The Friday Feature: After CSKA, Maccabi looks forward

Mizrahi, Federman and Sherf discuss the Euroleaugue loss to CSKA, and the future.

sherf semifinal 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
sherf semifinal 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
There was a strange atmosphere in the area outside the locker rooms at the Madrid Sports Palace after the Euroleague Final on Sunday night. On one side, the delighted players and management of CSKA Moscow were joyfully discussing their triumph with any reporter that would listen to them. In the other corner, the players and management of Maccabi Tel Aviv appeared disorientated and shaken. Not all rebuffed requests for interviews, but most made some sort of effort to avoid the dozens of Israeli journalists milling about looking for a scoop. Uruguyan Esteban Batista emerged from the Maccabi locker room first and stood leaning against the wall, a vision of disappointment. Omri Casspi came next with his ear glued to his phone. In the midst of this Maccabi chairman Shimon Mizrahi paced around the spacious area, kicking a big yellow balloon around the floor while talking quietly on his cellphone. Mizrahi was reportedly deeply disappointed with the way the team played, giving up a chance to make history and turn what began as an appalling season into a triumph. However, when speaking to The Jerusalem Post he remained calm, and praised his team for the strides they made over the last few months. "We came to the final, we came to the final game, we lost, we lost to a very good team in CSKA," Mizrahi said slowly. "We are missing a few players, so I think it is a great achievement to go to the final in a season like this," he added, referring to the injured Marcus Fizer and recently returned Tal Burstein. Mizrahi has held his position at Maccabi Tel Aviv since 1969, and is seen by many in the basketball community as one of the main reasons for the team's continued success since then. Last July he was chosen by Time magazine as one of the of the world's 50 most prominent sports executives. The now-68-year-old was initially only supposed to be a temporary chairman, but he quickly made the position permanent, helping the club to 38 league titles and 28 State Cups. And, he said, he has no intentions of giving up just yet. "I feel the game, I feel the spirit of the game, and I think basketball is a way of life for me," he said. "As long as I feel that we can achieve what I think that we have to achieve and I am in the right shape I will go for it and continue to work with the club." Co-owner David Federman was in a less downbeat mood after the final buzzer on Sunday, agreeing with some of Mizrahi's sentiments. "It has been a very difficult season and... at the end of the day I think that we managed to achieve quite a lot," Federman said. "I am not deeply disappointed because I think that CSKA is a fantastic team. There is no question it is a better team than Maccabi." Federman paid tribute to the club's fans, who, he said, stuck with the team through thick and thin. "I think we owe a hell of a lot to our fans. They have been enormously loyal to the club and we really not only love them, we appreciate what they have been doing for us," Federman said. "My great sorrow is really for the fans, who spent so much money and came over to watch us. However, I think that we gave them to a certain extent some satisfaction this season and especially reaching the final of the Final Four." One of the big questions hanging over Maccabi has been the future of coach Tzvika Sherf. Sherf was brought in as an emergency replacement for Oded Katash in January and has managed to rejuvenate a team which had fell off the tracks. While some of the management wouldn't discuss Sherf's future on the record, Federman implied he expected him to continue next season and the coach himself stressed his deep connection to the team. "I was born in Maccabi, I grew up as a player there and I grew up as a coach there," Sherf said. "Maccabi is Maccabi. This is the biggest club in Israel and one of the biggest in Europe." "We didn't start to talk about next year," Sherf added. "We have to finish this season make the best of it that we can. There are one or two question marks about some things and we will see. Maccabi has always tried to put out a strong team with tradition."