Blatt ready to lead rebuilt Mac TA into Euroleague

Sinai Says: Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt has little room for error in the coming campaign.

David Blatt 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
David Blatt 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Considering the standard he set over the past two seasons, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt has little room for error in the coming campaign.
The yellow-and-blue gets 2012/13 officially underway on Thursday night when it visits Unicaja Malaga in its Euroleague regular season opener.
Maccabi claimed the BSL and State Cup double in each of the last two seasons under Blatt, also lifting the Adriatic League title last term, resulting in a hectic 85-game campaign.
After last season’s experience and with each team to play a 14-game program in the Euroleague Top 16 rather than just six as in recent years, Tel Aviv decided to drop the Adriatic League from its schedule.
Nevertheless, Maccabi has put together a roster which includes 12 senior players, with seven of them being new arrivals.
Blatt will have to rebuild the team almost from scratch, but he has gotten used to that and believes he has a roster with great promise.
“I think we have potentially a good team,” he told me on Tuesday. “I’m an experienced coach with a realistic view of things and I know that when you are building a new team you need time. It doesn’t come together in 3-4 weeks. It just doesn’t work like that.
“I’m happy with the guys that we’ve got and with the approach and the work ethic.
“Do I feel like we are ready to win the Euroleague right now? No. But we’ll see how we develop over the course of the year.”
As ever, Maccabi experienced an extremely eventful off-season.
Last season’s breakthrough player, Yogev Ohayon, signed a deal with Russian club Lokomotiv Kuban and exchanged insults with Maccabi’s management before a FIBA arbitrator ruled that he is under contract with the yellow-and-blue. The sides somehow put the ordeal behind them and reconciled.
Maccabi had already made alternative plans for Ohayon by signing Ricky Hickman and especially Moran Rot, but they both remain with the team and will be battling Ohayon for precious minutes.
Elsewhere, Pops Mensah-Bonsu was brought in to help fill the void left under the baskets by the departure of Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Richard Hendrix, but he didn’t pass a medical last month and Maccabi only completed the signing of his replacement Malcolm Thomas last week.
Blatt has his concerns following a frantic summer, but he is pleased with the attitude displayed by his players.
“I like the way the guys have worked hard to try and come together,” he said. “It has been a challenging preseason because we haven’t had all of the team together basically for the whole term of preparation due to the national team late arrivals, injuries and unexpected events like Mensah-Bonsu’s situation.
“We just got a player for that position a few days ago, so it hasn’t been a typical preparation for the opening of the Euroleague.
“The Euroleague also starts earlier this year because of the increased number of games so it’s coming up on us a little bit fast. We are going to have to do something special to really be ready.”
Blatt can at least console himself in the knowledge that Ohayon is back for another season, something which seemed very unlikely just a few weeks ago.
“That was a very pleasant ending to something that was ominous at the beginning,” he said. “The story did not look good and the prospects for him being here were not very high. But when things took on a different light and management was able to overcome a lot of the difficulties, as was Yogi, it was a very happy bit of news for us and something that is obviously going to help us a great deal.”
Ohayon grew in stature as last season progressed, averaging 9.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists while playing the fourth most minutes on the team in the 3-2 quarterfinal playoff series defeat to Panathinaikos.
Blatt holds no hard feelings towards Ohayon and is confident there is still plenty more to come from the Israel national team guard.
“I think Yogi has got a long way to go towards improving his game and helping the team and he has the ability and the attitude to do it,” he noted. “I think he is going to go through his little period of readjustment into the team and that’s natural but he’ll be fine. He’s a very good player and a very good person.”
Despite having to overhaul the team on a yearly basis, Blatt has no complaints.
“It’s the reality,” he exclaimed. “It’s not a matter of being frustrated or anything. You play with the cards that you have. You don’t complain about it and you don’t worry about it and you don’t get upset about it. We build new teams every fall and we are going to build a new one again.”
Blatt added that he hopes “that it won’t be like this for the next couple of years, but we get good players in and we make them better players and they get bigger offers. That’s the reality.”
Blatt spent much of the past summer working with the Russian national team, ultimately leading it to a remarkable bronze medal at the London Olympics.
The 53-year-old’s success in London increased his profile in the US even further, but the Boston native, who made Aliya 31 years ago, claimed he is not giving the NBA much thought at the moment.
“I don’t really think about it to be honest with you, it’s not on my plate right now,” he said, before adding that he has no interest in working in the NBA in a consultant capacity as Italian coach Ettore Messina did for the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
“I wouldn’t want to be a consultant and just sit around all day and not do a whole lot. I want to work.”
Maccabi may have missed out on the Euroleague Final Four last season, but Blatt believes the campaign was a resounding success and he has every intention of maintaining the standard he established over the last two years.
“Let’s be realistic. We won four titles last season and only missed the Final Four by one basket after one of the best series’ in Euroleague history.
So why wouldn’t people be happy?” he asked.
“The season is not only about going to the Final Four. I don’t know where people got that impression. That’s kind of stupid if you ask me.”