Maccabi duo answers emergency call: first win for the head of scouting in a rarely seen show

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2022-02-02 09:10
Credit: BNS

In an emergency call for Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv, the head of scouting and player development became a head coach, and James Nunnally was a man of the night. Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv extended their 3-game winning streak in Kaunas, defeating Zalgiris 94-78.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos, Doron Perkins, Vasileios Geragotellis, and Noam Levy. That's the official Maccabi's head coaching staff list that you can find on a brand new EuroLeague website. 

But in the EuroLeague's Round 24, Maccabi were coached by the person who was neither on the official coaching staff list (at least on the EuroLeague website) nor the team's bench in the last few years.

Player of the Game
James  Nunnally
James Nunnally
Points 32
Accuracy 12-14
Rebounds 2
Assists 1

Avi Even officially is the head of the scouting and player development department of Maccabi Tel Aviv.

His "staff" usually includes Nikola Vujcic and Ioannis Sfairopoulos. These are the people who are responsible for building Maccabi. During the season Even is also working individually with the players on their skills.

Usually, Even does a lot of behind-the-scenes work and is under the pressure of finding the best pieces for Maccabi that would bring titles. But on February 1st, 2022, he was under pressure to take an important EuroLeague victory in Kaunas to improve their playoff chances.

When COVID-19 almost left Maccabi coachless in Kaunas, Even took responsibility with full excitement.

Only him and assistant coach Noam Levi were on the Maccabi bench, but the 45-year-old interim was all over the place on the sidelines of the Zalgirio arena.

He was high-fiving his players and even the referees, encouraging his team even if they failed to stop Zalgiris in defense, especially in the first half, when the home team scored 47 points.

Credit BNS

Even took a small piece of paper from his jacket from time to time to follow the pre-game plan, which was precisely prepared via Zoom by all the coaching staff.

"This is corona time, so Zoom became very normal," Even smiled in the press conference.

"We sat all together with the coaching staff and worked on the game plan. But once I step on the floor, there's no WhatsApp during the game. No phone calls during the game," Even said to BasketNews. "I took all the information, all the game plans, and I applied it in the game."

Even, who served as an assistant coach to such basketball minds as David Blatt or Zvi Sherf, worked in Maccabi for almost two decades.

His single assistant in Kaunas, 31-year-old Noam Levy, joined Maccabi's coaching staff last season, so that's why Even, not Levy, received an emergency call to take over the head coach's seat.

Interestingly, Even coached Levy in Maccabi's U18 team many years ago. Now they took unusual responsibility to lead Maccabi to the 10th EuroLeague victory this year.

"I'm not an issue here," Even was running away from the spotlight. "Sfairopulos is working with the team, and he put the habits. I was called up just to help the team."

"I feel that this game was important for us as a team. To keep fighting all the way to make it to the playoffs. I'm happy players took this challenge in the best way and left everything on the floor to win in a tough arena like here," Even praised his player.

The game was tied after the first half (47-47) when Zalgiris started the 3rd quarter missing good shots. Arturas Milaknis, Karolis Lukosiunas, and Tyler Cavanaugh, the deadliest Zalgiris sharpshooters, missed at least five open threes.

On the other end, James Nunnally and Scottie Wilbekin were so hot that they started knocking down shots to a point where they just couldn't miss.

"The shots were just going on, and they kept going in. So confidence kept going up," Wilbekin said in a EuroLeague TV interview.

Wilbekin scored 20 points on 5 of 7 3-point shooting, got 3 rebounds, and dished 6 assists.

His teammate Nunnally was even more impressive. He scored 32 points on 6 of 7 3-point shooting.

His performance index rating was 38. Per BasketNews data, only Nikola Mirotic was more efficient in a EuroLeague game this season (39).

"Offensively, my teammates were looking to find me, setting good screens and making great passes. I was just knocking down shots," Nunnally explained after his career-high game, both in points and PIR. "I just play the game, man. From open shooting, you just try to make the right play. My teammates found me in the right positions. So thank you to them."

Nunnally and Wilbekin combined for 26 of 47 second-half Maccabi points. For example, the entire Zalgiris team scored 31.

"I didn't see such a performance of these two players in a really long time," Zalgiris head coach Jure Zdovc was impressed with Nunnally and Wilbekin.

Even, who as a scout probably had a lot to do with a decision to bring Nunnally to Maccabi, hugged his top scorer after the game. He brought him his first-ever EuroLeague head coaching victory.

That was the second time Even took over the helm of Maccabi.

In the 2015-16 season, Maccabi fired Guy Goodes and waited for Zan Tabak's arrival. Even stepped up on an interim basis for the EuroLeague game against Darussafaka Istanbul.

Maccabi lost 73-84 and fell to a 1-4 record, later failing to qualify for the EuroLeague Top 16 for the first time in club history.

In 16 years with Maccabi, Even went through the best and worst Maccabi times. From the Final Four miracle in Milan to a 10-20 season or the relegation to the EuroCup.

Ironically, after losing eight games in a row, Maccabi went on a three-game winning streak now.

After defeating Olympiacos Piraeus, ALBA Berlin, and Zalgiris, Maccabi knocked at the Top 8 again.

"I think that our confidence got hurt during the previous period. We're working on rebuilding our confidence and our chemistry as a team," Even commented the turning point of Maccabi getting back on the winning path.

"I'm happy we managed to overcome this bad period. But this is part of history. We're looking forward to having a game in two days from now. That's what we're looking at."

It remains uncertain whether Maccabi will be with or without Ioannis Sfairopoulos on the sidelines.

Maccabi are facing FC Bayern Munich on February 3rd.


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