Effi embarks on his greatest challenge yet

Israeli coaching legend looks to lead Mac Rishon over Mac TA for State Cup supremacy.

Maccabi TA's David Blu 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi TA's David Blu 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Effi Birenboim is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in Israeli basketball history.
The 57-year-old Maccabi Rishon Lezion coach became just the fifth Israeli to reach 300 league wins last season, joining Yehoshua Rozin (448), Pini Gershon (367), Tzvika Sherf (317) and Ralph Klein (305).
Birenboim overtook Klein earlier this season and is currently at 310 wins, but what makes Effi’s success over his 26 years as a head coach especially impressive is the fact that he achieved it all with teams not named Maccabi Tel Aviv, spending just a couple of months as yellow-and-blue coach before being sacked in November 2008.
However, for all his accomplishments, Birenboim only has one title on his resume, guiding Bnei Herzliya to the cup in 1995.
Birenboim has now led five different teams to the cup final after Rishon claimed a 78-71 semifinal win over BC Habika’a on Monday, but with an inform Maccabi Tel Aviv awaiting Effi’s men at Nokia Arena on Thursday night, the veteran coach has still got an uphill battle on his hands to finally lift another piece of silverware.
The daunting prospect of facing Maccabi has resulted in Birenboim looking to the NBA for a source of inspiration.
Birenboim used the remarkable rise to stardom of New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin to motivate his players and instill the belief that despite being clear underdogs, they can beat Tel Aviv against all odds.
“The fire in our eyes has got is this far and we’ve got one more game to go to lift the cup,” said Birenboim, who hopes to lead Rishon to its first ever title.
“Being the underdog gives us a further push. We know our place and Maccabi’s place, but we believe in our ability.
“Maccabi usually pressures its opponents from the start of its games at Nokia and we will have to be ready for them and take it one quarter at a time.”
Maccabi, which is going for its third straight cup and 39th in club history, thrashed Hapoel Holon 91-70 in its semifinal, but will be wary of Rishon after only barely edging Birneboim’s men 76-75 in BSL action two months ago.
Rishon, which has not lost a game by more than five points all season, is extremely dependent on its four American players.
Joe Crawford (20.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg), Derwin Kitchen (15.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Adrian Uter (15.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Brandon Bowman (15.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg) account for more than 81 percent of the team’s points and 85 percent of its rebounds.
The four Americans also scored 65 of Rishon’s 78 points in the semifinal win over Habika’a, with Birenboim only having two Israeli players of significance.
Nitzan Hanochi (8.2 ppg) and Amit Ben-David (6.7 ppg) share ball handling duties and could be the x-factor in Thursday’s final.
“I think we have proven we deserve to be in the final,” Hanochi said. “Rishon hasn’t been in the cup final in 20 years and the entire city is waiting for this game. We are aware of the differences between the teams, but we are very hungry to succeed and will give our best.”
Holon had no answer for Lior Eliyahu and Devin Smith, who scored 20 points each in the semis, and Maccabi coach David Blatt will also have Sofoklis Schortsanitis at his disposal on Thursday after the injury suffered by the Greek center on Monday proved to be minor.
“We know Rishon is an excellent team,” Blatt said. “They have proven it throughout the season.
We want to defend the title we won last season and we are not taking anything for granted. We are excited ahead of this game and we will give our all.
“Rishon is not used to playing twice a week, but this is a cup final and nobody will be tired. This is a game everyone wants to win.”