In less than two weeks, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zalgiris Kovna will step on the floor at the Menorah Mivathim Hall, and officially open their Euroleague season. We will be able to get the first picture of the situation of the yellows before the start of the season starting this evening (Friday) when they meet Olympia Milan in the Yanakopoulos tournament. With all due respect to the Paris tournament, to which the team appeared with a particularly lacking squad, the performances this weekend in Athens will become their first significant preparation games.
In the meantime, apart from the unsuccessful games in France, and the slightly better ability this week against Promethas Petras from the Eurocup, the main conclusions and initial feelings are received at Maccabi from the ability in training. Two players manage to stand out there for the better, and are marked as those who will lead the team, at least until Lorenzo Brown gets involved – Wade Baldwin and Alex Poithers. They not only look good professionally in training, but also stand out as vocal players, and according to one of the Maccabi people, “look exactly like top Euroleague players are supposed to look”.
Baldwin, who until Brown’s amazing success in the European Championship was considered the biggest steal of the yellows in the summer, should be the man who will step into the shoes of Scotty Wilbkin. “He is a different player, but he has the ability to take over the game when needed, and we hope that the cooperation he will build together with Lorenzo will be very successful,” says one of the team members.
Poythers Pinzato was in the hall for a long time. How long is it? When he left the NBA circuit three years ago, he was already on Maccabi’s register, which missed the opportunity to bring him before he signed with Zenit St. Petersburg in 2020, and was just waiting for the opportunity for him to leave. “There aren’t many players who have been a consensus for us for several years like him,” they say in the club. Meanwhile, at the athletic level and the varied abilities, Poithers looks like a bingo, but the money time will start as mentioned only in 13 days.
Leaving aside the circumstances that led them there, Maccabi Tel Aviv broke their playoff streak last season before losing 3:0 to Real Madrid in the quarterfinals. However, the professional failure in the Premier League and the State Cup led it to widespread shock, and the clear goal will be to restore the hegemony in the local framework as well, and not to drop out of the top eight in the Euroleague.
Almost every one of the Maccabi people we spoke with in the last few weeks told proudly that a team was built this season that will compete for an achievement in the Euroleague. Although no one imagines a European-level monster, the word playoff comes up again and again in the club. “We have a team that is playoff worthy, in terms of staff – professional and human ability,” the club proudly says.
The increase in expectations will be tested immediately with the start of the season. Maccabi’s schedule is undoubtedly the most comfortable it has had in recent years. It will start the season with four home games in the first five rounds, with none of these games being against one of the teams considered the biggest. This coin also has another side: such a schedule puts a lot of pressure on a new team, which will still be looking for itself in the early stages of the season.
“No one will cry on the game board, it will be funny,” said one of the members of the professional team before leaving for Greece this week. “Our job is to pass this board with a minimum of mistakes. If we do it right, we will be in the direction we want to be.”
In order to meet these goals, Maccabi Tel Aviv is still trying to complete a good preparation, but such mistakes that depend on the Yellows and those that are less – have already happened. Brown’s late arrival should get him into things more slowly, a critical thing for such a central player – was not up to the club. The cancellation of the game planned this week by Olympiakos was also not under the control of the yellows.
So where did they go wrong? Five preparatory games against European teams, three of them against Euroleague teams (four in the original plan) and another game against a Eurocup rival, in addition to the Winner’s Cup games – are very few for a new team. If you look at the rivals in the Euroleague, the only one that will play fewer games is Real Madrid, with Red Star in Gallard, Villarban, Zalgiris Kovna, Baskonia and Barcelona maintaining the same order of preparation games, along with the opening tournaments of the season in the country and the league games that in some countries will be opened even before the European stage .
This is the first year since the outbreak of the Corona virus in which Maccabi Tel Aviv manages to participate in preparatory games in Europe, and together with the new agreement with the Euroleague players’ organization, which significantly shortened the preparation time for the season, the Winner’s Cup and other restrictions, the Yellows had a window of four weeks to hold preparatory games. “You always want more, but there is what is desired and there is what is available,” claims one of the club members. “Perhaps there was room to include one more preparation game in the week when we didn’t play, but there are constraints and that’s not what will make the difference.” However, those around the club admit that it is difficult for them to predict how the team will look, at least in the first phase of the season.