Norris Cole, Maccabi: 'Playing for our playoff lives'

Mar 28, 2018 by Norris Cole - Tel Aviv, Israel Print
Norris Cole, Maccabi: 'Playing for our playoff lives'

This week we have a big game for sure. We are playing for our playoff lives. I think we are up for the challenge. I am looking forward to seeing how we respond to this game.

We beat Baskonia back in Round 2, but that was so long ago. They are a different team now. They are obviously playing a lot better. They are probably the hottest team in the EuroLeague right now. The last five or six games, they've been playing really well. But none of that will matter on Thursday. What matters is that we are playing for our playoff lives. We have to do everything we can to walk out of there with a win. That’s our focus. I am sure we are going to look at some things from the first game we played against Baskonia, but they are playing different now, they are under new leadership now, they are a totally different team than when we played them earlier.

Baskonia plays very well at home. Defensively they are pretty good. They have a lot of size. They play well together. We are going to have to deal with their size and how well they play and shoot the ball at home. They have a strong inside game with a dominant four-man, Toko Shengelia; he’s been a force all year in the EuroLeague. They have some good pieces. They have good guard play with Granger, Beaubois and Huertas. It's going to be a challenge and I'm looking forward to it.

We’ve got to be aggressive. I tell our younger guys, we’ve got to play to our strengths and be aggressive. Whatever we do, we have to do it hard. My approach when I am in a do-or-die situation is to compete my hardest. At the end of the day, the only thing you can control is how hard you play. You can't control if the ball is going to go in or not, if you are going to have a great shooting night or not, you can't control the atmosphere in a road game, so you have to be focused and you have to be aggressive and you have to stay together. Those are the key things. If my team is aware of those things, we have a chance.

This is a tough stretch of the season, so I haven't really had time for much outside of basketball. When I'm not playing, most of my free time is spent on the phone with my family back in the States, my business partners in the States or working on my foundation, the Norris Cole Foundation, getting things squared away for what we are going to do this summer with my basketball camp. It's for kids from elementary school through eighth grade. I do the camp every year and I try to add something to it every year for the campers. This summer I am working on bringing some professional basketball players to the camp. I have brought some older, veteran NBA players from the area and some ex-college football players to the camp in the past to speak to the kids.

My message is pretty much consistent for these kids at all ages. I want to teach them to be good teammates, good sons and daughters, to be good students and to have fun. That's the biggest thing when you are playing basketball at that age, you want to be a great student, a good member of your community and you want to have fun playing the game. I always remind them, none of you are going to get paid playing in high school, there are no professionals in high school. It should be fun, not a job. So don't look at it as a job. Love the game and enjoy being part of your team, playing with your teammates and the experience of school.

The irony of that message is that here I have high-school aged kids with me on the team at Maccabi! We have a different dynamic out here. I don't talk to guys like Deni Avdija or Yovel Zoosman the same way when they ask me about things, I give them professional advice, how to deal with their body, how to put together a routine, things of that nature. But it is pretty different in Europe, where kids are professionals at such a young age. It's pretty interesting.

Here these guys learn earlier how to deal with the mental and physical struggles of playing a man's game. In the States, guys have to wait until after college and then they have to go through that adjustment period. It takes some guys longer than others. Zoosman is getting that experience as a teenager, early, so by the time he's 21 years old, he'll be used to it. I think that will be an advantage for him. And he's able to work on his body and his craft consistently; he doesn’t have anything else to worry about. Just building up his game and building up his body so he can withstand the professional game. By being able to start doing that at such a young age, by the time he's in his early 20s, he might be very scary to play against.

Not every teenager is ready to play professionally. It's different for each player. Each player has his own maturity level. It depends on the size of the player, it's different for a guy who's six-foot, 160 pounds than for a guy who's 6'8", 220 pounds or a guy who might be seven feet. It's all different. It depends on what makes a kid a great player, is it because he's a dominant athlete or is it because he's incredibly skilled? All of that plays a part.

I always figure if a guy is physically capable of playing pro, if he's physically gifted, maybe that person should play pro, because those physical gifts you can enhance best in a professional setting. For a guy who is incredibly skilled, but is not developed yet physically, I think those are the guys who need to go to school and spend time building their body. Because the pro game is a man's game, not for boys, so your body has to be able to handle the pounding it's going to take. And their maturity level, is a guy mature enough to handle it or not. That’s how I decipher if a guy should be playing pro right away out of high school or go to college or a preparatory type of situation.

Yalla Maccabi!