Mac TA hopes to shake opening road woes

Blatt has yellow-and-blue hungry and focused for early continental tip-off in Malaga.

David Logan 370 (photo credit: Lilach Weiss/BSL)
David Logan 370
(photo credit: Lilach Weiss/BSL)
After opening each of its past two Euroleague seasons with road defeats, Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Unicaja Malaga on Thursday night hoping to finally get a continental campaign off to a winning start.
In fact, Maccabi has lost its first Euroleague road game of the season in each of the last seven years. The last time the yellow-and-blue won its road opener was in 2004, which was also the last season Maccabi lifted the Euroleague title.
Winning the Euroleague couldn’t be further from David Blatt’s thoughts at the moment, with the coach simply hoping his team will not suffer yet again from the teething problems that dogged the start of the side’s last two campaigns.
“We would have been better off had the Euroleague not started earlier than usual, but we don’t have that privilege,” Blatt said. “As always, we aren’t 100 percent ready despite our preseason as many of our players joined the team very late. There is also the injury to Devin Smith which has cost us one of the only players who was also on the team last season. I hope we can overcome this.”
Blatt downplayed his team’s chances in Spain. “Malaga has been through a couple of tough seasons and they made some big changes this off-season, bringing in expensive players and a new coach in Jasmin Repesa,” he said. “Malaga is clearly one of the better teams in the group and I feel that we are certainly the underdog. A road win would be a very significant step in achieving our overall goals.”
Despite bringing in seven new players, Maccabi isn’t expected to have any trouble advancing to the Top 16, with Malaga and Italian side Montepaschi Siena likely to be Tel Aviv’s toughest opponents in Group B.
However, Alba Berlin, Prokom Gdynia and Chalon-Sur-Saone are not supposed to cause the new-look Tel Aviv much trouble, meaning a place in the Top 16 already looks to be all but guaranteed considering the top four from each of the four groups will advance to the next stage.
Malaga has 10 new players on its roster, including point guards Earl Calloway and Marcus Williams and big men Fran Vazquez and Kosta Perovic, who both arrived from Barcelona.
However, the man who will have the greatest influence on the outcome of Malaga’s season is new Croatian coach Repesa.
“Everyone knows that Maccabi Tel Aviv is an illustrious European club,” Repesa said. “They have built a new team, but they are always in a position to win the Euroleague.”
One of the biggest problems facing Blatt is the Euroleague inexperience of many of his new players.
Nik Caner-Medley, Ricky Hickman, Sylven Landesberg, Moran Roth and Malcolm Thomas are all set to make their Euroleague debuts on Thursday, lending added importance to the handful of players returning from last season.
One of those players is Guy Pnini, who was named as the side’s new captain following the retirement of Tal Burstein.
“We did what we could in the preseason, but there are a lot of new players who will need time to get used to the system and the club,” he said. “It is always tough to play in Malaga, but we will be ready.”
Center Shawn James is also back for another season and he will be looking to carve out a greater role for himself after averaging just over eight minutes per game in the Euroleague last term.
“We’ve done a good job preparing for this season,” he said. “We know Malaga pretty well, and we’re going to try and play our game. We’re going there to win and to play 40 minutes of good basketball.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for the new Euroleague season, and I’m hoping to prove myself this season.”