BY IAN ROBINSON
Daily Sports Writer
Published August 7, 2005
The NBA must wait.
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That’s what former Michigan basketball player Maceo Baston said when he signed a two-year contract extension with two-time defending Euroleague champion, Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv Basketball Club.
The Corsicana, Texas native decided to stay the with yellow and blue of Maccabi and attempt to help make team history as only the third European club to earn a Euroleague three-peat, despite the possibility of making more money by signing with a different club.
Although Baston has finally established himself as one of the top players in Europe and found a comfort level with Tel Aviv, it was a long road to reach this point.
During his years at Michigan from 1995-98, Baston established himself as a force on the defensive end with 130 blocks and 830 rebounds, just 23 minutes per game.
Former Michigan Daily basketball beat writer and current Detroit Free Press sportswriter Mark Snyder recalls that although Baston was less physically imposing than his Michigan teammates Robert Traylor and Maurice Taylor, he always found a way to make an impact.
“He had an ability to use his long arms as a threatening shot-blocker and could rebound in a crowd,” Snyder said.
During his senior season, the 6-foot-9 power forward helped lead the team to the Big Ten Tournament Championship and to the second round of the NCAA tournament where the Wolverines lost to UCLA.
Upon completing his career at Michigan, Baston was selected 58th by the Chicago Bulls in the 1998 NBA Draft. But he never played a game for Chicago.
After failing to make an NBA roster, Baston spent two years with the Quad City Thunders of the CBA, where he won the 1999-2000 Defensive Player of the Year award. Baston maintained his dream of reaching the NBA.
“I had a great CBA career and felt like I would get called up (to the NBA) from that moment but it didn’t happen,” Baston said.
Baston spent the next two seasons in European leagues before he fulfilled his NBA dream — bittersweetly.
His father was dying from cancer and Baston left his team in Spain to be with his father. While attending to his father, Baston accepted a contract to play the remainder of the season with the Toronto Raptors.
“My father got a chance to see me play some quality minutes in the NBA,” Baston said. “My NBA dream is really fulfilled in that sense — anything else is like the cherry on top.”
He appeared in 16 games for the Raptors during the 2002-03 season, and despite limited playing time and production, he proved to himself that he could compete at the highest level.
After playing for Toronto’s summer league team in 2003, Baston signed a two-year contract with Maccabi. During that time, Maccabi fielded one of the greatest teams in European history and dominated both domestic and international competition. After spending two years around the Maccabi, it is not surprising that Baston decided to re-sign for two years.
When people talk about being around a culture of winning, nowhere is that phrase more fitting than in Tel Aviv. Maccabi has won every Israeli championship since 1970, except for the 1993 title, as well as five Euroleague championships. As a result, Maccabi has earned the nickname of “team of the country.”
Although soccer is the most popular sport in the hearts of Israelis, Maccabi basketball is the exception, said Yarone Arbel, a writer from the Israeli basketball news-site salnews.com.
Maccabi Tel Aviv fans are considered some of the best fans in the world. When ESPN’s Chad Ford watched the 2004 Euroleague championship game in Tel Aviv he wrote, “I never have seen a people more crazy about basketball, even the NBA.”
Baston agrees with Ford’s description.
“When teams come to our gym, it’s not fair,” Baston said. “Once we get on a run, team’s lose their manhood and their pride. It’s so much fun that it’s surreal.”
On the floor, Maccabi’s uptempo style makes it one of the most electrifying teams to watch in Europe, and Baston contributes to that excitement on both ends of the floor, Arbel said. In the 2004-05 season, Baston averaged 14.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
“(Baston) brings to Maccabi another flashy style with his dunks and alley-hoops,” Arbel said. “He plays tough, maybe tougher than any other player in defense, and makes sure players won’t be too excited to penetrate the paint with his shot blocking ability.”
Off the court, Baston maintains a good relationship with the team’s fans.“
Many fans consider (Baston) the nicest person on the team when it comes to the connection with the fans,” Arbel said.
Although Baston is comfortable in Tel Aviv, he still hopes to return to the NBA and believes that he could contribute to an NBA team if given the opportunity.
“I just want to get 15 minutes and work with that,” Baston said, who averaged 6.6 minutes per game in his tour with Toronto. “I promise that I would get more minutes off that.”
Until another NBA opportunity arrives, Baston will continue to represent the yellow and blue of Maccabi, just as he did at Michigan.
“I can’t escape the yellow and blue,” Baston said.