Sinai Says: Slowly but surely, Devin Smith recognized as straw stirring Maccabi Tel Aviv

The 31-year-old American forward has become the heart and soul of the yellow-and-blue in recent seasons.

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March 11, 2015 00:02
4 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Devin Smith

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Devin Smith. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

 
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Those who happened to be around Yad Eliyahu Arena late Sunday night may well have heard the sound of sheer relief. An entire organization breathed easy once more, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s comfortable 20-point BSL win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion.

Far more important than the largely insignificant local league game were the results of the MRI on Devin Smith’s knee.

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The 31-year-old American forward has become the heart and soul of the yellow-and-blue in recent seasons.

An extended absence during the business end of the season would be catastrophic to Maccabi’s campaign.

Shortly after the end of Tel Aviv’s 16th-straight BSL win, the club announced that Smith’s MRI came back clean and that he will be fit to play in Thursday’s crucial Euroleague showdown against Barcelona in Spain.

One doesn’t have to be a genius or a basketball expert to understand Smith’s significance to Maccabi. A quick look at the team’s results without the forward is all you need.

Smith has missed two Euroleague games so far this season, at CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos, with Tel Aviv losing both. Maccabi has gone 13-4 with Smith in action.



Smith is Maccabi’s leading scorer (15.4 points per game) and rebounder (6.4 rpg) in the Euroleague, while also averaging 2.4 assists. He has also been extremely efficient, hitting 58.5 percent of his two-point shots, 35.6 percent of his three-pointers (averaging more than two treys per game) and connecting on 82.7% of his free-throw attempts.

Smith is on his way to becoming one of Maccabi’s longest serving foreign players, originally being brought to the club by coach David Blatt in the summer of 2011.

He has played a bigger role for the team with every passing season, currently averaging career-highs in almost every category.

The most common criticism leveled at Smith over the years has been his so-called disappearance in big games. However, he has dispelled any such notion this season, often carrying the team when no one else has shown up.

That was the case in the State Cup final against Hapoel Jerusalem last month. Maccabi entered the showdown in worrying form, having to erase a 21-point deficit to beat Maccabi Haifa in BSL action in its previous league contest before suffering a surprise 66-59 home loss to a mediocre Alba Berlin in the Euroleague.

Maccabi was also fortunate to progress to the cup final, coming back from a five-point deficit in the final minute against Haifa in the semis to force overtime before clinching a 90-87 win.

Many experts considered Jerusalem to be the favorite, but Smith ensured Maccabi lifted its sixth consecutive cup, scoring 27 points and grabbing seven rebounds to lead the yellow-and-blue to an emphatic 94-76 victory.

He was also excellent in last season’s Euroleague final, contributing 15 points and seven boards in the win over Real Madrid.

The University of Virginia alumnus, who began his professional career at Spanish second division club Bruesa GBC in 2005 after not being selected in the NBA draft, rarely looks for excuses, playing with a nagging knee injury throughout last season before undergoing surgery in the summer.

“It was very difficult and at times I almost decided to stop everything and treat the injury,” said Smith ahead of the start of this season.

“However, the pain was ultimately worthwhile.”

Smith is far from the loudest player in the dressing room, but his qualities are no longer being overlooked by anyone and when he talks everyone listens.

“Devin is a very quiet leader,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes after Smith finished with 34 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes in a 93-91 BSL win over Bnei Herzliya.

“He doesn’t showboat. He works hard every day and leads the guys with his experience.”

Even though Maccabi can scarcely afford to play without Smith, Goodes has tried to rest his gimpy knee as much as possible, leaving him off the roster in the past two BSL contests.

“He is so far having his best season at Maccabi,” said Goodes. “He doesn’t look for any shortcuts and always wants to play. I wanted to take him out with 30 seconds left in the quarter and he told me that he wanted to play, but I said that he has to rest.”

Goodes sees in Smith a combination of two of the greatest ever players to wear yellow-and-blue.

“I think he is mix of Mike Mitchell and Anthony Parker,” he claimed.

“He plays with the nobility of Mitchell and some of the ability of Parker.

Devin has earned his place as one of Maccabi’s leading players. It is no coincidence that he has been at the club for so many years. He is loved here.”

Maccabi enters the final stretch of the Top 16 when it visits Barcelona, with its last five Group E games set to go a long way towards determining how its season will be remembered.

Jeremy Pargo’s form, Sofoklis Schortsanitis’s moods and Joe Alexander’s adjustment to the team will be crucial to Maccabi’s chances.

However, none of that will matter if Smith isn’t fit, although he continues to remain as humble as ever.

“If you see your team down you have to find a way to pick them up, that’s what I try to do,” he said. “I don’t think this is my best season. It is true that I have had to do a little more than in the past, but I’m just stepping up when I have to.”

allon@jpost.com

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