Lior Eliyahu 248.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon is confident of his team's success in the Euroleague regular season and is already looking ahead to the Top 16 following Wednesday's preliminary draw in Barcelona.
Maccabi was drawn in Group C together with last season's Euroleague runner-up CSKA Moscow, Tau Vitoria and its new acquisition from Tel Aviv Lior Eliyahu, Virtus Roma, Olimpija Ljubljana and a final team still to be determined by two rounds of qualifying to begin in late September.
"We need to progress past this round and we probably will," said Gershon, who has guided the team to the continental title game in all five of the seasons he started on the Maccabi sidelines.
"Far more important to me is our opponents in the Top 16. I always say that I prefer to be play the strong teams at the start of the season, so I hope CSKA and Tau are strong."
Eliyahu, who left Maccabi for Tau last week after three seasons in Tel Aviv, will be back at the Nokia Arena far quicker than he had hoped, much like Yotam Halperin and Nikola Vujcic, who faced Maccabi last season soon after they left the club for Greece's Olympiacos.
"I hoped this wouldn't happen," Eliyahu said. "It's strange, but there is not much I can do about it. I hope the fans understand the situation. It will be weird for me that those who cheered me on for so many years will give me a hostile reception."
The 10-game regular season begins on October 21 and lasts until January 14, followed by the Top 16 (January 27 to March 11) and the best-of-five quarterfinal playoffs (March 23 to April 7). The season culminates at the 2009 Final Four, to be held May 7 to 9 in Paris.
Maccabi will have a completely new look this season.
Promising Polish center Maciej Lampe and David Bluthenthal have already signed and will likely soon be followed by several more additions.
Twenty-seven-year-old American forward Chuck Eidson is set to become one of the new team leaders after starring for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in the past two seasons.
Tel Aviv's new playmaker is expected to be Andrew Wisniewski, 27, who played for Spartak St. Petersburg last season, with Alan Anderson, 26, hoping to account for much of the team's scoring this year, assuming he isn't signed by an NBA team in the summer.
Stephane Lasme will battle under the baskets for the side, with Yaniv Green, Raviv Limonad and of course Derek Sharp, currently the only three players from last season's roster to definitely continue at the club.
"There's no doubt it's a very interesting draw for us," Green said. "Playing against Eliyahu with his new team will be exciting. It's weird to play against a player you played with for so many years. CSKA is one of the top teams in the Euroleague in the last years, and though some say they have gotten weaker, it's still a top team in Europe. Obviously we cannot underestimate the teams from the lower seeds.
"Our goal is obviously to make it to the Top 16 from the best position."
CSKA has been to seven straight Final Fours and four consecutive Euroleague titles games and, on paper at least, is the strongest team in the group. However, it will be intriguing to see how the team will be effected by the departure of coach Ettore Messina, replaced by former assistant Evgeniy Pashutin, and several roster changes.
"The group is very strong," Pashutin said. "First of all, I will mention Maccabi, which won the Euroleague twice in the past six years and is constantly playing in the Final Fours. Tel Aviv has Pini Gershon back as a head coach and sets the highest goals again."
Tau, coached by Dusko Ivanovic, saw its run of consecutive Final Four appearances come to an end at four last season, and despite the departures of Igor Rakocevic and Pete Mickeal will still be very strong this season.
Roma, which reached the Top 16 last season, Ljubljana, now coached by European basketball legend Jure Zdovc, and the final Group C team to eventually come out of the qualifiers won't go down without a fight, but Maccabi will be disappointed not to defeat every one of these teams both home and away.
Hapoel Jerusalem was drawn to face Roanne of France in the Eurocup's qualifying round.
Jerusalem, which will play on the road in the first leg on October 20 and will host the return leg a week later, will advance to the group stage with a win and will play in the EuroChallenge should it lose.
The Eurocup organizers refused to enter Hapoel Galil/Gilboa into the draw despite the fact the team was promised by the BSL that it would replace league runner-up Maccabi Haifa in the group stage after the latter forfeited its place.
Galil will now only play in the competition if another team pulls out, which is a distinct possibility.