BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Yoav Saffar was known for his hustle on the court, but first and foremost for his accurate shooting|
If anyone had told an Israeli fan in the beginning of the century that nine years would elapse before prolific shooter Yoav Saffar attempted a three-pointer again, they would have probably laughed in disbelief.
Pini Gershon, the power forward's last coach at Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2003/04 season, who was famously outraged by Saffar's natural gravitation towards the three-point line when he wanted him driving to the basket instead, would have certainly dismissed the suggestion as out of this world.
And the former Israeli national team captain himself would have definitely never imagined that the three-point line would have moved half a metre further from the basket by the time he took his next three-point shot.
Yet on Sunday, in Hapoel Holon's away game at Elizur Ashkelon in the Israeli BSL league, the now 38-year-old Saffar rose from behind the three-point line and took a shot from that distance, for the first time in almost exactly nine years.
Saffar was 29 years old in 2004, when he retired from the game while on the books of Maccabi, shortly after the Israeli powerhouse had blown away Skipper Bologna 118-74 in the Tel Aviv Final Four to conquer the first of their back-to-back Euroleague titles.
Last week, he joined Hapoel Holon in practice and within just two days he convinced coach Dan Shamir that he could make a return and help the team in their time of need, as they find themselves dangerously close to the relegation zone and their roster has thinned out.
He stayed on the court for just three minutes in the clash with Ashkelon and only attempted that one shot - obviously, a three-pointer.
But on the defensive end, although he might have slowed down half a step after all these years, he was reminiscent of the player that could hassle opponents and provide a solid presence in the paint.
Most of all, he wants to do whatever he can to help a club that is close to his heart get through this difficult time.
Saffar had started as a young player at Holon and spent the first six of the 12 years of his professional career there.
He was still with Holon when he became a senior international with Israel, in 1998.
He then played for Maccabi Ra'ananna and the great Galil Elion side of the 1999/2000 season where he averaged 13.5 points and 5.3 rebounds before, inevitably perhaps, joining the almighty Maccabi Tel Aviv club at the height of his career.
The forward played in his first EuroBasket in 1999, and was consolidated as a key player on the national team at EuroBasket 2001, when he averaged 11.5 points and 3.8 rebounds.
His finest hour in an Israel jersey came in 2003 when, as the national team's captain by then, he led the side to an excellent seventh-place finish at the EuroBasket in Sweden.
In his last season before retirement he was dogged by knee and back injuries while his play did not fit entirely with the style that Gherson had in mind for Maccabi, so his playing time plummeted and he only featured in eight league games with the Tel Aviv giants that season.