Yogev Ohayon 390.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Had it entirely been up to Yogev Ohayon, he wouldn’t have been at Maccabi Tel Aviv this season.
You could assemble an almost endless list of Israeli players who arrived at Maccabi with expectations to become the next Miki Berkowitz, only to see their dreams cruelly crushed with a couple of months of bench warming.
Ohayon was rightfully worried about becoming the next name on that list of largely forgotten players.
The 24-year-old Israeli guard is one of those players who were earmarked for greatness since his early teens.
Ever since he led Hapoel Galil Elyon’s youth team to the Israeli championship with a stunning victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2004, it seemed that it would only be a matter of time until he would eventually suit up for the yellow-and- blue.
However, the route to the top took longer than most expected and he may never have played for Maccabi had coach David Blatt not gone out of his way to pursuade him that he would be given a fair chance in Tel Aviv.
Ohayon had initially agreed to a three-year deal with Maccabi, but began to get butterflies, and for good reason, following the signings of Jordan Farmar and Theo Papaloukas to a backcourt which already included Jon Scheyer, Devin Smith and Tal Burstein.
Hapoel Jerusalem coach Oded Katash tried until the very last moment to convince Ohayon to stay in the capital where he spent the previous two seasons, warning him against his inevitable fate at Maccabi.
However, four phone calls from Blatt in one day convinced Ohayon to put pen to paper on the deal he had previously agreed to with the addition of a clause that would allow him to leave if matters wouldn’t work out, as many were predicting.
Ohayon is only four months into his three-season contract, but it is already safe to say that the clause was completely unnecessary.
Not only has Ohayon proved that he belongs at Maccabi, but he has established himself as one of the team’s most important players in a trying season.
Playing in the Adriatic League as well as the BSL and Euroleague has been difficult for all involved at Maccabi, but while the busy schedule is a migraine headache for Blatt, it presented the likes of Ohayon with extra opportunities to prove their worth.
Blatt gave Ohayon plenty of minutes in local league play and in the Adriatic League at the start of the campaign, and despite failing to make a contribution in his first two Euroleague games, it wasn’t long before the guard also became a significant part in Maccabi’s rotation in the encounters that really mattered.
Ohayon has played in all 15 of Maccabi’s Euroleague games to date, starting in 10 of them while averaging just over 18 minutes per contest.
Despite the star status he has held for almost his entire life, Ohayon has always been a hard worker and his enthusiasm to earn his minutes on the defensive end of the floor immediately made him a Blatt favorite. Ohayon flourished beside Farmar, but just as almost everyone thought he would struggle to even get off the bench at Maccabi, there was also a near consensus that he would suffer following the American’s return to the NBA at the start of December.
But Ohayon has instead gone from strength to strength.
His averages in the BSL are far from impressive (8.4 ppg, 4.6 apg, 2.6 rpg), not to mention his numbers in the Euroleague (4.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.7 apg), but Ohayon’s contribution goes far beyond what can be seen in the box score.
His intensity on the defensive end is contagious, and while he may not stuff the stat sheet, he creates openings for his teammates with his quick first step.
Ohayon always puts the team first and in recent weeks he has begun to understand that sharing the ball less might actually sometimes benefit Maccabi more.
Ohayon has scored in double-figures in Tel Aviv’s last three BSL games, leading the team to its past two wins over Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa with clutch baskets.
He is even beginning to master the long-range jump-shot which has always been his biggest weakness.
With the constant changes in Maccabi’s roster this season, starting with Jeremy Pargo’s unexpected departure last summer followed by Farmar’s short stay and Demond Mallet’s late arrival, Ohayon has carved out a crucial role for himself, becoming a fan favorite.
Maccabi is already making plans for next season and Ohayon is a significant part of them.
And to think he was on the verge of turning down Maccabi for another season in Jerusalem.firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Allon on Twitter: @AllonSinai