Everyone loves a good, old-fashioned showdown.
Whether it be player versus player, or player versus coach, there are very few fans and competitors who don’t enjoy what for them may be the ultimate challenge.
That’s exactly what we’re going to get on Friday when Maccabi Tel Aviv and star guard Lorenzo Brown head to Bologna, where one of the great head coaches of our time in Sergio Scariolo will look to shut him down.
This will be the first time that the two will cross paths after having won the European Championship back in the summer with the Spain National Team and both will be up to the challenge.
However, regardless as to how the week ends for Maccabi Tel Aviv, it was already able to win its first Euroleague road game of the season when it knocked off Olimpia Milano 77-71 on Tuesday night in Italy. The yellow-and-blue had been down 57-47 with just a few minutes remaining in the third quarter, but ripped off a 12-0 spurt to close out the frame and then went on to an 18-12 fourth-quarter run to take the win.
Maccabi head coach Oded Katash’s victory over Etorre Messina and his Israeli assistant Dan Shamir’s squad was the Italian side’s ninth loss in a row in what was a raucous arena in southern Milan. Fans packed into the Forum that hosted the yellow-and-blue’s previous Euroleague championship in 2014, to support their team despite not only their recent poor run of results but also while a prime World Cup semifinal clash between Argentina and Croatia was taking place.
No matter though, as soon as Messina walked into the arena, the crowd gave the bench boss a standing ovation as he walked from the tunnel to the sidelines.
As Maccabi came out to warm up roughly an hour and a quarter prior to tip off, the pressure from the players, staff and management was in the air. Katash knew that he would need to find a way to win this matchup to quiet his critics while also getting the road trip off to a good start.
It’s never easy to win on the road, and Maccabi came in 0-5 in such situations this year. As the defeats piled up, everyone surrounding the team felt the need, the pressure and the mental frustration to find a way to come away from the last-place team’s home with a victory.
While most people come to Italy to shop or to watch soccer, Maccabi will be doing pretty much none of that on this extended trip.
When the final buzzer sounded on Tel Aviv’s victory over Milano, there seemed to have been a huge weight lifted off the entire Maccabi franchise’s shoulders. Whether it was Shimon Mizrachi, who has spent more than 50 years as the chairman of the club, shaking my hand for what seemed to an eternity which was followed by another hand shake that went on forever with game MVP Roman Sorkin, or Katash waiting to go on TV for his postgame comments and sighing heavily with a huge sense of relief, this victory gave Maccabi not only a win, but a chance to really put the losing streak behind them and look ahead to the upcoming games with a clean sheet.
In the locker room, Brown spoke about the relieving victory, and what is yet to come.
“We know we’re better than that on the road, we need to keep going.”
Scariolo and Bologna
Brown also turned his attention to the duel with Scariolo and Bologna on Friday.
“I’m excited. I’m sure he’s excited as well. I haven’t seen him since [the summer], so I’m just looking forward to what he has planned – I’m ready for the challenge.”
Scariolo also noted that he is super excited for the matchup against his former star.
“We know each other very well it’s going to be no surprises. Lorenzo’s an unbelievable player. Last summer he made another big step forward in terms of really getting into the status of Euroleague superstar. He is actually an incredible player. Can score, can make other players score. Top player. Absolutely. First-level player. Good offensively, good defensively, good passing, good steals, good shooting. I mean I’m really happy with the choice I made last summer, I think he was a big part of our team.
“I love him personally. He’s an unbelievable person. He gave us so many proofs of commitment, really of desire to help the team of generosity and of unselfishness, I would love to see him. I hope to have coffee with him and talk about next summer. On Friday, he is definitely going to be a big pain in our a—.”
While it’s a normal occurrence for American hoopsters to represent another country in international competition, it was surprising to not only see Spain bring in a foreign national, but also that the players would be Brown.
“It was just a shot in the dark,” the guard said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. In the end, it was a very humbling experience for me and for those guys as well, because I’m new, you know, the situation was different for them and me. We all accepted it and we made it work out for the best.”
In fact, one of his Spanish teammates Xabi Lopez-Arostegui spoke about what Brown meant to the team’s success.
“Lorenzo is a great guy, very calm and very humble. He is very talented basketball-wise and he came in the summer to help us and he played amazing. But even if he didn’t play amazing, he was one of us, part of the family and I think he enjoyed the time with us. He is super skilled and super talented and he knows how to play basketball for the team and he loves basketball also.”
Brown’s Maccabi teammate Sorkin took it a step further when talking about Brown’s contributions after the Milano win.
“He is our leader. Every night he gives us his best and we need to come and help him – I’m happy that today we did.”
As the big showdown looms, nothing but a win will suffice for Brown as he was trying to put aside the club’s first road victory of the season and move on to the task at hand.
“We still have more games to go. We were waiting on that one to break the curse. We still aren’t satisfied.”