Maccabi Tel Aviv, last season's European champion, began its 2001-2002 campaign in Europe as expected yesterday, with an easy win at Yad Eliyahu over Alba Berlin of Germany, 82-70.
Victory was never in doubt, even when the Germans led during the first quarter, following a barrage of successful three-point shots by Jerzy Zidek, who caught Maccabi's defense off balance. But the slight hiccup early on was to be expected, as the perennial Israeli champion had only tested its new defense against sides in unofficial games, without the pressure of European mastery on its shoulders.
There is no doubt, however, that when all the Maccabi squad has completed its fine-tuning, it will again be a serious candidate for the European title.
There are three things that point to a positive future for the men in yellow: The first is the excellent playmaking ability of Arriel McDonald, whose fluid play allowed and will allow Maccabi to utilize its big men with greater ease.
The second is the excellent form of Gur Shelef, who managed to draw many fouls from the opposition, while moving inside Berlin's power forward.
The third is Maccabi's new big man, Hussein Besok. The Turk came in as a replacement for Nate Huffman, who has still not managed to find his good form of old, and contributed with 13 points in 14 minutes of play. He added nine rebounds and four blocks. Besok received most of his assists from McDonald and this combination looks likely to be productive in the future.
Alba was never expected to be an equal opponent for Maccabi last night. It is a side with less quality in depth and less power on the court. Former Maccabi player Wendel Alexis is undoubtedly still an excellent asset - he contributed 17 points, with a 50-percent field goal shooting effort - while Zidek is another strong factor for the German side. His excellent outside shooting added 20 points, including four three-pointers.
Despite Alba's good start - in which it led 12-10 after five minutes, with Zidek notching up 11 points - Maccabi came back to lead 27-18 at the end of the quarter and then never looked back.
Alba tried to stage a comeback in the third quarter with five straight points, but it was too late, as Maccabi ended it ahead 66-51.
Nadav henefeld fouled out in the 24th minute and even that was not a severe setback for Maccabi.
The final quarter turned into a free-for-all as the crowd welcomed Besok, the first Muslim player to turn out for Maccabi, with great fervor.
Besok's complete dominance under the boards saw Maccabi take an 80-58 lead in the 37th minute, assuring the fans a happy night and a good season to contemplate from now on.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now