Mac TA flying high ahead of Vitoria visit

With new-look roster beginning to gel, yellow-and-blue aims for first 2-0 Euroleague start in five years.

Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Pierre Jackson looks to build on last week’s sensational Euroleague debut for the team when the yellow-and-blue hosts Baskonia Vitoria in continental action tonight at Yad Eliyahu Arena. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Pierre Jackson looks to build on last week’s sensational Euroleague debut for the team when the yellow-and-blue hosts Baskonia Vitoria in continental action tonight at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv could hardly be entering Thursday’s Euroleague home opener feeling any better.
After undergoing a complete overhaul during the summer following a couple of bitterly disappointing campaigns, with new head coach Neven Spahija only bringing back young center Itay Segev from last season, there were as many question marks as ever surrounding Maccabi’s prospects.
Winning the preseason Winner Cup helped settle some nerves, but it is the three double-digit victories in BSL and Euroleague action that have got the yellow- and-blue brimming with confidence ahead of Thursday’s clash with Baskonia Vitoria at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
A comfortable 14-point victory over Hapoel Eilat in Maccabi’s BSL opener was followed by an encouraging 17-point triumph at Brose Bamberg in Euroleague play. An 80-61 win against Bnei Herzliya at Yad Eliyahu on Sunday was significant mainly due to new guard Norris Cole finally making his mark with 17 points in 20 minutes.
The 29-year-old, who won two NBA titles with the Miami Heat in his first two seasons in the league and has played a total of 360 NBA games over the previous six seasons, was limited for much of the preseason due to injuries and only had six points in both the BSL and Euroleague openers.
Maccabi looks to be gelling nicely under Spahija’s guidance and a win against Baskonia will give it a 2-0 start in the Euroleague for the first time since 2012/13.
The star of the show against Bamberg was guard Pierre Jackson, who inspired the team to a game-clinching 19-0 run in the fourth quarter, ending the night with 27 points (5-of-5 from three-point range), nine assists and seven rebounds.
Maccabi entered the final 10 minutes trailing by four points (59-55), but Jackson would score 14 points and register four assists in the fourth frame alone to give the yellow-and-blue an important win to start the season.
The 26-year-old earned MVP of the Round honors in only his seventh Euroleague appearance, and first since 2014. He put up a performance index rating of 41, the highest by a Maccabi player since 2008.
“I didn’t really know the game style they play in Europe,” Jackson told the Euroleague website about his first experiences in the competition three years ago.
“I wasn’t accustomed to it, it’s totally different basketball. I’m almost three or four years older now, my game has matured.
I’m in a great position now... if I go to a club and the coach has confidence in my game, I do pretty well. Hopefully I keep that confidence in this club and coach and hopefully we’ll all be successful.”
Maccabi and Baskonia will be meeting for the 25th time since 2002, with the Spaniards having a slight 13-11 edge.
Baskonia suffered a 75-64 defeat at Olympiacos last week and arrived in Tel Aviv without the injured Jordan McRae and Patricio Garino.
While its three wins have all come by double figures, Maccabi will be eyeing a significant improvement in the way it starts games on Thursday. The yellow-and-blue trailed for much of the contest against Herzliya before surging to the victory with a 32-14 fourth quarter. It was a similar story against Bamberg, with Maccabi outscoring the Germans 33-12 in the final 10 minutes after entering the fourth frame trailing by four points.
“We have to play hard from the first moment,” said Jackson. “The fans pushed us to the win against Herzliya and I hope that will also be the case against Baskonia.”
Katash unveils his initial roster New Israel national team coach Oded Katash announced his first 24-man roster on Wednesday, leaving out Yotam Halperin, Guy Pnini and Yogev Ohayon to effectively end their careers with the blue-and-white.
Golden State Warriors forward Omri Casspi was also not included as he will not be available to play in the World Cup 2019 qualifiers next month and next February.
Israel faces Greece, Great Britain and Estonia in Group H, with the top three to advance to the second round. Israel hosts Estonia in its opener on November 24 and visits Greece three days later.
Katash lived up to his word and significantly lowered the average age in the roster, with his call ups including 19-year-old Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Yovel Zoosman, 20-year-old Hapoel Holon guard Tamir Blatt and 22-year-old Hapoel Tel Aviv forward Tomer Ginat.
On TV: Euroleague regular season: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Baskonia Vitoria (live on Sport5 at 9 p.m.)