Looking Sharp, on the Court and in the Steakhouse

Derrick Sharp is known for being one the greatest basketball players in Maccabi Tel Aviv history. And his journey to stardom is not your average Maccabi story.

Derrick Sharp, Maccabi Tel Aviv legend and local restaurateur, never planned on being an Israeli. But after two decades here, his influence on the country and its sportsmen is undeniable.

Sharp played collegiate basketball at the University of Southern Florida. After a very successful college career, Sharp decided to sign his first professional contract with Israeli second division club Maccabi Hadera. After spending three years competing in the second division, Sharp gained much attention from scouts and received a contract offer from European powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv. Little did he know this would be the last team he would play for in his 18-year career.

Despite the fact that he was always a bit undersized, Maccabi fans fell in love with Sharp's style of play, dead-lock defense and level of passion. Sharp would go on to win a record 26 trophies with the club, including three European Championships. He is best known for nailing a game-tying three-pointer in an elimination game in the Top 16 with two seconds left against Lithuanian side Zalgiris during Maccabi’s 2003-2004 run to the Euroleague Final Four (being held in Tel Aviv). As a result of hitting the game-tying shot, Maccabi would go on to win the game in overtime and roll through the rest of the Euroleague, securing their fourth Euroleague title.

And while he was taking Maccabi to new levels of success, he was also busy in his personal life. Sharp became an Israeli citizen and was a member of the Israeli National Basketball Team during its appearances in the 2001 and 2003 Eurobasket Tournament. He also teamed up with chef Yankele Schein to form his aptly-named Tel Aviv steakhouse, Sharp & Shine.

In 2011, however, he decided it was time to retire from the game.

Almost immediately, he became an assistant coach under David Blatt. In Sharp’s first year as assistant, Maccabi won the Adriatic League, had a deep run in the Euroleague and won both State Cup and Championship titles. This season, Sharp is trying to lead his club past the Top 16.

After winning six straight crucial Euroleague games I had the opportunity to speak with Derrick about his career with Maccabi, his Israeli side, his kids and his future as a possible head coach.

Q: What has the transition been like from playing to coaching?

Very smooth! The situation was perfect because there was a lot of work to be done last year since we were competing in three (Winner League, Euroleague and Adriatic League) leagues. I learned a lot and have the best teachers in Guy Goodes and David Blatt.

Q: Tell us more about your new restaurant Sharp & Shine?

The restaurant is great! I'm so excited to be a part of it. The food is excellent and we have gotten great reviews from the public. We are trying to make it more affordable for everyone … We are not just a steakhouse, we have recently added Dim Sum to our menu as well as other dishes that are more affordable. The quality of the food is amazing. Yankale Schein is a great chef and partner and he has blown me away with his dishes.

Q: What is your favorite thing about coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv?

Learning from Guy Goodes and David Blatt. Oh yeah, also hearing the fans cheer my name! Much respect to them!

Q: Do you have aspirations to become head coach someday?

I aspire to be the best coach I can be. If that leads me to a head coaching position that's great!

Q: You guys have had a very challenging season [Starting 2-5 in Euroleague]. How do you keep the guys focused anda way from the negative media?

The guys are experienced and understand the media's job. Coach Blatt makes sure he explains how to handle the media.

Q: Your son has been impressing a lot of people in Israel with his play. What are your expectations for him?

Just to play the game with passion, have fun and work hard to be the best player in the world! Do we have another superstar in the making? I believe so, he is very talented (more than me) and he is driven to be the best!

Q: Do you identify more as an Israeli or as an American?

American of course. It's in my blood. That's how I grew up. But my passion and drive to be the best is definitely a trait that I identify with Israelis! I can tell you that I feel like a foreigner when I go back to the States in the summer.

AP