Croatian coach Neven Spahija.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The official announcement will only come once Neven Spahija completes all his obligations with the Atlanta Hawks. But the 54-year-old Croatian has already signed a three-year deal to become Maccabi Tel Aviv’s new head coach and is heavily involved in the rebuilding of the yellow-and-blue’s roster as it looks to bounce back from another dejecting campaign.
Maccabi made this past season’s BSL MVP John DiBartolomeo its first signing on Wednesday, beginning yet another overhaul of the roster.
Spahija became Maccabi’s top target once David Blatt rejected the club’s offer to return after weeks of negotiations.
Spahija guided Maccabi in 2006/07, but left after only one season, winning a BSL championship and reaching the Euroleague quarterfinals.
The fact Maccabi didn’t triumph in convincing fashion and lost in the State Cup semifinals, was enough to cost Spahija his job at the time. After three seasons without even reaching the BSL final, and on the back of two disastrous continental campaigns, Maccabi would gladly settle for a repeat of that season a decade later.
Spahija joined the Hawks in 2014 and just finished his third season on the staff of head coach Mike Budenholzer. He has won domestic league titles in six countries – Slovenia, Croatia, Lithuania, Spain, Israel and Turkey.
“Neven has been a valued part of our coaching staff the last three years, and a good friend and mentor for many years,” Budenholzer said in a statement. “His knowledge, experience and perspective have been important parts of our success as a group, and I’m appreciative for all of his contributions to the Hawks. At the same time, I’m very excited for him to return to Maccabi for this great opportunity and wish him the best.”
Spahija’s first signing was American-Israeli guard John DiBartolomeo, who helped Maccabi Haifa to the BSL final this past season.
He averaged 22.5 points, 3.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per game in the playoff quarterfinals, doubling his point average from the regular season while also improving his already impressive efficiency.
DiBartolomeo hit 61.5 percent of his two-point shots, 67.9 percent from three-point range (averaging just under five triples per contest), while connecting on all 17 of his attempts from the free-throw line.
DiBartolomeo was held scoreless in the first half of the Final Four semifinal against Maccabi Tel Aviv, but netted 19 points after the break to secure Haifa’s victory.
His hot streak ended in the final, scoring only six points on 1-of-6 from the field in the loss to Hapoel Jerusalem.
Maccabi is hoping to make several additional signings in the coming days. Alex Tyus, who played for the team between 2013-2015, joined late Thursday, with Tyrese Rice, who led the yellow-and-blue to the Euroleague title in his lone season in 2013/2014, another name the club is targeting.
Negotiations are also ongoing with young Israeli forward Karam Mashour.