Maccabi Haifa Under the Gun

'We Hope to Win Trophies, but Can Lose to Any Team'

With games coming fast, Maccabi Haifa coach Franco hopes team can live up to expectations.

In his eighth season in the Super League, Danny Franco finally received a huge club. After succeeding with smaller teams, Franco, who will celebrate his 40th birthday next month, is in charge of the champions, Maccabi Haifa.

He is aware of the difference between his present and former teams, but doesn't feel the pressure: "Nobody told me that we must win the championship, but in every team one wants to compete and be at the top," he says. "As far as budget and organization go, Maccabi Haifa is big club. Owner Jeff Rosen expects American standards, that things will be run in the most professional way. Vice president Arnon Shiran sees to all the details and it's not an easy job. Professionally, as a coach you want to win every game."

Meanwhile, Haifa has won three games in the league and lost one, and has the same record to show in the Eurocup.

How does the team win when it's playing five games in 10 days?

Franco: "A friend, who is an assistant coach in Detroit, phoned me this week. He told me we play more games than them. I truly respect the players' attitude. It's not only the number of games, but also the flights. For us, a day off is a day spent in airports. Our pre-season preparation was different than other teams' (including touring the United States and playing against NBA clubs.) Our players, fortunately, are intelligent, hungry and experienced, even though none of them have ever played so many games in such a short period. We're actually still preparing for the league. In time outs we're still teaching routines and explaining the principles of our game. It's not a simple process and the players should be credited for catching on fast. We can't really train between games. Before the Herzliya game we only discussed our team and what we should be doing. Before the Eilat game we took a few shots and discussed tactics."

You looked rusty in the first half against Eilat before coming back and winning the game. What made the difference between the two halves?

"It was more a mental thing. It would be going too far to say we were immersed in self-pity, but we weren't completely focused on the game and the energy it needed. Fortunately, we were only nine points down at half time. It's very hard to make a switch, but I told the players: 'We have only two minutes to decide. Either we raise a white flag and give in without a fight, or we give our all, and even if we lose, we'll do it as a team.' I'm already familiar with the players; none of them would ever give up prematurely. They returned to the court with the necessary intensity and belief. I didn't make any tactical changes."

One of the players, Donte Smith, posted harsh criticism of the management on his Twitter account, after guard Sherwood Brown was released. Your response?

"The club management deals with such events; my opinion was that we should refrain from announcements, take a deep breath and count to 10. The club isn't a military court, and there was no need to inform the press of any decisions or rulings. Donte wasn't aware that his post would cause such waves, otherwise he wouldn't have expressed himself in such a manner."

Perhaps the fact that he wasn't punished helped him find his form?

"I'm not trying to defend him or understand everything that happens. Some people say that he understood that he was wrong and shouldn't be suspended. I don't know how it affected him. Our relationship in recent weeks is excellent, and if it continues it will be good for everybody."

Does that mean that your relationship was rocky until several weeks ago?

"Donte, Ido Kozikaro and Alex Chubrevich won the title here last season, and it isn't easy to come here and begin from scratch. The team is different, I'm a new coach, things have changed. Everyone is trying to pull in his direction."

Do you feel Moran Roth is hungrier this season?

"Moran identifies with my background, as someone who worked hard to make it. He is the ideal role model of an Israeli basketball player. I know Moran ever since he was a young kid at Kiryat Sharett High School. We respect each other. This season he didn't surprise me at all. One must respect his ability to continue being a leader even after his difficulties last season. He is one of the only Israeli players fans actually stand on line and pay money to see in action. When I joined the club, Moran wasn't part of the squad yet, and some people believed he was too expensive. Fortunately, Rosen knows Moran and believed he should be part of the club. I'm positive that now everybody is happy he's here with us."

What are the club's goals in the EuroCup?

"Banvit Bandirma and Unics Kazan are deeper and more experienced teams. We have already won two away games, but we could also lose at home."

Is Maccabi Haifa capable of winning the local title again this season?

"Naturally, nobody will ever say that he doesn't hope to win the title, but after only four games, such talk would be premature. The last time any club other than Maccabi Tel Aviv won two consecutive titles was before I was born. We have a good team with potential and we hope to win trophies, but can lose to any team."

Nimrod Glickman