Ode to nostalgia: The diary of a champion

Comment: 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.

YULA PANTHERs hoist the 2012 trophy 370 (photo credit: MacsLive.com/Courtesy)
YULA PANTHERs hoist the 2012 trophy 370
(photo credit: MacsLive.com/Courtesy)
As the final buzzer sounded at the 21st annual Red Sarachek high school basketball tournament at Yeshiva University I found myself contemplating Dante’s ‘Inferno’.
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.
Day 3: 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 glory.
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 Shot’
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 bag”.
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 gym erupted.
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 afterward.
This game made history! We were going to the championship game against SAR. We would have an opportunity to avenge last year’s loss!
Day 5: 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.
SAR won 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 Sarachek tournament).
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 moment.
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 heart.
I, for one, have a number of furious downstairs neighbors who can attest to my excitement, nostalgia not depressing me in the slightest.
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.