FROM City of Sydney Wilson Premier League wooden spooners two years ago, the Maccabi Lakers showed that last November’s extra-time Season 3 grand final triumph over UNSW Black was no fluke by winning the 2019 Season 1 decider 112-97 over minor premiers the Inner City Raptors on Monday night.
In front of a vocal crowd at Comets Stadium in Alexandria, the Lakers burst out of the starting blocks, shocking the Raptors by scoring the first 8 points of the game, before extending that margin to 15 to lead 58-43 at half-time.
The Raptors began the second half with a 9-point run to narrow Maccabi’s lead to 10 points with 10 minutes remaining. But that only spurred the Lakers into another purple patch, with Zach Ehrenfeld scoring 7 of the next 9 points.
Their 15-point win earned Maccabi NSW Senior Basketball Club its first back-to-back top grade men’s premiership – an impressive achievement by a team that faced relegation in early 2017.
Maccabi’s five Jewish players all had strong games, with Josh Cohen scoring 21 points, pint-sized point guard Marcel Ninio contributing with 20 points, and Ehrenfeld, Keyan Kramer and 48-year-old Greg Shapiro demonstrating steel in defence.
The Lakers also enjoyed great service by their big guys, player-coach and former Sydney King Ben Knight (17 points), Indi Faithfull (22 points) and Anatoly Bose (21 points).
Cohen told The AJN the key to victory was starting the grand final at full throttle.
“That was our plan – to set the pace, dominate the contests and score quickly to build a lead in the first 10 minutes,” Cohen said.
“Benny (Knight) kept us focused, I thought our younger guys – Marcel and Zach – were really good, and it was great to have so many supporters in the stands. This title win means a lot, particularly considering where the team was not that long ago.”
Shapiro, whose son PJ plays for Maccabi’s U18 boys’ team, said the club is going from strength to strength, with its Division 1 men’s team making it as far as the semi-finals this season, and good prospects in the junior competitions.
“Our Premier League and division 1 and 2 teams have been training together for several years now, and we get about 25-30 players each session,” Shapiro said.
“And when our guys are doing well in the top grades, it sets a good example for others to follow in their footsteps.”