Darrun Hilliard's candid interview sheds light on his frustrating and marginalized experience with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he felt unjustly treated by Oded Kattash: "That was about ego games."

Credit: BNS/Teodoras Biliƫnas, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv
Credit BNS/Teodoras Biliƫnas, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv

After a challenging season in which he had limited opportunities to showcase his skills, Darrun Hilliard bid farewell to Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv in an open interview with Arel Ginsber of Israel Hayom.

Darrun Hilliard

Darrun  Hilliard
Position: SG
Age: 30
Height: 198 cm
Weight: 93 kg
Birth place: United States of America

Hilliard left the Israeli powerhouse during the summer and subsequently joined Pinar Karsiyaka Izmir in Turkey.

"It was the most difficult and worst situation for me, which affected me and my family," Hilliard briefly summarised the last season before delving into details.

Coming as an established EuroLeague shooting guard, Hilliard found himself averaging less than 13 minutes per game in last year's EuroLeague action.

"It was very difficult. You know you can help the team and make an impact, whether it's scoring a basket or just being there and helping with your great experience. I was frustrated mainly because I knew I could improve the team, and I didn't get a chance," he underlined.

"I didn't come to Maccabi thinking that this is my team, and I am going to be the leader who gets all the minutes and shoots as many times as he wants. It never crossed my mind for a moment. On the contrary, I would be happy to be part of a great team. I was definitely fine with playing a certain role and not being the go-to guy, but the main problem was that I didn't even have a role," Hilliard continued.

Hilliard expressed his frustration at feeling marginalized within the team, stating, "It was as if I was completely cut off from the flow of the team and the rotation. Every basketball fan could clearly see that from the first EuroLeague game. This was the direction. Therefore, using injuries as an excuse is nonsense in my eyes and not connected to reality."

Recalling his signing with Maccabi in 2022, Hilliard mentioned initial conversations with David Blatt and Oded Kattash, noting the latter's reserved nature during their phone call. 

"The first call I received was from David Blatt. Then Oded [Kattash] talked to me on the phone, but everyone knows who Oded is. He doesn't talk much, so we had a short phone call, and he really didn't say much," Hilliard remembered.

"They didn't promise me specific things, nor did I really ask for certain promises because it's not something I usually do either, but if you take a look at the salary I received, then you don't need to say too much. I had a salary that represented the status of a top player in the team. It's strange that they would pay someone all this money to allow them to play 12 minutes in a game."

During the season, Hilliard faced suspension by Maccabi after a controversial tweet following a loss in the Israeli League. The tweet, "Real eyes recognize real lies," was interpreted by head coach Oded Kattash as directed towards him. 

"At that time, I felt that no one at the club wanted me," he went down memory lane. "I did not deserve to receive this suspension and treatment from the club. I do not know what was going through the coach's mind when he did it. For sure, I do know that this decision did not come from the management, and there were even disputes about it. However, Oded insisted very much on carrying out this suspension.

"At first, I thought it was a suspension for a day or two, but I was very surprised to find out that they decided to suspend me for a whole week. Everyone knows that I am a good person and what I bring to the locker room, and that I never have malicious intentions. If you say my name, you will never think of my behavior problems or that kind of stuff," Hilliard went on to say.

"All of this connects to the previous questions regarding the bad treatment that Oded gave me. This is really living proof that it was simply personal and less professional, especially in light of the fact that we are here to win games and take Maccabi as far as possible. It just seems strange to me that he would rather lose a game and give up a player. Even if he didn't like my tweet, I'm sure there were many other ways to handle the situation."

Hilliard needed just several games to understand that Kattash's decisions were personal and not motivated by professional regard.

"I know 100% that it was purely personal. Every basketball fan knows what kind of player I am. When you are treated as if you are not even a good player, it makes you realize that there is no professional connection to basketball and that it is about ego games," he pointed out.

He cited specific instances, such as being utilized only when there were no other options due to injuries and being benched during the Final Four in Israel when foreigner limit applied, as evidence of the personal nature of Kattash's decisions.

"When Austin Hollins and Jalen Adams were ruled out for the rest of the season, then he simply had no choice but to use me because there were no other players. That's how I knew it was personal because when he already owed me, it was already clear to me that it was only personal all the time. The other proof is that in the Final Four when he no longer needed me due to the foreigner limit, he returned to sit me on the bench until the end of the season."

Hilliard believes Kattash simply didn't like him for reasons unknown to him.

"I don't hate Oded, and I don't think he's a bad person," the player said. "Off the court, we're about the same type of person, both quiet and modest, but there's no doubt he didn't like me at all. I'm not sure where it started, but I remember having a conversation with him after the first EuroLeague game against Zalgiris Kaunas, and he told me that, for some reason, he didn't trust me.

"I don't know for what reason, you have to ask him. For me, there's no doubt that it was just personal. He didn't really get along with me, and that caused problems in our relationship."

Efforts to communicate and resolve the situation with Kattash proved fruitless for Hilliard.

"That was perhaps the hardest part of this whole situation," he underlined. "Every time I would come to Oded and try to talk to him about the situation, he never gave me real reasons why he wouldn't let me play -- like you need to improve in defense or something else. ... In my opinion, Oded didn't want me at all."

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