Sfairopoulos brings different coaching style to Maccabi TA

When the yellow-and-blue fell to Gran Canaria on Friday, everyone knew Spahija would be replaced, the only question was with who.

Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)
Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)
Ioannis Sfairopoulos is the new man in charge at Maccabi Tel Aviv, replacing Neven Spahija after a 1-6 Euroleague start. It was clear that Spahija was in trouble early when a number of players, including Scottie Wilbekin and Tarik Black, went down with injuries and other players were unable to fill their void as they lost to numerous foes at home and on the road.
When the yellow-and-blue fell to Gran Canaria on Friday, everyone knew Spahija would be replaced, the only question was with who. Names began floating around the continent as to who would be the new man on the sidelines and management settled on the ex-Olympiacos coach.
Sfairopoulos spent the last four seasons at the Piraeus-based club and tasted much success playing in two Euroleague Final Four Finals, while winning two Greek league titles. However, David Blatt, former Maccabi Tel Aviv and Cleveland Cavaliers coach, replaced him. When that happened, arguably the best available coach in Europe started the season out of a job before Maccabi came calling.
To help us understand what type of coach and style of play Sfairopoulos will bring to Tel Aviv, The Jerusalem Post spoke to Sotiris Milios from the Greece-based Sports DNA news outlet and Vaggelis Patas from the Greek All Star Basketball Magazine.
“At first look, Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Ioannis Sfairopoulos don’t seem to be a good fit because they are coming from two different basketball worlds. Maccabi means open, offensive basketball without limitations, quick tempo and a lot of freedom for the players,” explained Milios. “The Greek coach brings exactly the opposite. Limitations, first team options in everything, discipline, hard work, strong mentality, fighting spirit, one for all and all for one. He prefers organized basketball, with a slow tempo, based on pick and rolls and a really strong defense. During his days at Olympiacos, the Reds were first in defensive ratings almost every year and their games had the fewest possessions, so you have to expect a slower pace and a different approach to the games.”
Patas agreed that Sfairopoulos will certainly concentrate on the defensive side of the game, “He likes his team to play aggressive defense and not afraid to foul if necessary,” which is something we saw right off the bat in his first game on the Maccabi sidelines against Anadolu Efes.
One of the things Maccabi management must have been impressed with in Sfairopoulos’s resume is how he’s able to build a low budget, competitive and effective team, continued Milios. “Although his style is not beautiful, it’s effective. Olympiacos didn’t play attractive basketball during his coaching spell, but he played in two Euroleague finals, spending almost half the budget of CSKA or Real Madrid. He is very good in discovering hidden treasures and is an old-school coach focusing on the basics of the game. In essence, his strength being his style of play is his biggest weakness. When you are winning ugly, there’s no problem, but if you lose that way, well that’s another story.”
When it comes to building relationships with his players, Patas believes he will be able to work with them and get the best out of his new squad. “He had good relationships with his players at Olympiacos.” While Milios added, “He is strict and clear and believes in roles and hierarchy. The players respect him a lot and he earned that respect while the ‘team’ is above all. If you don’t want to sacrifice for the team, then you’ll be out of there no matter who you are.”
Ultimately Sfairopoulos’s biggest challenge this season will be trying to find a way to turn around a disappointing Euroleague season to date. “He will bring energy and try to shake things up,” commented Milios. “He didn’t put together the roster and inherited the players, but I think that he will slowly try to change the team’s style, tempo, mentality and tendencies. He will teach his new players how to win and I’m sure that with players like Michael Roll, Alex Tyus and Tarik Black he will have guys who will play an important role. Wilbekin can be the same as Vassilis Spanoulis, whom he had at Olympiacos. I also believe that he will want to bring in some role players who can mainly play defense.”
The author, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents http://sportsrabbi.com/ - Twitter @thesportsrabbi; email sportsrabbi9@gmail.com