As the final buzzer sounded at the 21st annual Red Sarachek high school
basketball tournament at Yeshiva University I found myself contemplating Dante’s
What, was it just me? In this first portion of his ‘Divine
Comedy’, Dante proclaims, “There is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy
time when miserable.” After watching my alma mater YULA Panthers take home the
Sarachek title Monday I am strongly inclined to disagree.
While I would
certainly not describe myself as “miserable”, if you happened to have spied me
hooping at a recent Givat Shmuel pick-up game “miserable” may be an apt label
for my skills (or lack thereof).
However, watching the Panthers bring
home another banner (YULA is the winningest team in Sarachek history with seven
titles) brought back a wave of nostalgia that put a smile on my face and a lump
in my throat.
Throughout the tournament I was engulfed with memories and
emotions I had not felt since 2005, as a member of the last YULA team to win it
all at Sarachek. Our bellowing chant, YU-LA…YU-LA (clap clap) echoed in my head
for days afterward.
Despite Dante’s doubts, this was nostalgia at its
best, evoking the memories of a past happiness while simultaneously invigorating
me with a resurgent feeling of new joy.
I wanted nothing more than to be
inside the mind of one of those kids, experiencing that electric moment
firsthand once again.
Luckily, I asked YULA senior point guard Gavriel
Stark to keep a diary of the tournament, so that we can all live vicariously
through his words:
Day 1: Travel Day
Most of the day we all were
exhausted/hungry. We were fixated on who we were going to play on Friday. Would
it be the Beren Stars of Houston, the team with tons of popularity because they
chose not to play on Shabbat, or was it Memphis the team that hosts the Cooper
Invitational? We knew it wasn’t going to be easy! However, thanks to jetlag,
sleep came quickly.
Day 2 : Bye day
Waking up Thursday morning was really
nice. Somehow the weather was exactly like LA.
This was our day
off. The one thing that scared us is that we had too many days to rest. All the
other teams were coming off a day of practicing and playing basketball, we are
coming off a day of vacation.
After a long and eventful day in the Big
Apple we found out we were playing the Houston Stars with point guard Issac
Mirwis coming off an unbelievable game with 23 points. Oh boy.
Game day: YULA vs Stars
Waking up in the morning there was a sense of excitement
for our first game. Captain Yisroel Solomon was already in the zone, pretty much
taking a vow of silence. After all, for us seniors, this was our last chance for
Entering the gym for the first time brought back horrible memories
of last year’s loss to the SAR Sting. This haunting reminder energized us,
helping us crush the Stars. Sophomore Jojo Himmelman came out of nowhere to lead
us to victory.
We all celebrated with dignity because we knew that we had
two more games to go and it wasn’t going to be stress-free.
Day 4: ‘Big
Matt Sunday arrived and we were set to play our cross-town-rivals, the
Shalhavet Fire Hawks. We had beaten them by 20 points earlier in the year. Most
of our team had an attitude of overconfidence, thinking “this game is in the
The Fire Hawks quickly put an end to all that bravado, outplaying
us in every way.
Down three with 24 seconds left, our fans stood in
shocked silence as their hope began to fade.
Senior (and eventual
Tournament MVP) Jack Gindi inbounded the ball and I dribbled up court. With five
seconds left I swung the ball to senior Matthew Reich, who had to shoot but was
smothered by the defense. He rose…was about to shoot… and a whistle sounded. The
Finally it quieted down we all looked at the refs…They
awarded Matthew 3 free throws! The fans exploded yet again. Matthew had a chance
to put us into overtime.
He hit the first…he hit the second…AND HE HIT
THE THIRD. The Max Stern Athletic Center was booming with chants of “Matthew!”
He had just made the biggest shots in his high school career…or at least we
thought he did.
We then found ourselves in the same exact position, down
by one in overtime. The ball was passed to Matthew again, at the 3 point line…he
didn’t hesitate. He drained the three.
We were up two and this was
without one of their best players Yisroel Solomon, who had fouled out in the
fourth quarter! We never relinquished the lead after that.
“Never give up
on anything” Coach Dave Winick told us with a huge smile in the locker room
This game made history! We were going to the championship game
against SAR. We would have an opportunity to avenge last year’s loss!
Champions at last!
The gym was filled with fans draped in black and yellow from
head to toe. SAR was pretty confident after last year’s triumph.
the tip, the gym going insane, as the SAR point guard brought the ball up. He
drove to the basket but had the ball stripped.
Gindi converted the
turnover into points. A great start for us! The game was extremely close, both
teams trading blows.
It went down to the wire until we went on a 6-0 run
with two minutes left and SAR was forced to foul (there is no shot clock in the
I was the one they fouled.
I calmly knocked
down both free throws, putting the game out of reach.
The five seniors on
the team came together at center court as time expired, reveling in this amazing
end to our career.
The place went into an absolute frenzy, our fans
storming the court and chanting in unison.
The last time YULA won was
seven years ago, it felt so good! Nothing could have ruined that
The deed was done.
The veterans had accomplished what they
set out to do for three years. We were Sarachek champs! So take that Dante! If
Gavriel’s recounting of YULA’s title run hasn’t left you with a smile, despite
perhaps longing for days gone by, please see a cardiologist. You may not have a
I, for one, have a number of furious downstairs neighbors who can
attest to my excitement, nostalgia not depressing me in the
Watching the fans storm the court brought me right back to
that center circle seven years earlier, where euphoric pandemonium rang free,
and I could not be happier.