Yellow-and-blue’s mediocre luck of the draw

Mac TA grouped with Real, Partizan, Istanbul, Milano and still-undetermined qualifier.

David Blatt 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
David Blatt 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt claimed that it is still far too early to predict his team’s chances of Euroleague glory after Thursday’s regular season draw in Barcelona saw the yellow-andblue placed in Group C with Real Madrid, Partizan Belgrade, Efes Istanbul, AJ Milano and a team from the qualifying rounds.
Maccabi, last season’s Euroleague runner-up, will begin its continental campaign at Milano on October 20, with the regular season to be played for 10 consecutive weeks through December 22.
The top four teams in the group will advance to the Top 16, which will be played from January 18 to March 1, followed by the best-of-five quarterfinal playoffs (March 21 to April 5) and the Final Four (May 11 to 13) in Istanbul.
“Every year we go through the same scenario after the draw with everyone speculating and analyzing what is good and what is bad and what is easy and what is difficult,” said Blatt, who exceeded all expectations last season.
“This is all very nice, but at this stage of the season things are very unclear as you still don’t know what the teams will look like when the season begins and who will be on their rosters.
“What I can say is that we have received tough opponents of the likes of Istanbul and Milano from the lower seeding pots and that is always challenging.”
Blatt knows very well from his experience that fans and media want to first and foremost hear what the coach thinks of Maccabi’s chances of making another Final Four, but he refuses to be dragged into such speculation.
“I would like to remind everyone that the most important thing in the regular season is to make it through to the next stage,” Blatt said. “At the beginning of last season there were those who thought that we wouldn’t even make it to the Top 16, but we had a Euroleague best record of 9-1 in the regular season, and despite only finishing second in our Top 16 group, we made it to the Euroleague final.
“The position in which you end the group isn’t always all that matters.
What’s important is how our team will play and I promise we will do everything to make sure we will play as well as possible.”
Despite Chuck Eidson’s departure for a lucrative contract at Barcelona, Maccabi’s roster for the coming campaign looks to be significantly stronger and deeper than last season.
The core of the team which includes Jeremy Pargo, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Lior Eliyahu, David Blu, Guy Pnini, Richard Hendrix, Tal Burstein and Milan Macvan is back, with Yotam Halperin, Jon Scheyer, Devin Smith and Shawn James all already signing with the club ahead of an especially busy season, with Tel Aviv to also play in the Adriatic League in 2011/12.
Maccabi’s opponents seem to be less prepared at the moment, but Real Madrid, which lost to Tel Aviv in the Final Four semis last season, will surely still be a force to be reckoned with having the likes of Sergio Llull, Sergio Rodriguez and Carlos Suarez as well as Nikola Mirotic and Ante Tomic on its roster.
Maccabi will be meeting Real for a fifth straight season and will be playing Serbian and Adriatic League champion Partizan for a third consecutive year.
Efes Istanbul is expected to be one of the biggest spenders in the competition this season, with the 2012 Final Four to be played in its home arena, while Milano has also been active in the offseason market, landing prestigious head coach Sergio Scariolo as well as Greek stars Antonis Fotsis and Ioannis Bourousis and playmaker Omar Cook.
“There are no easy draws in the Euroleague,” Eliyahu said. “We met Real Madrid in the Final Four last season and this is a big team with an illustrious tradition.
Efes is also an excellent side which will make an effort to do well in the Euroleague this season, especially as the Final Four is in Istanbul.
“Milano is probably the toughest opponent we could have got from the fifth seeding pot and like in every other season we will have to work hard to progress to the next stage.”