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Basketball / Changing of the guard at Israel's two biggest clubs

Vowing to restore "an Israeli identity" to Super League runner-up Maccabi Tel Aviv, old-new coach David Blatt radiated a sense of optimism as he was officially introduced yesterday as Pini Gershon's successor.

"The team will change somewhat within the next year," Blatt told a throng of reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv. "I can't say to what extent it will change, but there is no doubt that there are quite a few things that we want to improve and to do differently, and we will do everything in our power so that we don't do damage to the positive qualities of our club."

"Character will be a central consideration in choosing the players on the roster, because it all starts with character," the newly-minted coach, who previously skippered Macabbi some seven years ago, said.

Maccabi was criticized last season for its mental fragility and a recurring tendency to wilt in pressure situations. Cognizant of the expectations attached to Israel's perennial powerhouse, Blatt pledged to aim high.

"I am obligated to give everything I can so that the team will reach the highest plateau possible," he said. "I will work to ensure that the team conducts itself with class and that it plays with a love of the sport and treats the fans in the proper way." "Obviously there are a number of prominent Israelis who are playing abroad these days, and each one of them can potentially return to play for Maccabi," he said.

"There are also many players that are in our league that we are looking at and who in the right circumstances could end up on our club, and there are also players on our team who played sparingly in the past but who we might look to develop more in the future."

"We will do everything to boost our foundation and strengthen our Israeli identity," Blatt, who was born in the United States, said.

Despite the departures of Alan Anderson and Stephane Lasme, Blatt made it clear that most of the players on the current roster will remain with the club. "The only player that has a guaranteed contract for next season in Chuck Eidson, and he will be back. I hope to see a strong, quality roster of Israeli players who will serve as the backbone of a club that will also have a number of elite Europeans who will bring joy to the team's supporters as well as numerous victories."

"In the past I was part of a coaching staff that brought some of the best foreigners from Europe who ever played here," Blatt said. "The responsibility falls on my shoulders to repeat the task this time as well."