Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Andrew Goudelock (center).
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Maccabi Tel Aviv begins a Euroleague season that is guaranteed to be like no other when it visits Olimpia Milano in Italy on Thursday night.
The Euroleague’s format has undergone a dramatic change, with only 16 teams to take part in the competition. Each side will play 30 regular season games, with the top eight in the standings to advance to the quarterfinal playoffs. The winners will participate in the Final Four.
Despite failing to qualify for the Top 16 last season, Maccabi is among the 11 A Licence clubs who signed multi-year deals to play in the Euroleague (Anadolu Efes Istanbul, CSKA Moscow, Olimpia Milano, FC Barcelona, Fenerbahce Istanbul, Baskonia Vitoria, Olympiacos Piraeus, Panathinaikos Athens, Real Madrid and Zalgiris Kaunas), with last season’s Eurocup champion Galatasaray also receiving direct entry.
German champion Brose Bamberg, Red Star Belgrade of Serbia and Unics Kazan of Russia each received a B Licence to play in the competition in 2016/17.
Maccabi enters Thursday’s opener four days after it got its BSL campaign off to a dramatic start.
Maccabi trailed Ironi Nahariya by 11 points with just over a minute to play in regulation at Ein Sara Arena, but Andrew Goudelock’s three-pointer with 3.5 seconds to go sent the game to overtime after Guy Pnini dragged Tel Aviv back into the contest.
The yellow-and-blue also trailed early in the extra period, but eventually eked out a win that will give it plenty of confidence ahead of Thursday’s game.
Especially encouraging for Maccabi was the performance of Goudelock, who scored 21 points in 21 minutes in his first game back from a thigh injury that kept him out of the entire preseason apart from the team’s first game. Tel Aviv will be leaning on Goudelock more than it had planned in the coming weeks, with Sonny Weems out for at least two more weeks due to a tear in his calf suffered in Maccabi’s final preseason game, a loss to David Blatt’s Darussafaka which came on the back of a defeat to Hapoel Jerusalem in the final of the Winner Cup.
“I’m feeling good after my first game,” said Goudelock. “When I arrived at Maccabi I was told about the team’s history of comebacks. I think that in other teams they would have thought the game was over, but not at Maccabi.”
New Maccabi coach Erez Edelstein, who will be coaching his first game in the Euroleague, has high expectations from Goudelock.
“He has a big heart and the ability to create something from nothing,” said Edelstein. “He can really help us and will make life easier for everyone.”
Maccabi faces two former players in Ricky Hickman and Milan Macvan, with Milano’s roster also including Mantas Kalnietis, Alessandro Gentile, Zoran Dragic, Rakim Sanders and center Miroslav Raduljica.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game because Maccabi invested a lot of money in the summer and the team is really amazing,” said Milano coach Jasmin Repesa. “If we let them run, they are extraordinary and capable of scoring 100 points on a given night. We have to keep them from running like Hapoel Jerusalem did in the preseason Winner Cup. So we need to keep the number of turnovers very low, because they are also good at pressing the ball after scoring.”
Maccabi captain Guy Pnini began the summer as a backup for the backups, but likely earned himself more minutes with his display against Nahariya.
“Hopefully we can start playing in games the way we have been in practice,” said Pnini. “I hope the win in Nahariya will prove to be a turning point and everything will flow from now on.”