|Maccabi Electra will welcome a legend back to the sidelines when it hosts Unicaja in a pivotal Group A matchup on Thursday at Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena. Head coach Pini Gershon and Maccabi achieved greatness together with three continental titles and two more trips to the Euroleague final in the past decade and now they are together again as Gershon tries to spark Maccabi after a 2-2 start. And they are fortunate to be hosting a banged-up team in Unicaja, which in addition to its regular absences of long-term injury victims Berni Rodriguez, Alfonso Sanchez and German Gabriel, will also be without star power forward Marcus Haislip. However Unicaja can count on point guard Carlos Cabezas, who is back from an ankle injury to play at the site of his greatest individual performance. Cabezas scored a career-best 32 points and dished 6 assists in the 2006-07 season opener in Tel Aviv, although that was not enough to lead his team to victory. Now Cabezas joins forces with Omar Cook, Joseph Gomis and Thomas Kelati to challenge Maccabi’s backcourt, which is led by point guard Carlos Arroyo, former Unicaja scorer Marcus Brown and veteran Tal Burstein, with Tre Simmons adding depth. The small forward matchup could see the teams go smaller with Jiri Welsch for Unicaja and Jason Williams for Maccabi, or bigger with Carlos Jimenez for the visitors and Omri Casspi for the hosts. Jimenez may be needed at power forward to make up for Haislip’s absence, too. There he woul play alongside centers Boniface NDong and Robert Archibald, with youngster Vitor Faverani also in the mix. Maccabi’s interior rotation features only one player from the past Gershon era, reserve Yaniv Green, so the likes of D’Or Fischer, Esteban Batista and Lior Eliyahu will all try to earn extra minutes from the new coach. Though it will be interesting to see what new tricks Gershon has up his sleeve after only a few days back on the job, he will not be the only coaching great on the floor. Aito Garcia Reneses will surely have his pumped up for this clash, which could have a major impact on the race for spots in the Top 16. Unicaja’s injuries and Maccabi’s coaching change make it hard to pinpoint what the keys to victory will be, but what’s for certain is that with the combined talent of both teams and the knowledge of two of the world’s most creative coaches, this game will be filled with non-stop action for 40 minutes.
- Guard Marcus Brown spent two seasons in Malaga during his long Euroleague career. He played for Unicaja between 2005 and 2007, helping the team reach the Final Four in Athens in that second season. This will be his first game against his former team since.
- Forward Omri Casspi set his Euroleague high in offensive rebounds against Unicaja, when he grabbed 5 in a game last year.
- Head coach Pini Gershon's debut game with Maccabi after his first comeback, in the 2003-04 season, was in Tel Aviv against Unicaja. Maccabi won that game 88-73 on the way to the Euroleague title at the end of the season.
- Gershon's Euroleague debut with Maccabi when he first took over the bench ended with an 81-74 road loss to Efes Pilsen in November 1998. Team captain Derrick Sharp is the only player still with the club from that game.
- Forward Lior Eliyahu made his Euroleague debut against Unicaja in the 2006-07 season opener. He scored 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds that night. Eliyahu also registered his lone multi-block game in the Euroleague against Unicaja later that season.
- Swingman Tal Burstein is just 4 three-pointers shy of 100 for his Euroleague Basketball career.
- Four players on the current Maccabi roster – captain Derrick Sharp, guard Tal Burstein, forward Omri Casspi and center Yaniv Green – have played for Gershon in the past.
- Center Robert Archibald made his Euroleague debut against Maccabi in a November 2004 game in Tel Aviv. He played at the time for Scavolini Pesaro and later had a big Quarterfinal Playoffs series, averaging 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks, although Maccabi swept the series.
- Forward Carlos Jimenez has not had too many fun appearances against Maccabi. He has played 73 Euroleague games in his career and only in nine of them has he recorded an index rating of less than 2. Three of those games were against Maccabi. Last season he finished both encounters with Maccabi without a single point and a total of zero made shots in four attempts.
- Guard Carlos Cabezas's scored a career-best 32 points and dished 6 assists in the 2006-07 season opener in Tel Aviv, although that was not enough to lead his team to victory. He also achieved a career-best 41 index in that overtime defeat.
- Swingman Jiri Welsch needs just 3 more steals to reach 100 for his Euroleague Basketball career.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008