Mac TA tips off European campaign in Spain

Coming off shocking BSL loss, Blatt has yellow-and-blue motivated for Vitoria visit.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's David Blu 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's David Blu 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv enters its Euroleague opener at Laboral Vitoria on Thursday night with plenty to prove.
The yellow-and-blue starts every season with nearly impossibly high expectations, and to complicate matters even further, it faces Vitoria just three days after suffering a shock defeat at Hapoel Holon in its BSL opener.
Despite a dominant showing in the pre-season Winner Cup last week, Maccabi looked lethargic and lackluster against Holon and squandered a 13- point lead after being outscored 22-8 in the fourth quarter.
However, while Maccabi takes every defeat to heart, David Blatt’s men had little time to mull over the loss to Holon and the coach is hoping his players will use the disappointment as added motivation against Vitoria.
“It isn’t easy to come back and train after losing the previous night, but we have little time between the games and we had no choice,” said Blatt after the team’s training session on Tuesday.
“No one likes to lose, especially at Maccabi. There are some people who say that there is something good in losing but I disagree. There is nothing good in a defeat, although you can learn from a loss and draw motivation from it.”
Maccabi beat Vitoria on the road in the Euroleague Top 16 last season, but will be facing a team in rebuilding mode on Thursday.
Star guard Fernando San Emeterio remains one of the side’s best players – and its only Spaniard – while veteran Andres Nocioni is also back for another season.
However, Maccabi fans will recognize few other faces in Vitoria’s roster, although new coach Sergio Scariolo, who replaced Zan Tabak, is a familiar foe.
Americans Lamont Hamilton and Walter Hodge will be two of the main players targeted by Blatt’s defensive game plan for Thursday, with German giant Tibor Pleiss and Frenchmen Thomas Heurtel and Fabian Caseur giving the team some continuity after choosing to come back for another term.
Tabak was sent packing after an early exit in the Spanish League playoffs, but Vitoria also began 2013/14 with a defeat, losing 99-96 to Gran Canaria on Sunday.
Perhaps the only positive Blatt could draw from Monday’s humbling loss in Holon was the encouraging display by David Blu.
Despite playing in his first game after a year in retirement, Blu looked sharp, scoring eight quick points in the first period before tiring and ending the night with 11 points.
Blatt slotted Blu right back into his starting five and the sharp-shooter is set to be Maccabi’s primary power forward this season.
Blu only officially signed until the end of the season on Tuesday, and has embarked on his seventh campaign with the yellow-and-blue in his fourth separate tenure.
“I felt pretty comfortable on the court, but I got a little tired in the second half,” he said. “However, my body feels good and it is basketball. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
Blatt was delighted with what he saw from Blu in his first game back.
“We already wanted him in the summer, but it took him time to decide,” he said. “He isn’t ready to play heavy minutes at the moment, but in the time in which he played we saw the good old David.”
Blatt should have a full roster at his disposal on Thursday, although Devin Smith and Ricky Hickman are both carrying injuries and are not fully fit.
Smith sat out Monday’s game, but Blu isn’t concerned the defeat to Holon will have any lasting effect and is confident ahead of the tricky opener in Vitoria.
“It’s all about recovery and putting the loss behind us,” he explained. “I’m sure we will be ready.”