Oded Katash played for Panathinaikos for a fairly short time, but still mentions the club's golden age • and hope he can "prove he was born to face difficulties"
"Katsch left only positive memories in Athens"
Only one season Oded Katash played for the Greek luxury team Panathinaikos.
He finished there in jarring tones, following an economic dispute with the club's heads following a serious injury he suffered.
Still, to this day the Israeli player is considered one of the favorite characters of the team's fans and board members.
Accordingly, Katsch's return to the Athenian club, this time as head coach, is causing great excitement on social media and the Greek media.
More than 20 years after scoring the three-point victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv and winning the second European Cup in history for Panathinaikos, Katsch is given an important and difficult task - to get the Greens back on track after a few difficult years.
What made the special connection between Katsch and the Greeks?
This is a question that can also be asked about the rare and proud relationship between Katsch and Maccabi Tel Aviv fans during his four years with the team in the late 1990s.
After all, Katsch did not lead the Yellows to any European achievement, and they even lost the National Cup twice during his time - but to this day he hangs around with a halo on his head when it comes to his status on the club's historic streak.
"The prince of Israeli basketball," they once liked to call him.
The class on the field, the talent dripping from every dribble or three-pointer that plunged in and the modesty inherent in it - made Katsch the darling of the fans in yellow, who usually only appreciate achievements and titles.
Katsch also brought his personal and professional charm to Athens, and he is the one who, in retrospect, marked the beginning of Panathinaikos' golden age.
The Greeks may have won the European Champions Cup four years before his arrival, but it was a win thanks to a gray, defensive and boring basketball without a sense of continuity.
In 1999, the legendary Serbian coach Zhlimir Oberdovic landed in Panathinaikos, with the aim of regularly bringing Pau to the top of Europe's big clubs.
One of the first moves he made was the signing of the great Israeli talent.
Already in the first season, Oberdovich and Katsch swept Pau to win the European Championship, while defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv in an unforgettable final in Thessaloniki, with Katsch scoring the important baskets in the game.
"Katsh has left only positive memories in Athens," CSKA Moscow coach Dimitris Itodis, who served as assistant coach of Panathinaikos that year and still maintains contact with Katsh, told Israel This Week. "That year he had huge expectations and he dealt with them very well. .
He was great in the final game and left a good taste.
"It's gratifying to see him return to the arena in Ouaka (Panathinaikos' home court; YM)."
On the godfather standard
Panathinaikos' golden age lasted until Oberdovich's departure in 2012 and included five European Championships, 11 Greek Championships and 7 local trophies.
For Pau fans, Katsch is actually a living reminder of those beautiful years - even if in practice he was an active partner in success for just one season.
"The special connection was created thanks to being the star of that team," agrees the editor-in-chief of "Live Sport" newspaper Ioannis Pasrakis, who has been covering basketball in Greece since 1986 and well remembers Katsch's time as a player on the team.
"Fans of Panathinaikos admire him because he was the best player in the final against his beloved team. I remember seeing him cry in the locker room after defeating Maccabi. These pictures went into the head of every fan in Greece."
Katsch in Pao, 2000 // Photo: Reuters
But with all due respect to the love of the fans, what arranged for Katsch the prestigious job - beyond his professional abilities which we will touch on later - is the close friendship with the team's former stars, especially those currently managing Panathinaikos.
The situation in the Greek luxury group over the past year and a half is far from alarming. The unstable owner Dimitris Inacopoulos is angry at the Euroleague management, and therefore decided not to invest large sums of money in the club. He recently even stated that he is interested in selling the ownership to other business people.
Into the managerial vacuum left by Inacopoulos came three esteemed past players at the club - Dimitris Diamantidis, Pragiscus Albertis and Yorgos Claitsis. The latter two, unsurprisingly, have a close relationship with Katsch.
On every visit of the Israeli coach to Athens in recent years, the three met at a local cafe and reminisced. Katsch even served as the godfather of one of Claitsis' daughters, and is rumored to have even helped him financially when one of his private businesses ran into financial difficulties.
In recent weeks, when the three decided to fire coach Yorgos Woboras, they first turned to the esteemed Dimitris Prefitis who works at Russian Onyx Kazan. After the Greek coach rejected their offer, it was decided to go all out on Katsch - and bring about the long-awaited reunion.
"Katsch is a good friend of Albertis and Klaitsis and has maintained a warm relationship with them since 2000," Pasrakis explains and even clarifies: "I believe they will also give him back and time to adapt to a difficult situation."
"Born to face difficulties"
Three Israeli coaches have previously coached in the Greek league. Zvika Sharaf worked in the 1990s at Aris Thessaloniki and PAOK Thessaloniki, which were then the luxury teams of Greek basketball. In 2008-2006, Pini Gershon coached Olympiacos, but was fired after a year and a half. David Blatt also worked for a year and a half at Olympiacos, leaving without success.
Now, for the first time, an Israeli coach is coming to Panathinaikos, after a few years in which the Israeli coaches have lost some of their luster in European basketball. "Whenever an Israeli coach goes abroad to coach," says Sharaf, who has coached Katsch and is well acquainted with Greek basketball, "Every country grows its own coaches and they do a track from the bottom up, so do not rush to open the teams to foreign coaches. If encouraged succeed it would open the door for coaches of young Israelis others to leave too. "
Despite the romance and Closure personal ketch understand that he comes to the group do not favor professionally, in a state of economic vague, that might make it difficult for him to make changes and get players that fit the method of his game.
However "Anyone who has worked with Katsch in the past can say that he is one of the most creative basketball coaches there is. It's exactly his time to show magic as a coach, just as he showed then as a player 20 years ago." Katsch's task will be very difficult, almost a suicide mission, " At one of the local sites in Greece, "but he has already proven in the past that he was born to face difficulties, even those that await him in Athens."