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After Sofoklis Schortsanitis (L) failed his medical, Maccabi Tel Aviv quickly brought in Aleks Maric (R) to fill the big void left by the Greek center. .(Photo by: ADI AVISHAI)
Yellow-and-blue moves on without Sofo
Sofo arrived in Israel last week for the start of training, but he will not travel with his teammates to Germany after failing his medical with an multitude of ailments.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will depart for Bonn, Germany, on Friday for a week-long training camp without center Sofoklis Schortsanitis, whose future at the club has been thrown into disarray.

Sofo arrived in Israel last week for the start of training, but he will not travel with his teammates to Germany after failing his medical with a multitude of ailments.

The 29-year-old Greek giant was diagnosed with high blood pressure, returned around 15 kilograms overweight and will have to undergo surgery to treat glaucoma from which he has suffered for several years.

Schortsanitis is expected to be out for between two to three months, with his original $800,000 contract being void as he failed the medical. Maccabi agreed to hand Sofo a much-reduced short-term contract estimated at around 10 percent of his previous deal.

Should Sofo make a full recovery he will be given a new improved deal, but with the center out for at least the next two months and with no guarantee that he will return to his best, Maccabi moved quickly to bring in cover.

The reigning Euroleague champion signed Australian-Serbian veteran Aleks Maric to a three-month deal on Tuesday and he already arrived in Israel late Wednesday night to join his new team ahead of its training camp.

The 29-year-old Maric was one of the best big-men in Europe in the 2009/10 season, averaging 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in the Euroleague for Partizan Belgrade, which he helped lead to the Final Four.

His excellent play earned him a lucrative contract at Panathinaikos, but he saw little action in two seasons with the Greek club before moving on to Lokomotiv Kuban.

He averaged 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17 minutes per contest for Kuban last season, including in four games against Maccabi.

While Sofo played an important role in Maccabi’s triumphant 2013/14 campaign, he averaged just 14 minutes per game while scoring 9.6 points per contest.

“Aleks will bring to Maccabi a lot of experience and toughness and physical prowess under the baskets,” said the team’s new head coach Guy Goodes. “He will help us in the paint together with Alex Tyus and Sofo, once he gets well.”

Although Maric’s current contract only runs until the end of the Euroleague regular season in late December, Tel Aviv has an option to extend it for the entire campaign.

“It’s unfortunate for Sofo because he’s a great player and had a great season last year, but I’m happy to be here,” said Maric upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport.

“Maccabi is the defending European champion so there are going to be a lot of expectations, but all I can do is work hard and give my best.”

Should Sofo fail to recover, Maccabi will only have five returning players from last season: Yogev Ohayon, Sylven Landesberg, Guy Pnini, Devin Smith and Alex Tyus. Jeremy Pargo and Ohayon will be the team’s point guards, with Marquez Haynes and Landesberg to share duties at shooting guard while also playing at small forward.

Smith is set to be the team’s starting small forward once more, with Nate Linhart to help from the bench, while Brian Randle and Pnini will play as power forwards.

Randle can also play as center, although Sofo, Tyus, Jake Cohen, who was on loan last season, and Maric are supposed to be the team’s main big men.

The yellow-and-blue lost three key members in Tyrese Rice, Ricky Hickman and the retiring David Blu, as well as coach David Blatt, who left for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and was replaced by longtime assistant Goodes.

Maccabi will play three games against local teams in Bonn next week before returning to Israel next Friday.

The yellow-and-blue will take part in the pre-season Winner Cup the following week, facing Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the quarterfinals on September 15, with the semis to take place the following day and the final to be contested on September 18.

The semis and the final will be held at the new Jerusalem Arena, with the official opening of the venue to take place when Hapoel Jerusalem faces Hapoel Holon in the Winner Cup quarterfinals on September 15.

Maccabi’s hectic pre-season schedule will also take it to South and North America.

Tel Aviv faces Liga de las Americas champion Flamengo in the 2014 FIBA Intercontinental Cup in late September.

The two-game series will be played at the Gimnasio Maracanãzinho Arena in Rio de Janeiro, with the opening encounter scheduled for Friday, September 26 and Game 2 set to take place two days later.

The Intercontinental Cup, which dates back to 1966, was dormant for nearly two decades before its revival last season, when then Euroleague champion Olympiacos Piraeus defeated Pinheiros Sky for the cup.

The yellow-and-blue will then travel to the US where it will face the Cleveland Cavaliers and former coach Blatt on October 5 before playing the Brooklyn Nets two days later.
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