Final Four: Halperin - We always believed we could make it

Maccabi's point guard looks forward to this weekend's Euroleague Final Four in Madrid.

mac ta halperin 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
mac ta halperin 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
In his second year back in Tel Aviv after having moved for one season to another Euroleague team, Union Olimpija, Yotam Halperin has grown into a protagonist for Maccabi Tel Aviv. The 24-year-old ranks first or second in assists, scoring, minutes and three-pointers made for the team. Indeed, his clutch three-pointer to force overtime during the team's pivotal Top 16 road win at Real Madrid might have been the key moment of Maccabi's season. In that sense and many others, he helped lead Maccabi to perhaps its most unexpected Final Four appearance of seven this decade. His dream would be very much complete with victory at the Final Four in Madrid. "For me, this season has been like a turning point," Halperin said in an interview with "I always wanted to succeed with Maccabi Tel Aviv and not at any other place. I grew up at Maccabi and always dreamed of becoming an important player here. This season I was able to do that. We advanced to the Final Four after a crazy season and now we just need to play well when we get there." Even though Maccabi is used to reaching Final Fours, not many people outside your locker room expected this team to make it, especially after both Tal Burstein and Nikola Vujcic were injured. What influence did expectations - or lack of them - have on this team? "I think that a lot of people were surprised that teams like Panathinaikos or Real Madrid didn't make it to the Final Four. I think that we knew inside that we needed to play our best games at the right times and that we could do it. And we did. We played at our best when we needed to and as we got closer, we saw that we could do it. And now we're there. "You don't come to play at this level if you don't set goals for yourself and don't believe you can go all the way and win the cup. We always believed in ourselves. There were a lot of ups and downs during the season - both physical and mental - but we always believed we could get to the Final Four." Obviously, a turning point came when Tzvika Sherf became head coach. How did he make Maccabi a better team? "I think that every day Tzvika comes with the same levels of excitement and energy and the same desire to get better. He is always looking for and demanding excellence from us. I think we have an outstanding squad and what was needed was to get everyone on the same page… To get everyone more motivated, playing better and playing together. Tzvika did that the best way possible and he deserves a lot of credit for our season." You had your Maccabi career-highs in minutes, points, assists and three-point percentage. Did your confidence grow as the season kept going? "Absolutely. For me this season has been like a turning point. I always wanted to succeed with Maccabi Tel Aviv and not at any other place. I grew up at Maccabi and always dreamed of becoming an important player here. This season I was able to do that. "Of course there is always room for improvement and even though I've had a very good season, I need to focus on where I can improve and how I can become a better player. The more you play and the more you gain experience - especially at the Euroleague level - the more your confidence grows. Again I have to thank Tzvika and [assistant coaches] Guy Goodes and Avi Even for believing in me and giving me the trust and together we have all made it work and reached the Final Four." Perhaps the key shot of the whole Maccabi season, the three-pointer forcing overtime in Madrid, was yours. You seemed to be itching to shoot it several seconds before you got the ball.What was that moment all about? "Wow. For me that was absolutely one of the most important baskets of my career so far. I think that beyond hitting the huge three, the importance of the game was very high for us and that makes the three even more important. "You know, you play basketball for these moments, like taking and making that game-tying three-pointer. I'm really glad I had the opportunity to shoot it and I'm even happier that it went in." What do you know about your semifinal opponent, Montepaschi Siena? "First of all we still have a few Israeli League games to go before then and anyone who knows Maccabi knows we take these things one game at a time. We know that Montepaschi is an outstanding team with quality at every position. "I think that it's very difficult to point out a superstar on that team. It's a team full of good players and I'm sure as we get closer to the game we'll learn more and more about them." What did you learn about the Final Four from the other times you were there that you can use now or use to advise guys on the team without any? "First of all, it's only one semifinal game and only one final game, so anything can happen. I think that we've seen a lot of surprises at Final Fours. It's not always the best team that wins. This season especially it looks like a wide-open Final Four where every team can go all the way. Even our game against Montepaschi is a game that can develop in a number of different ways. "More than anything else, I've learned that at the Final Four, you have to be focused on the game for 40 minutes and not on anything else because these are the games that determine your whole season." Of course, thousands of Maccabi fans are expected in Madrid. The support the team has is unbelievable, everywhere in Europe. Is this an extra responsibility, extra help you rely on or just something very enjoyable? "Our fans follow us everywhere and I think that they deserve tremendous credit. Our fans are a true part of this team. And it should be said that our successes in Europe come a large part due to them. "I think that anyone who knows the Maccabi fans knows to expect a lot of them in Madrid. They spend a lot of time and money to support us and for the players, we know that we have to give our maximum effort for these fans." Now that you are one of the team's pillars, what would it mean to win another Euroleague title with Maccabi? "I think that whenever you are part of a team, especially a good team that gets to the Final Four and can win the Euroleague at the end of the season, anyone who tells you that they don't want to be a central figure or that it's not fun to be a key player is lying. It's always more fun to be a meaningful player on your team and I'm glad that this season I've had that opportunity." Courtesy of