Maccabi Tel-Aviv demolished Besiktas Istanbul 101-58 en route to its sixth consecutive win in the Euroleague Top 16 round. In a contest that was over almost as soon as it began, Maccabi was able to all but solidify a position in the Euroleague quarterfinals despite dropping five out of its first seven top 16 matches.
Devin Smith (16 points, 9 rebounds) led a very balanced offensive attack that featured five players in double figures in the blowout win. A key factor to the game was the prolific 3-point shooting of Maccabi, hitting a blistering 46% from beyond the arc, largely thanks to the poor close-outs and rotations of Besiktas’ defense.
The defending Turkish champions played very lackadaisically from the outset, showing poor body language on transition defense, and frequent miscommunications in pick-and-roll situations. Former second round pick Ricky Minard showed off some of his versatility in the loss, posting 12 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
During Maccabi’s season-saving win streak, the main difference maker has no doubt been Nik Caner-Medley, the former Maryland and Spanish league star, who struggled mightily for the majority of the season. Set back by injuries to start the season, Caner-Medley was written off by the Israeli media almost immediately after looking lost trying to break his way into a deep Maccabi rotation.
Luckily for Caner-Medley, his experience and defined skill set helped him fight through adversity to become a key component of one of Europe’s top basketball clubs.
Despite being a rookie in Euroleague competition, Caner-Medley came to Maccabi with six years of European basketball experience. After playing one year with the Artland Dragons in Germany, Caner-Medley played five years in the strong Spanish ACB league, working his way to becoming one of the league’s premier players, and a dominant player in Eurocup competition. Since Caner-Medley gradually developed himself up throughout his career, he was prepared to handle the inevitable ups and downs that come with playing on a premier club with a deep rotation.
In the age of instant gratification, there is so much hype and expectation surrounding prodigies, with the assumption that stars can be developed overnight. In reality, outside of a few special individuals, the majority of whom are lottery picks, most basketball players need to build themselves up from the bottom, just like in any other profession.
A new legal associate needs to make coffee and work the photocopy machine long before seeing any action in court.
So too, basketball players need to build themselves up from the bottom to prepare themselves for the big show.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv has proven to be a team that understands this, as they have a core of veterans who came overseas with very little hype, and have slowly developed into some of Europe’s most dependable players. Shawn James played three years with Bnei Hasharon, leading the Israeli league in shot blocking and rebounding, before taking his talents to Tel-Aviv, where he has been arguably the best center in Euroleague this season. Virginia product, Devin Smith, started his European career in the second division in Spain before he moved up the ranks. David Logan played in the second division in Italy, the Israeli league and Poland before becoming one of the premier shooters in the Euroleague.
Even the Israeli players of Maccabi needed to prove themselves with smaller Israeli clubs before making the jump to the Euroleague.
Lior Eliyahu made his name with Galil, en route to becoming a second round pick of the Orlando Magic in 2006.
Yogev Ohayon played with Galil, Nahariya and Jerusalem before making the jump to Maccabi. Guy Pnini played with Bnei Hasharon and Jerusalem, making his name as a defender and 3-point shooter, before he got the call up to the Yankees of Israel. Moran Roth even played in the third division in Israel, showing that a player can truly make it all the way up from the bottom, if they have the necessary drive to succeed.
Euroleague rookie, Ricky Hickman, is perhaps the best example on Maccabi of a player who has built himself up from humble basketball beginnings to establish a solid career.
After an unheralded career at UNC Greensboro, Hickman played in small leagues such as Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Italian second division for four years before he played in a strong league last season with Pesaro in the first division in Italy.
After grinding through many battles in Europe, Hickman built a strong foundation that allowed him to flourish when he took his game up to the next level. He has been one of the biggest steals this season in Euroleague, and his story will surely cause many big clubs to level up in their scouting of the lower levels in Europe.
While it is obviously important to land elite talent, teams that surround their stars with players who have had to work their way up typically tend to have stronger chemistry and resilience. While Tim Duncan may be the rock of the Spurs, players like Danny Green, Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal, who had to scratch and claw their way into the league, are prepared to handle any situation. That is without even including Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both of whom came into the league with little fanfare and had their roles gradually increased before they became the all-stars they are today.
While the “instant stars” may make for great television and jaw dropping highlights, their impact can be short-lived and may not lead a team to long-term success over the course of a season.
It may seem glamorous to head to a big club for top dollars fresh out of college, but in a European basketball climate that is very short on patience, there is a far greater chance you will be sent home with your head between your legs than having a standout season.
If people need to start from the bottom and develop themselves in any profession, why should it be any different in professional basketball? For American players in Europe, it isn’t.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.