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Maccabi Tel Aviv has earned a relatively easy start in its upcoming Euroleague campaign and will face Turkish outfit Efes Pilsen, coached by former Maccabi coach David Blatt.
The yellow-and-blue managed to avoid the tough Groups A and C in the draw held Saturday afternoon in Jesolo, Italy. Tel Aviv manager Tzvika Sherf and team coach Oded Katash were in attendance.
The reigning Israeli champion was drawn in Group B, with Spanish side Malaga being picked as the top seeded team. French side Le Mans and Cibona Zagreb followed suit, with the Maccabi officials breathing a sigh of relief.
Blatt has a long history in Maccabi Tel Aviv. He served as head coach for the yellow-an-blue for two seasons and was Pini Gershon's assistant during the team's successful run a few seasons ago.
"It will be interesting to take on Blatt," Katash told reporters. "But the really important draw is the one before the Top-16. It doesn't matter in which group we play now, as Maccabi Tel Aviv is always expected to qualify.
"We managed to avoid the big teams this time, but I'm sure we'll have to deal with them later this season."
Looking forward to the return of the Israelis, Katash added: "We'll be seeing some familiar faces. Blatt will visit Nokia Arena with Efes Pilsen and Raviv Limonad has signed for Le Mans so we'll have to keep an eye on him. But the toughest team in my opinion will be Spanish side Malaga."
"These teams are still in the building process and I can't judge the quality of the draw,"
Tel Aviv's veteran swingman Tal Burstein said he was looking forward to getting back to Euroleague action after missing most of last season with a longterm injury.
"Malaga and Efes Pilsen have huge budgets and they will probably be our main rivals in the first stage. David [Blatt] is an excellent coach and I'm looking forward to meeting him," Burstein said.
Maccabi Tel Aviv has made major changes in its roster over the past few weeks. The additions of former NBA players Marcus Fizer and Terrence Morris have given the team's fans a reason to be optimistic. According to club president Shimon Mizrahi, more than 5,000 season tickets have already been sold.
Pini Gershon's Olympiakos was drawn in Group A, along with CSKA Moscow and Tau Ceramica. Group C has already been labeled as "The Group of Death", with top teams Barcelona, Real Madrid, Partizan Belgrade, Fenerbahce and current Euroleague champion Panathinaikos looking to advance.
Israel also has two representatives in the ULEB Cup. Israeli Final Four runner-up Hapoel Jerusalem will be joined by Hapoel Galil Elyon, which finished third in the league.
The competition has been expanded to 54 teams (nine groups with six teams each) this season, with a new Final-Eight format.
Dan Shamir's team was drawn in a relatively challenging Group 1, along with some potentially tough opponents. French side Strasbourg, with its Israeli star sniper Afik Nissim, will face the reds from Jerusalem. Russian outfit Unics Kazan is also expected to challenge for qualification.
Galil Elyon will have its work cut out in Group E. The group's top team is expected to be Dynamo Moscow, one of Russia's most dominant teams.
The team recently signed former Maccabi Tel Aviv big-man Jamie Arnold. Galil will also have to overcome Belgian power Antwerp Giants in order to advance.
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