Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv enters the season with 15 players on its senior roster, the vast majority of whom return from last season. Coach Ioannis Sfairolpoulos has four new men to integrate into his systems. The pearl of the team's off-season moves was the addition of center Ante Zizic. The remaining additions are all new to the EuroLeague. Point guard Chris Jones arrives after a strong season in the Turkish League, forward Oz Blayzer made his 7DAYS EuroCup debut last season and shooting guard Eidan Alber returns to his boyhood club after two seasons gaining experience elsewhere.
Coach Sfairolpoulos enjoys a bevy of guards who can play the '1' and the '2.' Scottie Wilbekin established himself as a team leader last season after leading the team in scoring (16.1 ppg.) and shooting a career-high 43.5% on three-pointers. It wasn't just the numbers, but rather his willingness to play hurt and to step up and take tough shots with the game on the line. After penning a three-year contract extension, Wilbekin is Maccabi's clear go-to guy. Newcomer Chris Jones is stepping up a level after impressing last season with Frutti Extra Bursaspor. An aggressive on-the-ball defender and team-first playmaker, Jones cannot be overlooked as a scorer either. Team captain John Dibartolomeo, who comes off an injury-plagued campaign, is a defensive stopper and strong spot-up shooter. Tyler Dorsey had many great moments last season as a EuroLeague rookie where his shot-making and scoring made him one of the league's most-dangerous sixth men. Swingman Elijah Bryant is another player who fits well in the Maccabi system; he is a great shooter, a tough defender and a strong ball-handler. Minutes were scarce for Sandy Cohen in his first season as a professional, but when he played Cohen displayed the amazing athleticism that caused Maccabi to sign him to a long-term deal in the first place. Expect him to build on that in his second season with the club. A product of the Maccabi youth academy, Eidan Alber was a starter on Israel's gold-medal winning squad at the U20 European Championships in 2019. Still a teenager, Dori Sahar appeared in 18 games for Maccabi in the Israeli League last season. Neither Albar nor Sahar is expected to have significant roles this season.
Swingman Yovel Zoosman is a big piece of Maccabi today and for the future. His long arms and basketball savvy make Zoosman an elite defender and his offensive game seems to progress every season. Omri Casspi is already one of the most accomplished players in Israeli basketball history. His first season back in Tel Aviv was marred by injuries, though when fit he was among the team's – and the league's – most productive players. Casspi worked hard after his injuries to get back in shape and become a dominant player again. Angelo Caloiaro is a modern power forward with a great inside-out game. He is a team-first player with a great shot from the corner. Oz Blayzer got a taste of the EuroCup last season with Maccabi Rishon LeZion. He is a tough and clever player who, at age 27, is ready to leave his mark. Former EuroLeague champion Othello Hunter put up the best numbers of his career last season. A force in the paint, his importance as a team leader is just as important as his efficient scoring and rebounding numbers. Powerful center Ante Zizic returns to the EuroLeague after three seasons abroad and all signs point to him having a big role. Teenage big man Yonatan Atias also got his first taste of professional basketball last season in the Israeli League and will look to build on that experience.
PLAYER TO WATCH
When we last saw Ante Zizic in the EuroLeague, he was the runner-up to Luka Doncic in the EuroLeague Rising Star voting after posting 9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in helping Darussafaka Istanbul reach the playoffs. Scottie Wilbekin was his teammate on the squad. The wide-bodied center has an old-school post-game and uses his size and positioning to be an elite force on the offensive glass. He is also strong at setting picks and with the many great Maccabi ball-handlers who are also stellar shooters, defenses will be in a pickle when Maccabi looks to run the pick-and-roll with Zizic on the floor. Maccabi pursued Zizic, whose older brother Andrija was on the club's 2014 EuroLeague-winning squad, to make him a key piece of its frontline. He figures to split time at center with Othello Hunter and the team has high hopes that he will help lead it back to the playoffs.
Considering that Maccabi had already clinched a playoff berth last season before the season came to a premature end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the goals this season will be nothing less than that. The Israeli champs retained most of their key players from last season and with a healthy roster will be optimistic to be even better than before. What is certain is that Maccabi has a balanced and versatile roster that can succeed in high-scoring games or defensive slugfests. With Coach Sfairopulos at the helm, could a Final Four be in the cards?