Maccabi Tel Aviv coach dressed for success

With revamped roster, and return of Casspi, Ioannis Sfairopoulos feels good about upcoming season

By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
September 12, 2019 22:48
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach dressed for success

MACCABI TEL AVIV coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos begins his second season with the club and has high hopes of leading the yellow-and-blue to Euroleague glory. (photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV/COURTESY)

Basketball training camps in Israel are in full swing as we hit the month of September. The slate is clean for each team as new challenges and goals lie ahead. Some squads went into full rebuild mode while others kept the core of players together for another run at glory.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s premier franchise, is the country’s lone representative in the continent’s top competition, the Euroleague, and it will be looking to take that run at glory with a mix of savvy veterans, up- and-coming stars and some new faces along with some old. With six previous European Championships, not only is the yellow-and-blue the pride of the nation, but it is also one of the most revered clubs around the world. With international recognition, expectations are always high and this season is no different.

Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA, is returning to the Holy Land after 10 years in the world’s best hoops league and, together with 2020 NBA Draft lottery prospect Deni Avdija and a slew of other top level professionals, the potential for success is mouthwatering.

The man charged with molding the team this season is Ioannis Sfairopoulos, who took over the reins last November. With the desire to capture a seventh continental title at the forefront, the 52-year old Greek coach gave an exclusive interview to The Jerusalem Post as he, along with his staff, were being fitted for brand new suits at Jenudi Fashions in Tel Aviv.

“I am very excited about the new season because we have a new challenge ahead of us and we want to be ready to compete against not only all of the teams in the Israeli League, but also compete for the State Cup and of course the Euroleague,” said Sfairopoulos.

“We need to begin building our game and finding our chemistry very quickly and early on because as everybody knows Maccabi needs to win every game and we will try to do this.

“Of course, being realistic we know that this is not possible but our goal is to be ready to go for each and every game. We need the team to be prepared to fight and battle for every win, no matter who we are playing or if we are playing at home or on the road. This is our goal together as a unit and I am very excited because all the players want that too.”

One of the interesting and unique features that Sfairopoulos and his staff – brought to Israel last season when he arrived from Greece – was that they always made sure to dress in suits and ties on the sidelines no matter what competition the team was playing in. Traditionally, coaching staffs in Israel dress down for domestic league games, wearing shirts and pants, but Sfairopoulos, who was also an assistant for the NBA’s Houston Rockets, understands the importance of treating each game with the proper honor and respect that it deserves no matter who Maccabi may be playing.

As Yossi Jenudi helped Sfairopoulos and his assistants select ties, the coach spoke about why it’s critical for him to be well dressed on the sidelines.

“Jenudi has dressed Maccabi’s staff for many years,” said the Thessaloníki native. “Last season we won the Israeli league wearing Jenudi suits and hopefully this year we will have good luck once again as we attempt to succeed in our goals.”

One of the players who will be bringing a wealth of experience and professionalism is Casspi, and Sfairopoulos is extremely excited about his new recruit.

“Having Omri on my squad is very important to me as he is not only the best Israeli player, he is an Israeli legend after having played in the NBA for 10 years. I don’t have to speak about his career as it speaks for itself.”

However, as content as Sfairopoulos is with having Casspi on the roster, he understands that he will need to take it one step at a time with the veteran forward.

“One of my jobs will be to help him adjust to our style and philosophy. We have to remember that he was out from January when he had a minor knee operation, so in time he will have to find his game rhythm. But he is working really hard and it’s great that he is now one of us. His presence is very important to the team because he is not only familiar with the Israeli league, but he is also a top-level Euroleague player.”

Casspi is, of course, not the only new face for Sfairopolous, as he is joined by a number of new players –Othello Hunter, who came from Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow, Tyler Dorsey and Quincy Acy, who played last season in the NBA, veteran guard Nate Wolters and Elijah Bryant, who plied his trade for Hapoel Eilat last season. They join a core of returning players, including Tarik Black, Yovel Zoosman, John Dibartolomeo and Jake Cohen.

“We are working really hard to get the entire team to play together,” said Sfairopoulos. “This is not very easy, especially when you have just a number of weeks to prepare the team. We will all have to work hard and learn about each other every day to get them to know one another. When we begin to play together as a team, we will have a great squad. This is our immediate goal right now; to give each player their role on the team and to create chemistry in order to be very competitive.”

One of the things Sfairopoulos is acutely aware of is the continental success that the fans are thirsting for. After taking Olympiacos to the Euroleague Finals twice in three years, he knows that taking Maccabi to the playoffs is crucial for the club, especially since it has not tasted European success since the 2013/14 season when it took home the championship under David Blatt.

“Our goal is first and foremost to finish in the top eight and earn a place in the quarterfinals because we missed out on doing that last season.”

With preseason games beginning last weekend for Maccabi, the hopes are high that when it takes to the court at Khimki, Moscow, in less than one month, Sfairopolous and his team will be ready and raring to go.

“We know that Khimki has built a great team and has a terrific roster. This will be a great experience for us to play against them to open the season. With that in mind, this will also be our first appearance with our brand-new Jenudi suits and being dressed for success on the court as we begin the new campaign is something that we are very happy about.”

Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at sportsrabbi9@gmail.com.


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