It would be hard to find a basketball player anywhere born 1980 or later who has had such pro success as Tal Burstein of Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv. Just 26 years old, Burstein counts three continental, six Isreali League and six Israeli Cup crowns in his short careeer. As a starter on Maccabi's 2004 and 2005 Euroleague title teams, Burstein knows well what it takes to succeed. And as he says in his Fan Mail answers, his aim right now - while coming back from the first long-term injury of his career - is to help Maccabi any way he can to reach its best potential again. "We didn't start as smooth as many people got used to us doing in recent years," Burstein said in one answer. "That's natural for a team that went through so many changes in one summer. It's a process and we're still experiencing it, so talking about the Final Four now, I think, is too early. We want to make it to the Top 16 from the best place we can reach, and then set the quarterfinals as our next goal."
Hey there, Tal. I am pretty sure you didn't feel good during your injury but as I recall, last year was great and we saw a different Tal Burstein, more involved and dominant. How do you think this injury is going to influence your individual game this season? Which Burstein are we going to see? Get well soon! Yours sincerely,
Sahar Mesika - Israel
"In the near future, I first of all want to adjust to the team and play as many minutes as I get from the coach. I want to help the team in any way I can, like before. In time, I'll be back to better shape and try to be as involved and dominant as possible, but first I want to see how I adjust to what's going on, because you can't compare practice with games."
Hi, Tal! Maccabi seems to have a tougher task this season after so many player departures last summer. What are your chances of reaching yet another Final Four and which other teams do you see as the main candidates?
Angelos Georgiou - Pireaus, Greece
"It's still very early and tough to say. We didn't start as smooth as many people got used to us doing in recent years. That's natural for a team that went through so many changes in one summer. It's a process and we're still experiencing it, so talking about the Final Four now, I think, is too early. We want to make it to the Top 16 from the best place we can reach, and then set the quarterfinals as our next goal. It's tough to say who's going to make it to the Final Four, but I believe that teams who stay together for a long time - like CSKA, for example - have very good chances. It's very important for a team to be together for a long time."
Hi, Tal. Was it difficult rehabbing on your leg while watching your team struggle? Thanks,
Doron Tamari - East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
"Of course. It's never a good feeling to be injured for such a long period. Every sportsman wants to play as much as possible. It's our job, but it's also what we like to do best. I tried to make the most of it - give my body some rest after so many years of playing, and take it as something that happens to a sportsman. When you sit outside you see some things differently in your team, but also in the opponent. The injury gave me the right perspective and showed me it can happen to anybody any day."
Hi, Tal. First, I wish you good luck on your return and hope you'll remain the same huge player you were before the injury! Do you think Maccabi needs to add one or two players to the roster - at the point gaurd and center positions - or do you think that your return to the squad will be enough for the team to reach the Final Four?
Paz Best - Israel
"It's really impossible to know if we make it to the Final Four or not whether it is going to be because we miss a player. When I sat on the bench and observed the team, I didn't think that we needed someone from outside who will change the entire team. I thought about how when I come back to play, I could contribute, even when I'm not in shape offer my experience to the young guys, play defense, rebound, handle the ball. All in all, we've had good results. It's not that we don't lose, or play perfect, but we are improving. We still have ups and downs, but that's natural for a young team."
Dear Mr. Burstein, you still haven't reach your prime but you already have so much experience playing in big important matches in the Euroleague. Since you always seem so calm on the court, how do you stay that way? And how do you help your younger teammates when the nerves hit them? Oh, and please tell Yotam Halperin we still miss him in Ljubljana. Happy New Year to all Euroleague fans around the globe.
Mitja Krizan - Slovenia
"I think it's part of my character to be nonchalant. I'm very realistic. I have many thoughts and emotions in practice and of course during games, and sometimes I let go of them, but I try to keep things in proportion and see things as they are. Not only for myself but for everybody. Regarding helping the younger guys I try to give tips here and there. When we played in Athens against Panathinaikos, they always made a switch on Will Bynum, so I gave him a small tip to penetrate on their big men all the time, and it worked well. I worked with the best coaches in Europe, so when I see things from the side, I try to help the young players with my expereince."
Hi, Tal, from Vienna! I am a big fan of yours and of Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv. I just want to ask. After your injury, do you still have the attacking instinct for points?
Mickie Melech - Vienna, Austria
"Of course, I do! As I said before, I try to help in other things, but I still want to shoot the ball and score. It's very important for me not to try to force things. I'd like to have the game come to me, but when I get the ball and have a good shot, I want to take it."
Dear Tal, I'm a CSKA fan, and I remember your play last year in the title game at the Final Four. What can you say about this great match, one of the closest finals ever? What were your feelings and emotions before and after this game?
Catty - Moscow, Russia
"It was my fourth final, so I knew what to expect. Before the game, you're as concentrated as possible for a game. It's beyond excitement. You know what you're going for and what's standing in front of you because you worked hard all season. During the season, we had talked between ourselves about the fact that we had a chance to win three titles in a row, but before the games you never really think about it. We did the same routine as before every other match. During the game, things didn't go as smooth as we were used to. It was one of our worst games during that season. There's no bigger disappointment for a professional than losing in the finals, but it's part of life. We were very honored to be there, and it's a huge experience to be in a Euroleague Final Four. I believe you can learn from everything, also from wins, but especially from losses."
Hi, Tal. What is your opinion about how your ex-teammates Sarunas Jasikevicius, Anthony Parker or Maceo Baston are doing in the NBA? Good luck!
Rokas - New Zealand
"I had a chance to see them a few times so far. Saras and Maceo don't play much, but when they get a chance, they don't play bad at all. Parker is in a totally different status. As time goes by, they play on him more and more. I had no doubt he could play that well. Parker and Maceo basically play as they did in Europe, but regarding Saras it's a different story. What made him such a great player in Europe is, first of all, his head, how smart he is and his understanding of the game. Then came everything else - great shooting and amazing passes, and when he's playing in such a different style, he can't express that. I believe they should give him more chances, and I'm sure he'll do well."
Hello, Tal. Please tell me: What have you done as a kid in order to be a professional basketball player? How much did you practice alone? Did you practice with a friend sometimes? What aspects of your game did you work on? Finally: What percentage of becoming a professional basketball player is talent and what percentage is hard work? Thanks,
Omer - Israel
"I started to play when I was six years old. I used to go everywhere with the ball. I remember dribbling on the way to school and when I got there, when everyone went to play football, I used to do a little of that as well, but the vast majority of the time I went to play basketball. Back then I had a friend who used to go with me all the time to play in the neighborhood. We used to ride our bikes or take long walks to play on the street courts, and spend hours there on the weekends. When I became more professional, I worked alone a lot. I used to come before practice and stay after. When you're a youth player, you usually play with what you know to do best, but when you join a senior team you need to do more. I started to work on my shooting mostly, and did a lot of gym and fitness work to become more athletic. I believe it's 60 percent talent and 40 percent work. With talent you can reach some level, but without a lot of work you won't be able to go on."
Tal, do you see basketball having the same impact in the future that football has across the world? Thank you,
Pedro from Spain
"I think basketball is becoming much more popular in the last years but no, sadly no. I'm not a big fan of watching football, but I like to play it a lot, both live and as a video game. Let's just hope that basketball keeps growing as it is."