General Manager of Maccabi Teddy Tel Aviv Youth Departments since 2011, Oren Aharoni is responsible for the development of a team of 32 coaches working with the youth teams. Oren has overseen Maccabi Teddy Tel Aviv’s domination of the domestic scene, having led their U18 team to four championship titles (2018/19, 2017/18, 2016/17, 2015/16), five Cup wins (2018/19, 2016/17, 2015/16, 2012/13) and numerous appearances in the Euroleague Adidas Next Generation Tournament finals.
Oren Aharoni also has a unique breadth of experience with National Team programmes having the position as Head Coach of the Israeli National Team in U16, U18, U20 Men’s teams since 2009 to the present day. In addition to youth basketball, Oren also has experience on the Senior level having coached “Eshet Tours” Team Bnei Hasharon and Gindi Group Givat Shmuel in the Israeli Super League
Lipe Cristóbal Galindo of Future Stars speaks with Oren about the Maccabi Tel Aviv Academy and his advice for young aspiring players.
Can you tell me what your role is with Maccabi’s youth teams? What´s your function there?
It´s my ninth season in Maccabi Tel Aviv as General Manager of the youth department. I am in charge of all the teams in the youth programme up to the U18 age group and am the Head Coach for the U18 Maccabi Tel Aviv team. I am also in charge of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Academy in which we want the top level players in the country.
How can you describe your youth players program, your basketball way? What are the strongest points?
We have four selection teams: under 14, under 15, under 16 and under 18. We put all our focus on these teams. We pick from these teams the best two, three or four players, what we call “the elite program”. They are working three times during the week in the morning in our high school, where the academy is located, each working on their weakness and fundamentals. We have had players such as Deni Avdija, Yoves Zoosman and more come through the programme. One of them was with us in London playing at the Future Stars Tournament. This is our Elite Program. It is like a boutique academy because we are working on the basic fundamentals, we are trying to be specific with every player in our elite group and to see what they need to be the best in order to be a professional player. For instance, with Deni we knew that he is very smart and has a high level of basketball IQ, but his shot was not so good, so we focused on improving his shot and his dribbling technique. We used him on all guard positions and we worked on his athletic abilities there.
Basically, this elite program represents the core of our values and is at the heart of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Youth Program.
You have trained very talented players during your entire career such as Deni Avdija who is now playing in the NBA with Washington Wizards. You have also trained other players that have turned pro. What are the main characteristics that all these players have had in common?
From my point of view and in all my experience, the thing that you can tell directly is a players work ethic. The first thing about Deni that people know is that he is a very, very hard worker. As is Yovel Zoosman, he is now in the starting five in the Macccabi Tel Aviv first team. For players like Deni Avdija and Yovel Zoosman and some players that came to Maccabi but they are now in Hapoel Jerusalem, the working ethic is what separates good players and average ones. The work ethic is staying for hours in the gym, knowing the things that you need to improve and working hard on a daily basis to improve them. It doesn´t matter if you say dribbling, shooting, athletic ability, posting up, driving to the basket… the most important thing from my experience is the working ethic.
Recently you finished the qualification stage of Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Istanbul in fifth position, with two wins and two losses. How would you describe your participation in the tournament?
First, it is great for us to participate in this tournament every year. It is the highest level of European basketball for the U18 age category and it is very important for us to participate in this tournament as we can see our players competing in the top level against European players. It is really important for us because we can see and tell if our players really belong to the top European level or not. The last tournament was good for us, we participated this year with ten under 17 players and just two players which were born in 2003. With a lot of unexperienced but talented players we competed very well. We had a very tough loss against Partizan Belgrade after overtime but our young guys did a very good job and we really felt that we were improving from game to game. I believe that next year we will be much better but finishing with two wins and two losses was good for us. Also, I can say two of our top players performed very well, which gives us a lot of confidence in them for the future.
Your roster included players such as Ido Menchel, with 20 points and 7.3 assists per game, Ido Iluz with 17 points per game and a 54% in three point shots or Yuval Levin, with 11 points and 8 rebounds per game. In fact, Menchel and Iluz were born in 2004. Could you tell me more about these players?
Yes, our point guard, Ido Menchel performed very well in the tournament. One of the things we are working on with him is to improve his shot. When he was in the Israel national team he shot 27% from the three point line and as I said, thanks to his working ethic he improved his shooting ability off the dribble and catch and shoot from three point. During the tournament he shot very well and did amazing performances apart from that.
What about other players of the tournament like Nikola Jovic (Mega), Nikola Djurissic (Mega), Nikola Saranovic (Red Star), Djordije Jovanovic (Partizan) or Tomislav Ivisic (Buducnost)?
We have been playing against some of these players for two years. They are very talented. I believe that Jovic can become either a top Euroleague or an NBA player. Actually, one of our players, Yuval Levin, practiced with the team of Mega during this Covid lockdown in Israel. We are in a close relationship with Mega and we had the ability to send him to practice there so we are very familiar with these top two players. I think they will be either good NBA players or top Euroleague.
What can you tell us about Israeli basketball? Would you say you are in a very good moment? Israel has won the last two Fiba U20 tournaments and in the last competition had two players in the all-star five with Deni Avdija (he was also MVP) and Yam Madar.
First of all, I’m also the Israel U18 National Team coach. In this past two years and before I coached Deni Avdija’s generation in our National cadet team. Israel has been through a very huge change, which is led by Willie Johnson. Willie Johnson is the head of the entire federation department, as far from the U18 to the first team. In these six years, he changed a lot in the way we are working and building our players. As you mentioned, all our young national teams are in Group A. In the last twenty years it was not like that, most of our young national teams were in Division B. Now all of them are in Division A and, as you mentioned, our U20 won two European Championships, and in the one before, with David Oded Kattash as coach, finished in second place. As I said, Mr Willie Johnson made huge changes. We are progressing along our league and we start to visit our national team during wintertime. Every second weekend all youth teams are practicing. We can basically start to make selection during this wintertime and start to build our players. The biggest change is that we can start to take players to our U14, U15, U16 categories that we can tell, more or less, they will be players of our U20, players with an upside. Since Willie Johnson has been GM of all the Israel National teams I think this has been the most beautiful years in Israeli basketball. We are very close to qualify the first team to the European Championship and make great results.
You are GM of the youth teams in a Euroleague team, coach in that club of the U18 team, U18 Israel National team coach… you are a reference for European youth basketball. Could you offer your advice to young aspiring players? How can they face the bad moments? How should they plan their future to become the best player they can be?
To tell you one thing is difficult because there are many things you have to do in order to become a professional player. I think if you have a good working ethic and a good coaching environment that gives you the direction and leads you in a good way in order to be in a National team or a professional team player. But working ethic and trying to emphasize the things that you are not doing well are the most important things. Try to predict which will be the position you can play in the highest level, in your country in a pro team. If you, for instance, are 1’90m you cannot play in the forward position and if you will not be able to be a very good guard with dribbling skills or shooting the ball from outside and be a good defender, you are not on your way to be a pro. So, try to predict the position that you’ll play as a professional player, try to emphasize the fundamentals you need to have in order to play in those positions and have working ethic. All this depends as well on the coaching staff. The fourth thing that will make you pro player or not is the coaching staff. If you don´t have a good coaching staff or if they are not good leading teachers, because for me to be a coach is to be a good teacher, you won´t be a professional player.
I can tell you another tip. I want to make sure in myself that I´m ready. As a coach, you need to learn and improve yourself every day. See tournaments, see coaches, and participate in clinics. Today on the internet you have so much knowledge about the game and you have to push yourself and learn. I still remember the clinic we made at Future Stars in London with British coaches. It was a high-level clinic and until today, I pick two things for my team that I learnt from David Gale, the American coach of the German team Porshe Ludwigsburg. You can learn from each one, from everyone. It was a pleasure for me to assist in that clinic.
Thank you very much Oren, and I´ll see you soon at the Future Stars Tournament and clinic in August!
Photographs courtesy of FIBA.basketball