Team USA brought home the gold from the 2010 Maccabi Australia 18-and-under basketball tournament. And the squad did it while wearing yarmulkes.
For the first time, the majority of the American team was composed of Orthodox Jewish students. The team was formed when the Maccabi organization contacted Elliot Steinmetz, an associate general counsel at Arbor Realty Trust and a former coach for HANC. Steinmetz runs the website Jewishhoopsamerica.com, which covers Jewish high school basketball around the country. Using the contacts from the site, he quickly assembled a team of 10 featuring the top yeshiva league players. He already knew the two best: Shelby Rosenberg of HAFTR and Yisrael Feld of Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys, also known as MTA.
The rest of the players came from all over the country: David Markush, from Los Angelos; Aaron Zuckerman, from Maryland; Richie Mishan, a student at Rutgers, played in the yeshiva league for the Yeshiva of Flatbush. The team flew on Dec. 21 and held its first practice after they arrived on Dec. 23. While most of the other teams in the competition had been practicing for months, members of the American team had met one another hours before on the plane ride.
“We had literally two and a half hours [of practice],” Steinmetz said.
In the first game, the team played Australia. According to Feld, the game was “rough” until halftime and the score was close. No one knew what to expect from the team.
“I didn’t know what the competition was going to be like,” said Joey Hoenig, coach of HAFTR, where Rosenberg plays. “But with Shelby Rosenberg and Feld … They’re the two best players to play in the league in a long time.”
After halftime, the American team hit a stride and it wasn’t much of a game. Team USA coasted to an easy victory, 80-61.
While the Maccabi Games are open to Israelis and Jewish citizens, the number of religious Jews who play in the Maccabi Games is small, according to Steinmetz. That made the team’s wins, a cluster of bobbing yarmulkes flying down the basketball court, all the more surprising. Steinmetz recalled that he kept on hearing people exclaim, “I can’t believe the yarmulke kid dunked!”