Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomed Alba Berlin to Israel this week for a Euroleague clash and that meant Israelis Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman - who are in the midst of their second season with the German club - returned home to grace the Yad Eliyahu court in front of friends, family and fans.
Both Blatt and Zoosman are feeling more and more comfortable with the club and under second-year head coach Israel Gonzalez and have really flourished outside the borders of the Holy Land. The Jerusalem Post had the chance to sit down with Blatt to talk about his time so far in Germany, the opportunity to play in the Euroleague, his father David’s current role at Maccabi and what it’s like to have to play against one of his former coaches who knows him all too well.
Playing against the old coach
“To be able to face Oded Katash at Maccabi Tel Aviv is an unbelievable experience,” began Blatt, who won a pair of Israel State Cups together with Katash at Hapoel Jerusalem. “Oded and I have been through a lot and won titles together. We have had wonderful years together and we are close and it will be an exciting game for both of us.”
The 25-year-old Blatt started off his professional career when he signed a four-year deal with Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2014. After spending the first year of the contract in the Leumit League, the guard began to make waves in the top division with the Reds where he became an All-Star in 2017. The Netanya native then moved to Hapoel Holon for a season where he captured his first Israel State Cup under coach Dan Shamir in 2018 and then featured for Hapoel Jerusalem where he won two more cups in three seasons before taking his talents abroad for the first time in his career.
In his debut season in the Euroleague, Blatt put up modest numbers, averaging five points and 3.5 assists in a shade over 15 minutes per game. This year has seen Blatt flourish with Alba scoring 9.1 points and dishing out 4.8 assists in under 22 minutes per contest.
“I feel really, really good with Alba Berlin,” an exuberant Blatt said. “The first year was a big adjustment, coming into a new city, with new weather and everything was new outside of basketball. As for the basketball side, playing in a new system and having new teammates was a big adjustment and it took me time to adjust, and it took them time to get to know me as well.
“After a few good months, I felt mentally strong and I was not giving up and I was staying with it and reached a good turning point. I began to play more and better as well and it was great being part of the team and winning the championship and the cup in what was a great ending. This year, everything was so familiar and it felt like home as I am continuing where I stopped the year before. It’s incredible being on this wave and I am feeling great with my situation.”
Last season, Blatt’s first in the Euroleague, saw his team finish the campaign with a 12-16 record, good for 10th place, as it seemed that Alba was making positive strides in continental play while being a power in domestic competition.
This season, Gonzalez’s club is 13-1 and in first place in German League play while it started the Euroleague season off with a 3-0 record. However, Berlin went through a tough stretch where it lost 12 games in a row and is now 6-13 overall. Blatt shed some light on the current situation and why his team has struggled.
“At the beginning of the losing streak we had a lot of injuries, guys were out and it took them time to get back into playing shape. There were a lot of issues with the availability of players and this could have messed up our rhythm. The Euroleague is the highest level in Europe and there were a couple of games where we fell. I hope it will turn around.”
Before moving to play with a team in the Euroleague, Blatt had gotten his feet wet in European play as he participated in the Basketball Champions League for his three seasons with Jerusalem, as well as one year with Holon. In 2019, Blatt won the BCL’s “Best Young Player Award” as the guard really made his mark on the continental map, making the possibility of playing in the Euroleague that more realistic.
“For sure, it was my biggest dream. When I was 10 years old, I set my goals very high and I did everything in my power to reach them. I am living my dream.”
Blatt’s time in Berlin has also been that much more fun due to the fact he has been able to share the floor and the experience with Zoosman, who has been not only a good friend for many years but also a good teammate.
Zoosman already had Euroleague experience
“Zoos” had a bit of a different journey to Alba having already played in the Euroleague with Maccabi Tel Aviv, whereas Blatt was a Euroleague rookie when they both arrived in Germany. However, Blatt feels that this has not been an issue whatsoever for the pair of competitors.
“We don’t feel the difference and we are in a great place together at an organization with unbelievable staff and teammates. We are really happy here, we are very close friends and have each other’s backs and speak Hebrew all the time. I don’t know how I would have felt if he wasn’t here with me the first year. It’s a huge difference that he is here and I am happy we are together, which is something we can take with us for the rest of our lives.”
Last week, Blatt had the opportunity to share the floor with a European giant in Milos Teodosic when Alba played at Bologna and throughout the past two seasons the Israeli floor general has tipped off against many continental greats, making each one of these an unforgettable learning experience.
“Every time you get a chance to play a legend it is a great experience. They were the guys I wanted to be when I was growing up and I wanted to learn from them and compete against them.”
Blatt’s father, David, who is battling multiple sclerosis, returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv this past summer in the role of the chairman of the professional committee and external consultant, which is definitely something that has brought a big smile to Tamir’s face.
“It feels good that he wants to stay connected to basketball and I am happy for him that he is so passionate about work despite not being in the best physical condition. I am happy for him and I want him to be happy.”
As for the possibility of Blatt himself one day playing for the club that his father once coached and with whom he won the 2014 Euroleague title, the guard markedly said that at this point in his young career anything and everything is open.
“I leave all the options open because you never know where your career will take you. Every team is an option.”
With Blatt continuing to make strides as each day goes by, he feels that he will also keep trying to be the best version possible of himself.
“I don’t want to give myself a ceiling and I want to try to continue my story, enjoy every day and get to new highs every year. That is what I will continue to do.”