Maccabi Tel Aviv joined the airport parade this week as one player after the next landed in Israel for the upcoming 2023/24 season. One thing that was clear as day is that the yellow-and-blue is back and better than ever.
The Israeli league champ made some cosmetic changes to its roster for the campaign ahead and hopes that those moves will not only keep it at the top of the heap in the Holy Land but will be able to help them take the team to the next step in the Euroleague.
Last season, head coach Oded Katash’s team succumbed to Monaco in a tight five-game quarterfinal series which was ultimately decided on home-court advantage. With the new recruits, it’s clear that Maccabi will want to do better and punch its ticket to the Final Four for the first time since it last won the crown back in 2014.
With a first season in Tel Aviv under their belts, the stars of the show - Lorenzo Baldwin and Wade Baldwin - returned for year two, rested and ready to go as they were both greeted by swarms of Maccabi fans at Ben-Gurion Airport to the delight of the duo.
Both were serenaded with song, dance, flags flowing in the air and optimism abound that this will be the year that the yellow-and-blue gets to the promised land.
Is this the year Maccabi Tel Aviv goes all the way?
As the players stepped into the arrivals area at the airport, The Jerusalem Post was able to get their first words and thoughts about the excitement oozing from the supporters, along with the expectations, new faces and even about a new addition to the coaching staff.
”I didn’t get a chance to do this last year so this is a pretty big deal and amazing, I appreciate the love,” Brown said after experiencing the scene for the first time due to the fact that he returned late for the preseason last year after having been an instrumental piece of the Spain National Team capturing the European title.
“I’m excited for the new year and excited to see the new guys, see some old faces as well. I’m just ready to get things going.”
Baldwin, on the other hand, arrived as a veteran of the airport arrival but nonetheless was thrilled with the fans chanting his name to the awe of the other visitors to the Holy Land who couldn’t believe the scene that had descended on Ben-Gurion.
“I expected this as it’s my second year,” Baldwin began. “It’s a tradition and the Israeli fan base is always doing this and showing the love and support for their team. It’s good to be back and it’s time to go to work.”
Maccabi brought in a number of new players that Katash will be happy to get acclimated to the squad as soon as possible, while both Baldwin and Brown feel that they may be the right personnel to help the team succeed.
“I think we got Euroleague experienced guys,” Baldwin said. “Tamir Blatt has two years of experience, Jasiel Rivero has two years, James Webb was at Valencia last year, a respectable ACB Spanish Club. There’s also Antonius Cleveland who is coming up from Eilat and it’s a big jump for him. He is a great player and then we have the returning guys. I’m happy that we got the majority of the lockerroom back and we’re ready to get this thing rolling.”
“The few new pieces we have I think that they will be a great fit for our team and it’s just about meshing. That’s what we had last year and I think that momentum will carry on into this season as well,” Brown noted.
Baldwin also looked ahead to the goals for the new season.
When you finish the year off with a championship and you get back for the next season it’s exciting and we want to try to do it again. This time we want to try and get three titles. As for the Euroleague, we’re trying to make the top 8 first and then see what happens.”
“There’s still room to grow, room for improvement.”
Over the summer veteran Israeli forward Guy Pnini decided to retire as an active player, but couldn’t totally step away from the game as he moved into an assistant coach role in place of the departed Doron Perkins. The Brown-Baldwin duo both had big smiles on their faces when they spoke about who was going to be putting them to work.
“I’m excited about what Guy does,” Brown said. “He was always a coach from the jump and rooting for us on the side, giving us little pointers to do now and then. He has an opportunity to show what he can do as a real coach this year and take it to the next level.”
“Ah man, that’s going to be a smile and a hug waiting for Guy,” said Baldwin with a huge grin on his face.
Brown, who represented Spain at last year’s EuroBasket his first since obtaining a Spanish passport, did not take part in the World Cup as he recovered from some nagging injuries. But that doesn’t mean he’s not excited to see how his adopted national team will fare without him, while he also made a prediction about Maccabi’s Euroleague season ahead.
“I always root for Spain, ever since last year. As for the winner of the World Cup,my prediction is Spain. For Maccabi – a championship. For sure, we’re trying to take it to the next level. We fell a little bit short last year, but this year should be better.”