The only thing bigger than David Blatt’s smile on Monday morning was the
uncertainty hanging over his new team.
Blatt officially began his second
tenure as Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach at Hadar Yosef on Monday, holding his
first training session with the 13-man roster he will have to work miracles with
in order to achieve the unrealistic goals set by a spoiled fan-base and an
For the fifth straight year, Maccabi has gone
through a complete off-season overhaul, bringing in seven new players and
signing its sixth coach in just four years.
The addition of Blatt was
Maccabi’s most adroit move of the summer, but there’s serious doubt as to
whether even he can turn a largely unproven and mediocre group into a
leading-force once more in European basketball.
After reaching the
Euroleague Final Four in seven of nine seasons, Tel Aviv has failed to make
continental basketball’s elite stage in the past two campaigns and this year, as
well, that looks to remain an improbable target.
The inexcusable failure
to win the Israeli BSL championship in two of the past three seasons, coupled
with the growing frustration among the club’s supporters, led Maccabi’s
management to invest heavily in recruiting the best Israeli talent
The addition of Lior Eliyahu, Tal Burstein and Elishay Kadir
to a squad which already included David Bluthenthal, Guy Pnini, Yaniv Green and
Derrick Sharp gives Blatt a very strong local base to work with.
the yellow-andblue continues to be out-bid for the services of top foreign
talent by European basketball’s big spenders, leaving the club to take several
otherwise unwanted risks in its hope of achieving success.
survives from last season and will be expected to show a significant
improvement. Doron Perkins is the only other American remaining from Pini
Gershon’s team, but he faces a far greater role this season as Tel Aviv’s new
Sharing the point-guard duties with Perkins will be
22- year-old American Jeremy Pargo, who helped Hapoel Gilboa/Galil to the league
title in his first professional season.
Blatt hopes the talented, albeit
unpredictable, duo can handle the fast and furious pace of his offensive
However, the new coach will be even more concerned with the
production from the team’s new foreign big-men.
Richard Hendrix was a
useful player for Spain’s CB Granada last season, but the 23-yearold 2.03-meter
forward lacks experience at the top level.
The same also applies to Jeff
Foote, a 2.14 m center, who signed his first professional contract with Maccabi
and may still be loaned out by the time the season begins.
And who can
forget Maccabi’s biggest summer gamble of all, quite literally, the signing of
Greece center Sofoklis Schortsanitis? The 25-year-old has an almost boundless
potential, but he never quite realized it in four seasons at Olympiacos,
struggling with his weight (around 150-kilograms on good days) and strict
Blatt will find a way to speak to big Sofo’s heart, but it
remains to be seen whether the hefty hoopster is capable of becoming an
unstoppable force under the basket.
In 19 Euroleague games for the Greek
powerhouse last season, Sofo averaged 7.2 points and 2.5 rebounds and in 71
games in the competition he has never played more than 26 minutes. He averaged
12 points and 4.8 rebounds for Greece in the recent World Championships, but yet
again was on court for just over 20 minutes per game.
If Maccabi is to
compete with the continent’s best, it will need its Greek center to play far
longer, something which simply might not be feasible.
For the time being,
at least, Blatt is all smiles and is extremely optimistic.
“It is so much
fun to return home,” a beaming Blatt said.
“It is true that Maccabi is a
club which often lacks patience, but that comes with the territory. It doesn’t
scare me. We are here to work and hopefully we can achieve success as quickly as
Blatt added that he is now a far better coach than he was when
he was ousted from the head-coaching position at Maccabi in the summer of 2003
after two relatively impressive seasons, learning from the mistakes he had
The problem is, little has changed at Maccabi, which inexplicably
continues to repeat past mistakes time and time again.
Blatt claims that
everyone at the club understands that this season is the start of a longterm
process, but he too surely realizes that only immediate success for Maccabi will
keep him smiling in the long firstname.lastname@example.org