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D'Or Fischer, like Maccabi Tel Aviv itself, is back in the saddle. The Philadelphia-born center, who enjoyed plenty of minutes last season and finished as one of the Euroleague's top players, had to adjust this season to spending most of his time on the bench. Sometimes, he didn't even get to play.

He took it hard. "There were times when I came home and just cried," Fischer told Haaretz last week. "I was so miserable."

Fischer says that he lost his way and didn't know what was going on. "I even started pointing a finger at myself," he recalls. He says it was so hard for him that he would come home and ask his girlfriend and his mother what he did wrong.

Michal, his Israeli girlfriend for over the past year, supported him through his lowest moments, he says. "She's a big part of my life, and I love her a lot," says the Philadelphia native. Fischer says when he was down she told him that the storm would pass, and that the moment coach Pini Gershon would need him he would see that he's the same D'Or.

Indeed, when Maccabi reached the Euroleague Top 16, Fischer resumed his role as team linchpin. His revived status followed a conversation he had with Gershon after the team's away game in Siena. "Pini said he had confidence in me and talked about a rotation," says Fischer. "He made it clear that he has faith in my ability, and that he never lost it. Before he told me that, I thought everything was personal, but after we spoke I forgot everything and started playing basketball."

Things have gone much better for Fischer since that moment, bumping up his scoring average from 6.0 to 8.7 per Euroleague game and blocking 4.7 shots per game rather than 1.4 before the Top 16 phase.

Fischer may not be the leader he was last season with Alan Anderson around, but he describes the team as being like a fist - everyone contributes something. "Some claim Alan Anderson is an egotist, but I think that if someone has to do it, it's him," he says. "They say Chuck Eidson is too quiet and should be more vocal, but I think that sometimes it's better not to say things than to just annoy others. They say (Doron) Perkins plays neighborhood ball, but I think he's the right one to put in the middle of a game and to do his 'thing.'"

Fischer stands by other teammates, as well. "They say David Bluthenthal shoots too quickly, but against Real Madrid and Siena he made huge three-pointers," he says. "Everyone brings some kind of leadership, including without a doubt Derrick Sharp. He's always optimistic."

According to Fischer, the post-Netanya discussion and the release of Maciej Lampe, who last played for Maccabi in the Euroleague in December's loss to CSKA Moscow, definitely helped the team. "Regardless of his ability, when Lampe was here, there was always someone off the roster," he explains. "Whether or not the league is tough, a player wants to play. A shorter rotation helps the players."

As for the competition, Fischer says coach Gershon is modest when he says there are better teams in Europe than Maccabi. He says Gershon says that because other teams among the top eight have bigger budgets.

He thinks the opener of the best-of-five series against Partizan Belgrade today will be a battle. "The first game is very critical," he says. "We'll have to send them a message. We need to use the home court advantage because their fans are crazy."

Beyond this year's Final Four aspirations, Fischer says his girlfriend figures greatly into his future plans. "I hope to see Michal and me together, but who knows what will happen? I love Israel, the weather, the place where I live, and I'd love to stay. If I get married I'll get citizenship. I'd certainly love to stay and play for the national team."