|The Turkish Airlines Euroleague Playoffs series between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Electra has been an epic battle thus far and it will reach its highly-anticipated climax on Thursday when both teams meet in Athens for a do-or-die, winner-take-all clash for the fourth and final ticket to the 2012 Final Four. No player has deviated from the series script the way Yogev Ohayon of Maccabi did. At age 24, Ohayon played one of the best games of his career in front of the bright lights at OAKA in Game 2, as his 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists allowed Maccabi to steal an overtime road win in what has become an instant classic. Oyahon added 12 points and 6 assists in Game 3, which Maccabi won 65-62, and at 1.89 meters, he led all Game 4 participants by pulling down 9 boards despite his team's loss. All this from a Euroleague rookie who coming into the series, had a season high of 9 points. In fact, he has boosted his average from 5.4 points and 2.7 assists in first 16 games of the season to 9.8 points and 3.3 dishes in the playoffs. Being able to win at OAKA in Game 2 definitely helps Maccabi to try to do it again, as Ohayon told us in this Euroleague.net interview. "They have the most experienced players in Europe and a great mentality," Ohayon told Euroleague.net. "But we have already done it once, so it can happen again if we do our best."
Hello, Yogev. You are a step away from the Final Four in your first Euroleague season. How much fun are you having as a rookie?
"It has been a very special season for me. It is the best experience I can have as a player. I am playing for Maccabi Electra, one of the best teams in Europe, with a lot of good players from whom I can learn a lot. It is fun; I couldn't ask for more! Like I said, it has all been very special."
How do you and your teammates feel as you get ready to go to Athens for the deciding Game 5?
"We have been focused on this game for several days. We had a very good practice today, have been watching a lot of video to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. We have been trying to prepare for Game 5 the best way that we can."
All four games against Panathinaikos have been different so far. What kind of game can we expect in Game 5?
"The way I see it, it is going to be the kind of game where everybody leaves everything on the floor. Everybody will be tough and aggressive. In my opinion, it will be a matter of how much intensity you have than other basketball aspects. Whoever wants to win it more will probably go to the Final Four."
You had great performances in Games 2 and 3 to help Maccabi get big wins. Have those games been a high point in your career?
"Yes, I think it was a great experience for me and I am glad that I played well to help my team win. For me, being there for the first time, it was very exciting to play against Panathinaikos, the Euroleague champion, right at the highest level. It is something that you learn a lot from and I am sure I can use that experience not only in Game 5, but also in the future."
Does the fact that Maccabi already beat Panathinaikos at OAKA prove that you can do it again in Game 5?
"Maccabi is a good team and a lot depends on the way we come into the game. We have proved in the past that if we come out aggressive from the beginning, ready to play and sharp, we can beat any opponent, anywhere. On the other hand, we know we have to play an excellent, excellent game to beat Panathinaikos in such a tough place like OAKA. They have the most experienced players in Europe and a great mentality. It will be very tough to beat them but we have already done it once, so it can happen again if we do our best."
This is your first season with Maccabi Electra. What's it like for a young Israeli player like you to play for Maccabi?
"It is very exciting, like a dream come true! I am very thankful to God and also to Maccabi for giving me this opportunity to play for the team. I know I have to give my best every minute I am on court, everywhere I can. And that is exactly what I am trying to do."
Everyone says that wearing the Maccabi jersey means a lot of pressure. How difficult is that?
"It comes with pressure, yes, but you have to see how great it is to play for the team of your country. When Maccabi plays in Europe, everybody in the country cheers for us. Of course, the first minute you wear this jersey, you know that you have to give 100% every time you step on the court."
How have Theo Papaloukas and Demond Mallet helped you to improve this season, especially in the playoffs?
"First of all, Papaloukas had a great connection with me from the very beginning. He has helped a lot, right away and throughout the season. He has taught me a lot and I am very lucky to have such experienced teammates like Theo and Demond in my position."
After playing against them for seven years, now you have the legendary Maccabi fan base supporting you. Does it really take you to a different level of intensity?
"Like I said before, when you wear the Maccabi jersey, you feel like you have to give all its fans back, more than 100% if possible. You have to give your best effort, intensity, aggressive play, your everything. That's what I try to do every day. I have to put everything on the floor and if not, I cannot be okay with myself."
Coach David Blatt has given you plenty of playing time. How do you like playing for him?
"David gave me a big chance to play in this team and has helped me a lot, psychologically and basketball-wise. He has taught me a lot of things that I can use in the future. He has helped me to build my personality. I am very thankful and lucky to work with him. He is a hard-working person that deserves to coach such a great team like Maccabi."
What would it mean for you to make it to the Final Four?
"Wow... It would be great. It would mean accomplishing the mission that we had in the beginning of the season. It was one of our goals and it would be very important not only for the team, but for our fans. There is a lot of tradition between both clubs and getting to the Final Four would be very important for us."