Last year, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv remained in the hunt for a playoff berth until the final rounds of the season. Now in Coach Neven Spahija's second season with the club, the goal is to climb over the hunt and finish the regular season among the top eight. The club signed six new players over the summer who will be tasked with lifting Maccabi to where it traditionally has belonged. The biggest name among them is Scottie Wilbekin, who pieced together a marvelous 7DAYS EuroCup campaign in which he earned MVP honors and carried Darussafaka Istanbul to the title. Joining him in the backcourt is second-year pro, Kendrick Ray. Through Johnny O'Bryant, Angelo Caloiaro and Nimrod Levi, Maccabi has overhauled the forward rotations and center Tarik Black will provide muscle in the paint.
The Maccabi backcourt is an experienced one with Wilbekin and Jeremy Pargo expected to play the key roles. Wilbekin was an elite performer with Darussafaka last season both as a playmaker and a scorer and now he will try to prove he can do the same in the EuroLeague. Pargo, who joined Maccabi for the third time late last season and helped it recapture the Israeli League crown, has a similar game to Wilbekin in that he can shoot from virtually anywhere on the floor, penetrate to the paint with ease or find the open man. The duo can play together in a small lineup or spell one another as the lead playmaker. Michael Roll returns after a successful EuroLeague debut. An elite shooter, Roll emerged as a steadying force on last season's squad. DeAndre Kane proudly accepted the role as the defensive stopper last season, often guarding the opposition's best scorer. He also found his offensive rhythm over the final third of a season and could provide more scoring this season. Team captain John DiBartolomeo was mostly relied on to provide a spark off the bench. A fiery player with a never-say-die attitude, DiBartolomeo was a game-changer with clutch three-pointers and timely steals, each of which ignited the passionate Maccabi faithful. Ray was the Czech League MVP as a rookie last season and can be counted on to provide scoring punch at any level.
Yovel Zoosman played a minor role for Maccabi last season, but he flashed his vast potential when he led Israel to the gold medal at the FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship over the summer and was named tourney MVP. A classic small forward with an all-around game, Zoosman is expected to play significantly more minutes this season. O'Bryant arrives to make his EuroLeague debut. A natural power forward, he brings the muscle and rebounding ability, good mid-range to outside shooting and athleticism, which could make him a standout player. Caloiaro is a veteran of the EuroLeague game who finally gets his chance at the top level. He can play at either forward spot and is effective both in the paint and on the perimeter. Veteran Alex Tyus is the only Maccabi player back from the team's 2014 EuroLeague-winning squad. He is already ranked fifth on the competition's all-time blocked shots charts and might be just as high in alley-oop dunks if such a stat was kept. Tyus will continue to make an impact with both in what will be his fourth season in yellow. Black joins Tyus in giving Maccabi rim protection. Though he may be limited to playing close to the basket, his physical style should allow Black to control the boards and offer the local fans some powerful dunks. At 2.10 meters, Jake Cohen is the tallest player on the roster, but his game is better suited to outside shooting. Levi, who played briefly for Maccabi two seasons ago, was named the Israeli League's most improved player last season with Ashdod and will look to claim a spot in the rotation this time. Deni Avdija is only 17 and thus will not play much in the EuroLeague, but Maccabi sees him as a major piece of its future.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Pargo is at once both a fun-loving and excitable playmaker and a no-nonsense drill sergeant. He hates to lose and uses all his abundant skills to avoid doing so. Not only does Pargo, even at age 32, have what it takes to be a lead guard in the EuroLeague, he is also the right man to teach some of the newcomers around him exactly what it takes to win. A former All-Euroleague selection, Pargo has been to Final Fours with both Maccabi and CSKA Moscow and won national championships with three different teams. He is not afraid to step up with the game on the line, which gives Spahija a lot of freedom to be creative when both Pargo and Wilbekin are on the floor. With four players standing 1.88 meters or shorter on the roster, how well Pargo, Wilbekin, et al play together could determine how good Maccabi can ultimately be.
Maccabi appears to be a team on the rise again after a tough 2016-17 campaign. The club took a step forward last season and now is targeting loftier goals. The outlook is promising based on the combination of talent, experience and hunger on the roster, but what will matter most in the end is team chemistry. If Spahija can get everyone pulling together, Maccabi has the scoring talent, defensive toughness and depth to make a run at another Final Four, which would be its first since taking the crown in 2014. However if it takes too long for all the pieces to come together, it could be another year of coming up short in Tel Aviv.