For the fifth straight year, Maccabi has gone through a complete off-season overhaul, bringing in seven new players and signing its sixth coach in just four years.
By ALLON SINAIPublished: SEPTEMBER 14, 2010 23:42Advertisement
The only thing bigger than David Blatt’s smile on Monday morning was the uncertainty hanging over his new team.Blatt officially began his second tenure as Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach at Hadar Yosef on Monday, holding his first training session with the 13-man roster he will have to work miracles with in order to achieve the unrealistic goals set by a spoiled fan-base and an impetuous ownership.For the fifth straight year, Maccabi has gone through a complete off-season overhaul, bringing in seven new players and signing its sixth coach in just four years.The addition of Blatt was Maccabi’s most adroit move of the summer, but there’s serious doubt as to whether even he can turn a largely unproven and mediocre group into a leading-force once more in European basketball.After reaching the Euroleague Final Four in seven of nine seasons, Tel Aviv has failed to make continental basketball’s elite stage in the past two campaigns and this year, as well, that looks to remain an improbable target.The inexcusable failure to win the Israeli BSL championship in two of the past three seasons, coupled with the growing frustration among the club’s supporters, led Maccabi’s management to invest heavily in recruiting the best Israeli talent available.The addition of Lior Eliyahu, Tal Burstein and Elishay Kadir to a squad which already included David Bluthenthal, Guy Pnini, Yaniv Green and Derrick Sharp gives Blatt a very strong local base to work with.However, the yellow-andblue continues to be out-bid for the services of top foreign talent by European basketball’s big spenders, leaving the club to take several otherwise unwanted risks in its hope of achieving success.Chuck Eidson survives from last season and will be expected to show a significant improvement. Doron Perkins is the only other American remaining from Pini Gershon’s team, but he faces a far greater role this season as Tel Aviv’s new starting playmaker.Sharing the point-guard duties with Perkins will be 22- year-old American Jeremy Pargo, who helped Hapoel Gilboa/Galil to the league title in his first professional season.Blatt hopes the talented, albeit unpredictable, duo can handle the fast and furious pace of his offensive gameplan.However, the new coach will be even more concerned with the production from the team’s new foreign big-men.Richard Hendrix was a useful player for Spain’s CB Granada last season, but the 23-yearold 2.03-meter forward lacks experience at the top level.The same also applies to Jeff Foote, a 2.14 m center, who signed his first professional contract with Maccabi and may still be loaned out by the time the season begins.And who can forget Maccabi’s biggest summer gamble of all, quite literally, the signing of Greece center Sofoklis Schortsanitis? The 25-year-old has an almost boundless potential, but he never quite realized it in four seasons at Olympiacos, struggling with his weight (around 150-kilograms on good days) and strict coaching.Blatt will find a way to speak to big Sofo’s heart, but it remains to be seen whether the hefty hoopster is capable of becoming an unstoppable force under the basket.In 19 Euroleague games for the Greek powerhouse last season, Sofo averaged 7.2 points and 2.5 rebounds and in 71 games in the competition he has never played more than 26 minutes. He averaged 12 points and 4.8 rebounds for Greece in the recent World Championships, but yet again was on court for just over 20 minutes per game.If Maccabi is to compete with the continent’s best, it will need its Greek center to play far longer, something which simply might not be feasible.For the time being, at least, Blatt is all smiles and is extremely optimistic.“It is so much fun to return home,” a beaming Blatt said.“It is true that Maccabi is a club which often lacks patience, but that comes with the territory. It doesn’t scare me. We are here to work and hopefully we can achieve success as quickly as possible.”Blatt added that he is now a far better coach than he was when he was ousted from the head-coaching position at Maccabi in the summer of 2003 after two relatively impressive seasons, learning from the mistakes he had made.The problem is, little has changed at Maccabi, which inexplicably continues to repeat past mistakes time and time again.Blatt claims that everyone at the club understands that this season is the start of a longterm process, but he too surely realizes that only immediate success for Maccabi will keep him smiling in the long firstname.lastname@example.org
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