Down six players: Euroleague opener in Tel Aviv
149 days have passed since the memorable drama in Milan, when the Bayern basketball team missed the possible sensation of a Final Four appearance by a razor-thin margin in the decisive fifth playoff game. But the positive memories of the first playoff participation of a German team in the EuroLeague will be truly in the past when this Thursday in Tel Aviv (MagentaSport live) the ball tipped-off at 20:05 for the first jump of the new season. Bayern are now once again not a natural contender for the playoffs of the top division but the stands in the Menorah Mivtachim Arena, sold out with just under 11,000 fans for the season debut of the Israeli double winner.
Vor einem Jahr gelang den Münchnern mit dem 85:82 der erste Sieg überhaupt beim fünfmaligen Gewinner des höchsten europäischen Wettbewerbs. Vor damals weitgehend leeren Rängen glänzte der spätere All First Team-Forward Vladimir Lucic mit 26 Punkten. Der serbische Kopf der Münchner fehlt jedoch Chefcoach Andrea Trinchieri beim Auftakt ebenso wie Leon Radosevic, Nihad Djedovic, die Zugänge Andreas Obst und Gavin Schilling sowie Paul Zipser.
Mitgereist sind im Vergleich zum Notaufgebot des Ulm-Spiels (83:86) die nach Blessuren genesenen Othello Hunter und Corey Walden, ihren Einsatz hält Trinchieri noch offen.
Coach Trinchieri: "Have to deal with this situation".
The 53-year-old Italian said ahead of Wednesday's final training session in Tel Aviv. "It's the first game of a new season and we would have liked to arrive here with a different starting point: with a team that knows each other, that has played together before, with a full squad. But we have to deal with this situation now and perform with a tough personality to be competitive. I trust my players and I will support them against a team, however very good, that just won the Israeli Supercup easily and destroyed all opponents."
Maccabi Tel Aviv led by top scorer Scottie Wilbekin - on course for a Final Four berth in Corona's inaugural season with a 19-9 record and disappointing 13th in the 18-team field last season - bolstered its ambitions with big-name additions such as Derrick Williams, James Nunnally and Jalen Reynolds. The latter has returned to Tel Aviv after a strong season in Munich (13.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Williams, once brought to the EuroLeague by Bayern, is now expected to push Israel's powerhouse with his athleticism into the targeted playoffs after stints at Fenerbahce and Valencia.
In addition to Wilbekin (13.8 ppg), special attention should be paid to U.S. Keenan Evans at the guard position, who put up an impressive 18.5 points and 6.4 assists for Haifa last season. Ante Zizic is missing but another EuroCup winner from Monaco has been signed for two months: Matthias Lessort - also formerly with Munich.
Maccabi's new stars besides Wilbekin: Williams, Nunnally and Reynolds
And then there's winger Nunnally, most recently with the New Orleans Pelicans and 2017 Final Four MVP for champion Fenerbahce, who has the fourth-best all-time shooting rate from distance at 48.5 percent. Add to that former BBL pros Kameron Taylor (from Hamburg) and Angelo Caloiaro (Oldenburg), Spain returnee Jake Cohen, forward Oz Blayzer and international John Dibartolomeo - Greek coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos has assembled a deep squad.
The travel guide for the Bayern team, which is weakened by injuries, is veteran Hunter, who will lead the newly formed team into Maccabi's raucous arena after two years in Tel Aviv. "I'm looking forward to seeing the great Maccabi fans," said the 35-year-old ahead of his 217th EuroLeague appearance (8.3 ppg). "We're already missing some players, of course, but we still have enough guys to win games. It's all about defense, as our coach also says. We have to make this duel a physical game."