Over at Greece-based Eurohoops.net, yesterday was posted a nice interview with already-legendary former head coach Pini Gershon. Gershon in Europe is mostly known for his establishment of Maccabi Tel Aviv as a European basketball powerhouse, with Continental titles taken in 2001*, 2004, and 2005 (*actually a FIBA SuproLeague title in that strange season of two European club champions), plus a brief and respectable turn with Olympiacos in the late ‘00s.
Making him a local hero in Bulgaria was his guidance of the national team into Eurobasket 2009, particularly the underdog side’s upset over Team Italy in qualifiers to advance. And Gershon earned his 15 minutes of ESPN Sports Center fame after earning an ejection in October of that year during an exhibition game between Maccabi and the New York Knicks.
Nowadays, Gershon is in a state of retirement but naturally is still keeping up with the game. In the Eurohoops interview, much space is devoted to Gershon thoroughly sounding off on a couple series in the Euroleague’s elite eight tournament round. Most telling are two prescient points on individual performances; this stuff should probably be taken seriously.
As for the Panathinaikos-Maccabi matchup – which is giving Gershon flashbacks of his inaugural trip to the Euroleague finals in 2000 against the Greens – Gershon proclaims that it’s all gonna come down to Sarunas Jaskivecius … or perhaps even Sofoklis Schortsanitis.
Sayeth the sage one: “I have seen recently Panathinaikos in person and on TV. … Who was the player who changed everything in the game against Olympiacos in Piraeus, when PAO was trailing? Saras! He still knows how to run the pick-and-roll! He is a great influence on the game of Panathinaikos. Jasikevicius is the key for the Greens and Sofo is […] for Maccabi. There is a difference in the playing style of Maccabi when Sofo is the court and a different style when [Richard] Hendrix is playing. Panathinaikos still relies on the pick-and-roll. Hendrix is a better defender than Schortsanitis, but [Schortsanitis] is in very good condition lately.”
Sofoklis’ current condition has Gershon believing that, not only can Maccabi steal one at home, but that his former side may be able to control things down low: “The key will be how Panathinaikos defends Maccabi in the post. If they decide to trap and play with help on Sofo or Hendrix [I think] it’s a bad idea to send a second post player on that help, because Maccabi has some great shooters. But Panathinaikos has the advantage [in the backcourt] matchups with [Dimitris] Diamantidis, [Nick] Calathes and Saras against [Yogev] Ohayon and [Theo] Papaloukas. It will be very important who play against Calathes on defense. Ohayon can make some shots and Desmond Mallet even more.
“The best offensive tandem for Maccabi is Hendrix with Papaloukas. I believe that Papaloukas will play a lot in this series. They know the game of each other very well and they work well on together on the court. [David] Blu is also important. He has to prove that he can make big shots in important games with a pop out … if you make shots like that, the defense has a really hard job to do.”
Vis-à-vis the Olympiacos-Montepaschi Siena playoff, Gershon appears to be firmly in the Italians’ camp, saying “…I think that Siena is the favorite. You know why? [Olympiacos has] to win away in Italy! Seeing the two rosters, the most experienced team will have the best chances to win away and that team is Siena. Olympiacos has a lot of energy, a lot of motivation, young players. But in the Euroleague playoffs, everybody has energy and motivation! Who will stop [Bo] McCalebb? [Vassilis] Spanoulis? It would more logical to save his strength for the offense. That means that one of the … kids must have that role. Will he do it? Olympiacos will fight, but Siena has the upper hand.”
O, and in case you were wondering, Gershon’s on-again, off-again recent career seems to be firmly locked in the “off” position. In response to a query about a return to the game, Gershon emphatically (this interview has oodles of exclamation points, believe BiE) stated that “I will not, my friend! I am happy with what I do now in my life,” and “I’ve had offers, but I didn’t have the motives that I needed to get back in this process. The most probable scenario for me is to never again coach a team!”
The whole – pretty damn long – interview may be read here.