U18 Maccabi Teddy Tel Aviv is back at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals for the first time since 2008. The Israeli powerhouse receiving a wild card means that Dori Sahar will get a chance to live out a dream alongside his "D Brother" Deni Avdija and his real brother Nadav Sahar.
Dori Sahar collected 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steal per game as Maccabi reached the first-place game of the ANGT Munich qualifier. Despite Sahar picking 15 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in the final in Munich, Maccabi was no match for U18 Real Madrid, which won 96-58. Still, the team's performance earned them one of the eight spots in Vitoria-Gasteiz at next month's finals.
"None of us can ask for a better event to complete our journey as junior players," Sahar said. "The ANGT Finals is a dream for every player."
The ANGT Munich was followed by a big moment for Sahar, when Maccabi's senior team head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos included him on the roster for an Israel domestic league game at Ironi Nahariya on February 12. And not just on the roster...
"The ANGT Finals is a dream for every player."
"It was my first game with the team and the first time I was on the game roster. I was very excited when Coach Sfairopoulos called my name to enter the game. I grew up in Maccabi and it was always a dream to play for the senior team. I am grateful to Maccabi and the coaching staff for making my dream come true," said the Tel Aviv native Sahar, who missed a three-pointer in his 1 minute in the game.
A couple of days later, on February 17, Sahar was once again included on Maccabi's roster, this time for the home game versus Bnei Hertzeliya. In that one, the 1.95-meter forward nailed a three-pointer for his first points as a professional.
"When Coach Sfairopoulos called my name to enter the game, the crowd stood up, clapped hands and encouraged me by calling my name – something I have never experienced," he said. "My teammates were incredible. They played the game so that I was able to make my shot. It is hard to describe what I felt when I hit the three-point shot. Everybody was happy for me, the crowd, my teammates and the coaches. I will never forget that day.
Said Sahar has since got into two more games, and in three of the four, he sat alongside fellow 2001-born Maccabi talent Deni Avdija. The two have already been through many shared experiences both in the Maccabi youth system and the Israeli national team.
"We learn in the same school, we are close friends on and off the court, and our families are close. Deni is the 'full package'. He is not only super-talented; he is an amazing guy. He is a hard worker. He understands the game better than others and he is very confident, but not arrogant. He is a person with great integrity and a big heart that is loved by everyone. He is a leader, but unlike many superstars, he believes that part of his role, as a leader, is to make others better. We love playing together," Sahar said of Avdija, who was named to the all-tournament team at the ANGT Munich.
"At Maccabi, we were nicknamed the 'D Brothers' because we have a blind understanding. At any given time we know exactly what we are going to do and how we feel."
The "D Brothers" also showed what they can do for they country's youth national teams. At the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017, Israel beat Croatia and Serbia before then finishing 11th.
"For me, this was probably the most memorable event. It was the first time I represented my country in a European championship – something I will always remember," said Sahar, who averaged 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds, including 16 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals against a Serbian team that finished third.
"I think that everyone except us was surprised that we managed to beat amazing teams. Personally, the game against Serbia made a difference for me. It was my best game in the tournament and gave me a lot of confidence that if I work hard, I can compete at this level."
Last summer, Israel had strong team – including Avdija among others – and was looking to get back into the Division A at the FIBA U18 European Championship level. But after winning the first two games, Sahar suffered a major ankle sprain just 56 seconds into the third game against Czech Republic. Israel lost that game and Sahar was lost for the rest of the tournament. Israel, Netherlands and the Czechs ended up in a three-way tie atop the group and because of a tiebreak, Israel finished third and failed to reach the quarterfinals.
"The pain in my ankle was nothing compared to the pain we all felt when losing the game," Sahar said.
"This is a huge challenge – and exactly what any player should wish for."
Now, the focus is back at Maccabi and Sahar is not only playing with his "D Brother" Avdija, but also his real brother Nadav, who is a year younger. Dori and Nadav played together at the ANGT Munich and the 2002-born brother averaged 1.5 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.8 steals.
"My brother is also my best friend, my biggest critic and my biggest supporter," Dori said. "This is the first year that we have been playing together and it's a lot of fun. We try to push each other to be better and this is an advantage I have that other players don't. It is great playing with him as he is a true team player that plays for the success of the team and not for himself. He gives 100 percent every game and loves to defend the best player of the opposing team. I am very happy that we got the opportunity to play together."
That could very well be the case again in Vitoria-Gasteiz at the ANGT Finals, where Sahar knows his team will face a real test with games against U18 Mega Bemax Belgrade, U18 Zalgiris Kaunas and U18 FC Bayern Munich.
"We will be competing against the best teams in Europe," Sahar said. "This is a huge challenge – and exactly what any player should wish for. We will come together to do our best."