Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem fill coaching vacancies

Maccabi Tel Aviv hired Croatian Neven Spahija and Hapoel Jerusalem appointed Dan Shamir.

pini gershon 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
pini gershon 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The most coveted coaching spots in Israeli basketball were filled within a few hours on Tuesday as Maccabi Tel Aviv hired Croatian Neven Spahija and Hapoel Jerusalem appointed Dan Shamir. Spahija, who replaces Israeli icon and new Olympiacos Piraeus coach Pini Gershon, signed a two-year deal. He becomes the first non-Israeli coach at Maccabi since Vinko Jelovac was at the helm during the 1997/98 campaign. Spahija, 43, arrives from Lithuanian side Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, which he guided to a spot in the Euroleague Top 16 last season - defeating Maccabi twice along the way. He was the only coach to defeat Maccabi at Nokia Arena last year. Spahija also helped the club wrest the Lithuanian title away from European power Zalgiris Kaunas last season. His previous coaching posts include Cibona Zagreb, where he took the Croatian championships in 2000 and '01; Novo Mesto, where he and current Maccabi forward Jamie Arnold won the Slovenian title and reached the ULEB Cup final in 2003; Avtodor Saratov in Russia; and two years in Italy with Roseto, before joining Vilnius last year. He also held the position of Croatian national team coach for four seasons, where he worked with Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic, until both retired after Eurobasket 2005. Vujcic, whose contract expired at the end of last season, is expected to remain with Maccabi now that Spahija signed. Spahija worked his way up the coaching ladder, starting his career as the assistant on the women's junior team Elemes in his hometown of Sibenik in the mid 1980s. He held a number of assistant positions and coached junior teams before breaking through with Gradine Pula in 1996. Spahija's first order of business will be to travel to America, where he will join up with team manager Mony Fanan to scout players at NBA summer leagues. Shamir, 31, signed a two-year deal. He takes over in Jerusalem after three seasons as an assistant under Gershon at Maccabi. He was previously an assistant at Hapoel and before that head of the youth setup in the capital. This is his first head coaching position. Shamir takes the reins from Erez Edelstein, whose contract was not renewed after last season. The move comes as a surprise, as Shamir was expected to remain with Maccabi this season. "I'm happy to return to the Hapoel Jerusalem family," Shamir said in a statement. He also thanked Maccabi for his time there and for allowing him to leave for the Jerusalem position.