Maccabi Tel Aviv didn’t deem Arik Shivek to be quite good enough.
That is, until the basketball club had no other choice.
The 60-year-old has enjoyed a long and successful career in Israel and abroad, but not only was he never offered the head coaching position at the yellow-and-blue until last month, he wasn’t even ever considered to be a serious candidate.
Even when guiding the Israel national team for four years, he wasn’t seen as Maccabi material by the club’s decision makers, maybe due to his dull reputation or the fact that much of his success came in unheralded basketball nations like the Netherlands and Belgium.
Maccabi may have had no interest in his services when it could afford to be picky, but Shivek has been like manna from heaven for the team since his appointment three weeks ago.
Maccabi has only played three games under his guidance. But the 3-0 sweep of Bnei Herzliya in the BSL quarterfinal playoffs by an average of 25.7 points per game has transformed the team into the favorite at next week’s Final Four. There were serious doubts the side would even qualify for the season-ending tournament prior to his hiring.
It may be a small sample size, and against an injury-ravaged opponent at that, but Shivek seems to have reinvigorated a depressed roster, getting them to play as a team and refocus for the final month of the campaign.
Considering what the team has endured this season, that feat was no simple task.
Shivek became the team’s fourth head coach of 2016/17, replacing Ainars Bagatskis. The Latvian only took charge last December after Rami Hadar quit following less than two months at the helm. Hadar began the season as an assistant coach to Erez Edelstein, who was fired after only two Euroleague games.
The yellow-and-blue completely lost its way over Bagatskis’s final weeks, falling in eight of its past 10 regular-season league games. It finished in fourth place with a 19-14 record – both club records for negative results – and as a last resort the ownership decided to make one more coaching change.
To put that into context with Maccabi’s dominance in the past, throughout the 1970’s the team lost a total of seven regular season games (out of 224), while in the 1980’s it dropped to 11 combined defeats (from 216 total games).
More recently, during David Blatt’s four years at the club between 2010 and 2014 Maccabi suffered a total of 14 regular season losses, matching this season’s total.
Maccabi is desperate to bring Blatt back for next season, with former Maccabi guard Sarunas Jasikevicius – currently the head coach of Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania – and Italian Andrea Trinchieri, the coach of German Euroleague side Bamberg, also being mentioned in connection with the job.
Shivek, unsurprisingly, is nowhere near the top of Maccabi’s shortlist, something which is unlikely to change even should he guide the side to the championship.
Being overlooked in such a manner would be a distraction for most coaches, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting Shivek.
After all, he took the job at Maccabi without even signing a contract or agreeing financial terms.
“We have a gentleman’s agreement with Shivek. He said he is willing to help and until now we haven’t spoken about what he will be paid,” said club co-owner David Federman in an interview with Channel 2, before club chairman Shimon Mizrahi added that “we will know how to reward him.”
Shivek entered the job with no illusions, knowing all too well the highs and lows of the life of a professional basketball coach.
Since returning to coach in Israel in February 2015, he has earned himself a reputation as being someone to turn to when all looks lost.
After replacing Dan Shamir at Hapoel Eilat mid-season two years ago, he took the side to the BSL final, the club’s first since 1998 and second ever, before losing to Hapoel Jerusalem in a home-and-away tie for the title.
He left Eilat only five games into the following season, clashing with the club’s management after a 1-4 start to the campaign. Shivek remained out of work for the next five months, until Maccabi Rishon Lezion came calling.
Rishon decided to sack Sharon Drucker following a poor run of results, and while the team won only three of its final five regular season games with Shivek, it went on to overcame Maccabi Haifa in the quarters before stunning Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem in the Final Four to claim a first championship in club history.
That wasn’t enough to save him from being sacked this season, with Rishon firing Shivek at the end of February with the team owning a 10-10 record.
With only one month left in the season and with Maccabi unwilling to give any guarantees, Shivek was the best, and almost only option the yellow- and-blue had.
“I found here players who were hungry to learn and looking for order and discipline. We made some changes and I tried to make sure that every player will know his place,” explained Shivek. “Maccabi hasn’t even reached the league final in the past two seasons so we first have to make the final and then I will say that we also want to win the title.”
When Shivek turned down an approach to become an assistant coach at Maccabi 25 years ago in favor of the head coaching position at Hapoel Galil Elyon, he surely didn’t imagine it would take so long until he would finally work for the yellow-andblue.
Knowing he may never get another chance, he agreed to join no questions asked.
He could found himself out of work yet again by the end of next week, even if he leads Maccabi to the championship.
But Shivek doesn’t seem worried about that at the moment. He just wants to make sure he at least goes out as a winner, making history in the process by becoming the first coach to guide two different teams to a championship in consecutive seasons.