Much of the credit for Maccabi Tel Aviv's success this season has gone to the sidelines, where coach David Blatt rules. When Maccabi takes the court tonight against Panathinaikos in Game 1 of their best-of-five Euroleague quarterfinal series, Blatt will go in as underdog compared to opposing coach Zeljko Obradovic - just like any other coach would.
"A coach is measured by the results, and in this regard Obradovic is the best in Europe," says Muli Katzurin, the Israeli head coach of Skyliners Frankfurt. A decade ago, Katzurin declared that Blatt was the best coach in Israeli basketball.
Obradovic, who won the FIBA Eurobasket in 1997 with Spain and the 1998 World Cup with Greece, has led Panathinaikos to 11 Greek titles, seven Greek cups and five Euroleague titles since 1999, including last year.
The question for Maccabi is whether Blatt in only his second career Euroleague playoff, will be capable of putting up a fight against a coach with a 14-1 record in such series.
On a wider note, do two successful seasons with Maccabi, combined with his achievements with the Russian national team as well as a slew of European clubs, make Blatt one of the leading coaches on the continent?
Andrei Kirilenko, a small forward for CSKA Moscow, puts them on the same level. He says Obradovic's record speaks for itself, but Blatt's career is just beginning to bloom. He adds the best may be yet to come.
Arik Shivek, who both coached Blatt and served as his assistant, says the basketball world in Europe is small, and that everyone in it knows what everybody in Israel already knows - that Blatt is a workaholic who brings his teams 100 percent ready to the court. "Other coaches on the continent and I all think he is among the top in Europe, too," adds Shivek, who now coaches Mons-Hainaut in Belgium.
Blatt's former player Kirilenko says the coach's recipe for success is his ability to combine the fundamentals of coaching with new ideas. "Blatt's approach is different from others," he says. "Every player who trains under him learned new things. "
In the end, it will come down to how the players match up with each other. Maccabi is expected to start Demond Mallet, Keith Langford, Devin Smith, Lior Eliyahu and Sofoklis Schortsanitis, while Panathinaikos will field Dimitris Diamantidis, Pat Calathes, Romain Sato, Steven Smith and Mike Batiste.
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