Israeli champion Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv comes into the 2019-20 season with one of the deepest rosters in club history with 15 players. Among them are seven newcomers reinforcing the team at every spot. The biggest name is Omri Casspi, who returns to his boyhood club after a decade overseas. Reigning EuroLeague champion Othello Hunter fortifies the frontcourt, while EuroLeague debutant Quincy Acy joins him at forward. All-Israeli League selection Elijah Bryant, veteran Nate Wolters, Tyler Dorsey and Sandy Cohen III are the new faces in the backcourt.
He was Maccabi’s leading scorer last season and Scottie Wilbekin will again be a focal point for the offense. Nate Wolters will take on a primary ball-handling role alongside Wilbekin, while John DiBartolomeo brings tough defense, clutch shot-making ability and leadership as an additional point guard. Combo-guard Tyler Dorsey could become Coach Sfairopoulos’s ace due to his versatility and the mismatches he creates. Dorsey can guard all three backcourt spots and can play as an off-ball shooter or can penetrate and get to the basket for close-range shots or to set up teammates. Elijah Bryant is stepping up to the EuroLeague in just his second season as a professional and his all-around game should help make the teamwork better as a whole. Rookie Sandy Cohen III, who signed a long-term contract with Maccabi, will get his feet wet this season as he adjusts to top-level hoops.
Omri Casspi is Maccabi’s new captain and signature player. His fiery attitude, superb shooting and aggressive style not only make him fun to watch, but dangerous at either forward spot. Coach Sfairopoulos can get creative with a pair of rising stars on the wings in Yovel Zoosman and Deni Avdija. Zoosman is emerging as a great three-and-D player. Thanks to his long arms, he can guard players at multiple positions. The 18-year-old Avdija, who was the MVP at the U20 European Championship this summer, combines a point guard’s skillset with a power forward’s body and could be Israel’s next big star. The trio of Tarik Black, Othello Hunter and Quincy Acy will make the Maccabi paint a dangerous place for opponents. Black comes off an outstanding first season in Europe in which he became a fan favorite for his heady play, viscous dunks and physical defense. Hunter can do much of the same, ensuring that Maccabi will have 40 minutes of toughness from the center position. Acy brings explosiveness to the power forward spot with the needed outside shot to open up defenses. Angelo Caloiaro came through with a handful of big games in his first EuroLeague season whether through his defense, rebounding or shooting. He can play either forward spot alongside any of Maccabi’s other bigs. Now in his fifth season with the club, Jake Cohen is the longest-tenured current Maccabi player and a reliable option off the bench. Teenager Dori Sahar will provide depth as he soaks up experience that could make him a key player for Maccabi down the line.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Among the seven newcomers on the Maccabi roster, Tyler Dorsey is one of the few with no previous EuroLeague experience. However, there are big expectations for Dorsey, who has played internationally for the Greek national team. One thing that defines this Maccabi squad is how many players can feature at multiple positions. However, while that may create mismatch havoc for the opposition, it also means Maccabi must be creative defensively. Dorsey could become a key for Coach Sfairopoulos in making that happen. As a combo-guard who could even play small forward in a small lineup, Dorsey can likewise guard any perimeter position. He can be plugged in as a scorer alongside Nate Wolters or John DiBartolomeo, become a primary ball-handler alongside Scottie Wilbekin or Elijah Bryant or take advantage of space when Omri Casspi or Angelo Caloiaro draw defenses outside and attack the basket. If Dorsey can match the hype, Maccabi will be a force to be reckoned with.
Maccabi version 2019-20 is unlike what its fans have become accustomed to seeing the past few years. With Coach Sfairopoulos, who joined the club a third way through last season, now on the bench for the preseason and able to mold the team into his style, Maccabi will be a team that fights and plays hard, is creative at both ends and uses its depth to its advantage by changing the rotation from game to game and even quarter to quarter. If Maccabi can turn Menorah Mivtachim Arena into a fortress once again, the Israeli champs should be in the thick of the playoff hunt with a good chance to reach the top eight for the first time in five years!