(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Tzvika Sherf and Maccabi Tel Aviv go a long way back. To be more accurate, they go more than 50 years back.
On Thursday, they meet in the State Cup final at Yad Eliyahu Arena when Sherf, now the coach of Maccabi Ashdod, aims to make Maccabi’s nightmare season even worse.
Sherf’s love affair with basketball began at the Maccabi youth department in the 1960s and it hasn’t waned since.
In 1983, their paths were united once more when Sherf was named as the yellow-and-blue’s head coach and he has been recognized as a Maccabi icon ever since. He was appointed as the team’s coach on five different occasions, usually being called upon in a time of urgent need.
That was the case in his most recent tenure in 2008, when he took charge in the wake of Oded Katash’s sacking.
Sherf guided Maccabi to the Euroleague final for the third time, but the continental title continued to elude him, and after also falling in the finals of the BSL and State Cup, his contract wasn’t extended.
That left Sherf to continue his wondering ways and he joined the 16th team of his coaching career last January, replacing the sacked Lior Lubin at Ashdod.
Ashdod will take part in its first final on Thursday while Maccabi goes for its 43rd cup triumph and seventh in a row.
The 64-year-old Sherf, who won 10 championships and six State Cups during his time with Maccabi – but none since 1997 – also coached in Greece, France, Poland and Russia, as well as guiding the Israel national team in eight European Championships, before eventually landing in Ashdod.
The team has struggled for consistency this season, currently owning a 9-10 record in the BSL.
However, it has made the most of its opportunity in the cup, beating Hapoel Kfar Saba of the National League in the round of 16 and Maccabi Kiryat Gat in the quarterfinals before edging Maccabi Rishon Lezion 84-82 in double-overtime in the semis on Monday, leaving Sherf a win away from one of his least likely triumphs.
“I’m excited because I have led a team with little aspirations and a small budget to the cup final,” said Sherf.
Maccabi enters the final as a favorite despite its disastrous season and the fact that it lost both games against Ashdod so far in 2015/16.
Ashdod claimed a 88-83 win at Yad Eliyahu on November 8, with Maccabi firing coach Guy Goodes one day later. Sherf was mentioned in connection with making another return to Maccabi before Zan Tabak was ultimately signed.
The teams also met in Ashdod last month and Sherf’s side registered a comfortable 96-86 triumph.
Maccabi overcame Ironi Ness Ziona 81-66 in Monday’s semifinals, but is set to be without the injured Devin Smith once more in the final. The yellow-and-blue extended its winning streak in the competition, with its last cup defeat coming in December 2008 when it was stunned by Ironi Nahariya in the round of 16.
Maccabi had lost six of its previous nine games over all competitions entering the semis, including its past three. A defeat in Slovenia against Olimpija Ljubljana was followed by a 35-point drubbing at the hands of Maccabi Haifa in the BSL, its biggest ever loss in local action. Four days later it was beaten 95-84 in overtime by Nizhny Novgorod in a do-or-die showdown at Yad Eliyahu that ended the team’s Eurocup campaign.
“It felt good to win again and we need to continue and play the way we did in the second half against Ness Ziona,” said Maccabi guard Yogev Ohayon.
“We knew we had to win the game and we had failed in similar situations previously this season.
We had to prove that we can win a do-or-die game and we will need to do so once more.”