Hillel Hoops

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The competition was tough among the 42 men’s and women’s teams that took part in the tournament. (Photo Provided)
The competition was tough among the 42 men’s and women’s teams that took part in the tournament. (Photo Provided)

The gymnasiums in Ritchie Coliseum and the Reckord Armory at the University of Maryland echoed with cheers, as more than 1,000 Jewish students gathered for the fifth annual National Hillel Basketball Tournament.

Students from more than 25 schools across the U.S. journeyed to Maryland’s flagship university in College Park from April 17 to April 19 for three days of camaraderie and competition. In all, 42 men’s and women’s basketball teams competed for a chance to win the tournament’s coveted Kiddush Cup trophy.

Stern College for Women overcame the University of Maryland to win the women’s championship 22-17. In the men’s bracket, Boston University defeated Yeshiva University, 40-37.

If the BU team looked tired at first, it’s because it had just come off the most nail-biting game of the tournament against a strong Maryland team that included Terps reserve Jacob Susskind. The game went into quadruple overtime with BU sinking a buzzer-beating three-point shot.

“Everyone’s mouth was open wide. It was an insane game,” said NHBT chairman Joseph Tuchman, a junior finance and entrepreneurship major from Silver Spring.

The weekend kicked off with Shabbat dinner at the UMUC Marriott, just a short walk from the University of Maryland Hillel. Nearly 600 students and guests filled the hotel’s ballroom for a sit-down dinner.

“[Looking out] over the ballroom at Shabbat dinner, watching people laughing and smiling, knowing that we put that together, it was an incredible feeling,” said NHBT board co-chair Avi Kozlowski, a sophomore accounting and finance double major, also  from Silver Spring.

“When you’re planning, you think, ‘Oh, between this number and that number will show up,’ but when you see people filing in and filling up every table, making Kiddush and coming together as one, that was a special moment,” said NHBT board co-chair Jacob Neumark, a sophomore government and politics major from New York.

Saturday, following services, attendees listened intently to a panel discussion featuring CBS Sports analyst Jon Rothstein; Jason Belzer, founder and president of Global Athlete Management Enteprises; Saul Rafel-Frankel, University of Delaware director of men’s basketball operations; and Brooklyn Nets lawyer Mike Rosen. New this year was a game-show competition called College Ball that tested teams on Jewish and basketball trivia. Columbia University’s men’s basketball team took home the $1,000 prize.

The tournament participants and fans joined together Saturday night for the opening ceremony and Havdalah service on the court and the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner and the Israeli national anthem. Following the evening’s round of games, 10 players decided to have an impromptu dunking competition to the delight of the crowd.

Funding for the tournament doubled this year thanks to 20-plus sponsors, which allowed the NHBT board to pay for rooms at a nearby hotel for out-of-town players. In the past, players had stayed in student dorm rooms or apartments. But with this year’s record attendance, being able to have hotel rooms available was a must. Sponsors of the tournament included the Leader Family Fund, the Levenson Family, the Marcus Foundation, Under Armour, Gatorade and the Silver Spring kosher pizza restaurant, Ben Yehuda.

Unlike other tournaments that have professional staffing, the NHBT, hosted every year at Maryland, is 100 percent student led, though the support of the Maryland Hillel staff and community is essential, explained Tuchman. The 19-member board put in thousands of hours to organize and execute the tournament and stayed until the wee hours of the morning prior to the teams’ arrivals to ensure the weekend went off without a hitch. The payoff was well worth it in Kozlowski’s estimation.

“So many people came up to me afterward thanking me and the board. They were really genuine and sincere,” he said, “Bringing over 1,000 Jews in one place at one time to meet each other, to network with each other … it’s an incredible experience.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

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