a second straight 37- point win.
It will be expected to cruise
to yet another ridiculously easy victory when it faces Barak Netanya in
Thursday’s final after beating Eric Alfasi’s men by a combined 62 points in two
BSL meetings this season.
“I got no thoughts,” was what Sofo had to say
about the upcoming final. “We are going to do what we do every time. We are
going to listen to our coaching staff, study the opponent, practice for them and
do our thing and go and play our game.”
Sofo also refused to get into Tel
Aviv’s prospects in the Euroleague.
“If we knew how far we could go we
wouldn’t play,” he noted. “The results have been good and they show we have a
good team, so I’m optimistic.”
Many hours have been spent breaking down
the reasons behind Maccabi’s success so far this season.
Sofo needed only
“Hard work and great defense, that is it.”
simplistic as this may sound, I wouldn’t argue with the Greek giant on that