Basketball / Maccabi TA Signs Giant Georgian

Giorgi Shermadini (2.16m) began his career with Maccabi Tbilisi

Eli Shvidler
Eli Shvidler
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Eli Shvidler
Eli Shvidler

When new Maccabi Tel Aviv acquisition Giorgi Shermadini pulls on the yellow jersey for the first time, it will be the second time that the huge Georgian center plays for a team called Maccabi.

The 23-year-old giant, who was born in the town of Natakhtari, began his professional career playing for Maccabi Tbilisi in the Georgian Super League.

He was snapped up by Maccabi Tbilisi after grabbing attention while playing for Tbilisi State University, where his scoring prowess became something of a legend. In one game, against Sokhumi State University, he scored an almost unbelievable 89 points, and in another he scored 76 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists.

Ever since he first came onto the radar, Shermadini has been described as a naturally talented player, but it took a two-year tutelage under legendary Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic to turn that raw talent into something approaching a finished product. The player, who agreed yesterday to join Maccabi Tel Aviv, has learned how to use his long limbs to create a varied arsenal of offensive moves and knows how to use his huge frame to great effect.

During each of his three seasons at Maccabi Tbilisi, Shermadini was selected as the league's MVP. In the second of those three seasons, at the age of just 18, he averaged 35.1 points per game.

Thwarted by injury

His move to one of the continent's top leagues, however, was thwarted by injury. Despite his height, Shermadini has a relatively slender frame, which put increasing pressure on his knees, and a seemingly minor injury in a league match led to a more serious problem with his meniscus and forced him to undergo surgery. That was the main reason that Shermadini was not picked up in the 2008 NBA draft: No team was willing to take a risk on a player with an injury to such a sensitive part of the body.

So Shermadini remained a player with great potential, but fell short of becoming the superstar everyone believed he would become. Instead, he joined Obradovic at Panathinaikos, where he became the youngest player in the team that dominated European basketball for almost a decade.

According to Greek sports journalist Georgis Latsis, Shermadini owes his transformation - from potential star to one of the most sought-after centers on the continent - to Obradovic and his training methods.

Picking up the crumbs

"Working with Obradovic and playing alongside the great players who were at Panathinaikos at the time gave Shermadini a chance to develop as a player," Latsis says. "When he arrived in Greece he was hardly used at all, since Panathinaikos had a collection of players who were united as a team. He was left to pick up the crumbs. But he learned a lot in Greece and that's why he's now joined Maccabi Tel Aviv."

After two years on the sidelines at Panathinaikos, Shermadini was loaned out to Ljubljana, where he had a mediocre season, scoring just 7.4 points per game in the Euroleague. The season after that, however, saw the Georgian join Italian team Bennet Cantu, where he had his breakout season.

Alongside Serbian teammate Vladimir Micov, Shermadini was Cantu's key player. In the Italian league, he averaged 9 points per game and in the Euroleague he managed an average of 10.9. Ironically, it was against Maccabi Tel Aviv that he had his best performance of the season, scoring 28 points against the Israeli champion in two games.

"There's no doubt that Shermadini was one of the most important players in the Cantu roster," says Italian sports journalist Luca Chiabotti. "That said, he's still far from being a complete player. His main problem is that he picks up a lot of early fouls - many of which are the result of rashness. I have seen him called for two or three fouls in the opening five minutes of games, which forced the coach to bench him. If he learns to control that he can become a truly great player."

Despite his problem with fouls, there are those who accuse Shermadini of being too nice and sometimes even too gentle.

"He isn't physically strong," says Chiabotti, "but he knows a lot about basketball and he has a natural intelligence that serves him well. He's still young and he has plenty of time to improve. It will be fascinating to watch how he deals with more physical opponents. He's a lovely guy and I believe that Maccabi's fans will take to him and enjoy his performances."

Giorgi Shermadini, left, in action against Caja Laboral last season.Credit: Getty Images