(photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole)
It is safe to say that Guy Goodes has exceeded all expectations this season. The Maccabi Rishon coach defied the preseason predictions and will walk onto the Nokia Arena court Tuesday evening with his team for the first semifinal of the BSL Final Four.
At the start of the season, even the most optimistic Rishon fan would have settled for a mid-table finish. But in his first full year as head coach, Goodes, 35, guided his team to third place in the BSL regular season and a spot in the first-ever Final Four.
Goodes built a young team around forward Omar Sneed with 21-year-old John Gilchrist and Israeli Or Eitan staring under the coach's guidance. The team is a reflection of its coach, winning games with brainy basketball mixed with a fighting spirit second to none.
"I was surprised with our big success, we weren't expecting it," Goodes told The Jerusalem Post. "We assembled a team with many young players and took a chance on inexperienced foreign players. I think that with the budget we had, we got the best out of the squad and built a team of fighters."
Rishon began the season with a surprising 8-3 first round and rode the success throughout the second and third rounds to secure third place behind perennial league champion Maccabi Tel Aviv and big-spending Hapoel Jerusalem.
"We began the season very well and after that we just held on to the top teams," Goodes explains.
Goodes became Rishon coach in the middle of the 2004/05 season, after being assistant coach since retiring the year before. His playing days are remembered best for his years at Maccabi Tel Aviv and for his ability to return from two career-threatening knee injuries. This year was his first attempt at building a squad and the coach got it right.
"I took over the reins of the team only midway through last season and I still feel privileged to be coaching this team. All the coaching staff worked very hard in order to advance Rishon to the next level and our hard work has paid off."
Rishon will face Jerusalem in the first semifinal of the Final Four and despite losing all three of its league games to Hapoel during the season, Goodes remained cautiously optimistic of his team's chances on Tuesday.
"There is no doubt that Jerusalem is the favorite, but we are hoping for a surprise victory. All of our losses to Hapoel during the season came in close affairs and, despite the differences between the teams, we are hoping for a shock win."
If Rishon gets the better of Jerusalem, Goodes's team will only be one win away from a stunning championship. Despite being so near to a title, the coach refuses to get ahead of himself.
"We have a very difficult obstacle in the image of Jerusalem and we are only concentrating on that game. We will only start thinking of our next challenge after we beat them."