David Blatt has not only built a winning team at Maccabi Tel Aviv this season,
he has revolutionized the entire franchise.
While his main responsibility
as coach was to assemble a roster strong enough to take Maccabi back to the
Euroleague Final Four for the first time since 2008, the 52-year-old
American-born Israeli has also achieved something far more significant,
regardless of the result the yellow-and-blue record in Friday night’s semifinal
against Real Madrid.
Unrealistic expectations coupled with dysfunctional
management saw Israel’s leading sporting brand hit rock bottom last season, but
just a year later, Maccabi has rebounded as if previous head coach Pini Gershon
never embarrassed the club at Madison Square Garden and former team manager Moni
Fanan had never committed suicide.
Maccabi has not only excelled on
court, but it has done so in a captivating manner, while also strengthening its
Israeli identity to once more become the local neutrals’ favorite.
this has been led by Blatt’s example, and even with the most crucial stage of
the campaign only to begin this weekend, the coach already feels that this has
been a “great season for Maccabi.”
“The results have been above and
beyond, even off the charts successful,” Blatt told The Jerusalem Post
the Final Four.
“Even more importantly, when I look at the response to
the team I feel that we have really accomplished our main goal, which was to
reconnect with the fans.”
Blatt, who returned to Israel last summer after
six seasons of coaching abroad, explained why this Tel Aviv team has attracted
so many accolades, although he admitted that its immediate success had even
caught him by surprise.
“The fact that this is a blue-collar team makes
it easy to identify with,” said Blatt, who was a key contributor to Maccabi’s
remarkable success during the first half of last decade as an assistant to
Gershon for three seasons (1999/2000, 2000/2001, 2003/2004), as well as a head
coach for two years (2001/2002, 2002/2003).
"It is not a team that on
paper had big names and great stars like the 2003/2004 team. It was a work in
progress and there was a process involved. Blood, sweat and tears turned into
very attractive and captivating basketball.
“Honestly, I didn’t envision
My timetable was two years. I really thought that it would take us
that amount of time to fix what had gone wrong in several previous years. I
didn’t think it was going to happen as quickly as it did.
underway and we got everybody on board and found that we have got a lot of guys
who are unselfish and are very motivated and team orientated and things
There were many question marks hanging over the
roster put together at Maccabi last summer even before the season began, and the
doubts only intensified after it was outplayed in a 94-78 defeat to Caja Laboral
Vitoria in its Euroleague opener.
However, Maccabi went on to gel quicker
than anyone had predicted and soon played better than the sum of its parts,
winning nine consecutive continental games to advance to the Top 16 before
eventually thrashing Vitoria twice in a row on its way to a 3-1 quarterfinal
“When you win nine straight games, some by huge margins and
some in the last seconds, than you understand that you have the ability to win
in different ways and under different circumstances and that shows that you have
depth and quality in your team,” Blatt said.
“This team has been one of
the hardest working teams I have been involved in. It gives you confidence that
you are not going to get outworked by people. I think that is part of the
minimum standard of being a successful team – that your effort level is there
day to day as well as in games. It means someone is going to have to come out
and play really well to beat us.”
Blatt, who originally moved to Israel
almost 30 years ago after playing for the American basketball team in the 1981
Maccabiah, is concerned about the month-long layoff his team has had since the
Vitoria series, but is still optimistic about his team’s chances of winning a
sixth European title in Barcelona.
“I don’t think it is realistic to
label us as favorites. I don’t think that there is a breakaway favorite in this
Final Four,” he said.
“It’s not a good thing for us that the series
against Vitoria ended a month ago. It is the same scenario we had before our two
Euroleague losses to Vitoria and the defeat to Barcelona in the Top 16. But it
is what it is.
There wasn’t much we could do about it because teams in
Europe are midseason and practice games are hard to come by.
“I hope we
can overcome this with practice and mental preparation. I think that when you
get this far and beat the quality teams that we beat to get here you should have
“We are maybe not as strong as some of the other teams in the
Final Four, particularly with Doron Perkins going down. On the other hand, if
you look at our statistical numbers and our record we are one of the better
teams, and when you take into account that we advanced to the Final Four without
home-court advantage you know that we have the quality to go all the way.”