By: Morey Wildes  | 

Fifty Years of Yeshiva Basketball in Retrospect (Vol. 50, Issue 7)

Throughout the history of YU, the most prominent of all its athletic teams has been its varsity basketball team. The Quinthooplets, the Blue and White, the Mighty Mites or the Maccabees; though the name has changed and players have come and gone, the team has been playing intercollegiate basketball for fifty years. On the occasion of the Commentator's 50th Anniversary, we pay tribute to the heroes of fifty years of Yeshiva basketball.

It was in 1935 when the first Yeshiva College basketball team was formed and played their first game, a loss to St. John’s freshmen. Coached by Milt Trupin and led by Max, Jerry and Dov Muss, they recorded a 5-4 fledgling season. In the ensuing years, the Quinthooplets compiled several winning seasons, including an 11-5 record in 1937-38 behind captain-coach Abe Averick’s ballhandling skills.

“Red” Sarachek

In 1942-43 the able and excitable Bernard “Red” Sarachek assumed the coaching duties and used his knowledge and experience to produce a 10-5 season, led by high-scoring Stan Doppelt. World War II forced Sarachek to temporarily relinquish his coaching position for two years, but the Mighty Mites continued their winning ways, going 9-6 and 12-8. The highlight of this period was a Doppelt-led 42-35 upset over NIT-bound Fordham.

The 1945-50 period saw the Blue and White record fall to a cumulative 26-55, despite Sarachek's return. Meanwhile, Marvin Freedman averaged 17.8 ppg and received honorable mention on the All-City squad.

The 1950s brought the era of Marvin Hershkowitz, who helped bring the Mighty Mites back to respectability. In his Junior year, Marv averaged 15.7 ppg and proceeded to become Yeshiva’s first 1000-point scorer. As captain in 1952-53, he was joined by the brawny Abe Sodden to lead the Mites to a 10-10 record, a record which was equaled the next year behind Sodden’s average of 19 pts. and 16 rebounds per game.

The Blumenreich Era

The next three years, 1954-57, are known as the Blumenreich era and are unparalleled in Yeshiva history, as the Mites compiled a 41-17 record. It began in 1954-55 when the Mites were 13-8 behind captain Abbey Gwritz, Sodden and newcomer Irwin ‘'Red’’ Blumenreich, who set a season scoring record with 513 points for a 24.4 average.

In 1955-56, the Mites achieved their best season to date with a 16-2 record (.888 pct), the third-best mark in the entire New York City area that year. Captain Abe Sodden wrapped up his career with 1207 points and Red averaged 24.7 ppg, then a YU record. In his senior year, the 6’4 redheaded Blumenreich made All-City first team and led the Mites to a 12-7 slate, graduating with numerous records, including the highest career average (23.5 ppg) and a total 1360 points, then the highest point total in YU history and a record for three-years play. This was also the rookie season of a fellow named Irving Bader.

After Blumenreich’s graduation, the Mites faltered to 9-12 in the 1957-58 season, but then rebounded strongly in 1958-59, Irv Bader, averaging 20 ppg, and captain Sandy Ader took the team to a 14-4 year, as the Mites were sound in small-college shooting percentage. In the next season, Bader's last, the Blue and White were 11-5 as 6'3 Sam Grossman led the team with 15.6 ppg and Bader (one of three captains that year) ended his college career with 1374 points, eclipsing Blumenreich's record total.

In 1960-61, the not-so Mighty Mites compiled a 3-14 ledger, their worst mark until then in their history (.176 pet). The lone bright spot was the 21.3 ppg average of Sam Grossman, who was chosen as a member of the U.S. team for the Maccabiah games. In 1961-62 the Mites achieved what was to be their last .500 season (10-10) for 23 years, with Grossman again the top scorer with 21.1 ppg. as he finished with 1117 points.

The 1962-63 season was the first in a very long dry spell for the Mites, who managed only a 6-14 record. Co-captain Arthur Aaron led the team with a 15-3 average. The following season, the Mites were 7-12 and again were led in scoring Aaron (14.8 ).

Rokach Stars

Though the team was only 7-13 in 1964-65, the play of powerful Junior forward Sheldon Rokach provided the only bright spots by breaking many Yeshiva records; he averaged 23.5 points per game and 21.5 rebounds per game while setting a new YU single-season rebounding record (411). The highlight of that season was the triple-overtime 100-96 victory over Queens, in which Rokach scored 48 points, breaking Red Blumenreich’s single-game point record (44).

Yeshiva was 7-13 again the next season under captain Johny Halpert, as Rokach, in another incredible season, scored at a 22.6 clip and averaged 20 rebounds a game, He also set a new YU rebounding record for a game (33) and finished his career as number three on the all-time YU scoring list with 1226, For the second successive year he was named to the Knickerbocker Conference All-Star team.

In 1966-67, the Mites were losers again, finishing with a 5-15 ledger. They were led by the burly playmaker Sam Stern who scored 359 points while averaging 17.8 ppg.

Poloner Leads Mites

1967-68, the rookie year of the heralded Stuart Poloner, was another dismal season, as the Mites won seven and lost fourteen. Poloner, playing brilliantly, scored 433 points for a 22.1 avg. and center Ray Aboff averaged 15.4 ppg. In 1968-69, after going 6-4 in the season's first half, the Mites lost Aboff to injury and fell to 9-12 overall. Public school star Richie Salit lit up the backcourt by averaging 18.1 ppg and Poloner had another great year, scoring 405 total points at a 19.3 pace.

With Poloner in Israel for the 1969-70 season, the Mites slipped to a horrible 3-17, under new coach Sam Stern. Sharpshooter Dave Gettinger averaged 16.9 ppg, but Salit, after averaging 26.9 in the first half of the season, took his talents elsewhere, leaving a depleted team behind.

The 1970-71 season was even worse; Gettinger transferred and the Mites finished at 2-17 (.105 pet). Poloner, however, set single-season records for total points (534) and average (28.1), while becoming Yeshiva's all-time leading scorer with 1378 points (breaking Blumenreich’s three-year record, as well).

The 1971-72 season brought continued failure to the Mites, who won ony two of their eighteen contests, David Wilzig (17.9 ppg) and Ira Shraga (16.6 ppg)-were the top scorers. Johnny Halpert took the coaching reins for the 72-73 season with a recruiting system in mind and improved slightly to 4-15; he followed that with a horrendous 1-19 season in which Wilzig again led the Mites (17.9 ppg) and graduated with 1052 total points. This season was the worst even in YU history (.050 pet).

1974-75 was not much better as the team was only 5-19 and the bearded Paul Merlis led the team with a meager 13.5 ppg. They slipped to 3-18 in 75-76 as Merlis was the top scorer with 17.1 ppg and Robert Rosenbloom continued 14.4 ppg.

Kufeld and the Maccabees

The following season was the rookie year of YU’s tallest starter ever. The 6'8 David Kufeld scored 349 points at a 16.6 ppg pace, second to Rosenbloom who pumped in 434 points for a 20.7 average, as the team was 4-17. In their sixteenth consecutive losing season, 1977-78, the team, now known as the Yeshiva Maccabees, were 5-15 and Robert Rosenbloom completed the season with 1247 college points.

The next season, freshman Harvey Sheff splashed onto the scene, leading the Macs with a 17.9 ppg average on 357 points as Kufeld placed second with 17.7 ppg and 354 points. Despite these heroics, the Macs fell to 3-17,

1979-80 was Kufeld’s final season and he closed it with a bang, scoring 341 points on 17 ppg. Kufeld hung up his sneakers as the #1 all-time YU rebounder (1223), the #4 all-time YU scorer (1250) and the 5 all-time rebounder in NCAA Division III history. Following the season he was drafted by the NBA Portland Trailblazers. The Macs, however, were only 6-14, while Sheff had 318 pts. for 15.9 ppg.

Another post-graduation depression followed: the 1980-81 Kufeld-less Macs fell to 3-20. Sheff was the lone luminary with 18.6 ppg on a whopping 427 points.

At last, Halpert’s recruiting began to pay off, as Joey Eaves and Sally Krevsky gave the Macs a much-needed shot in the arm. They won their first five games but then dropped to 10-12 overall. Sheff averaged 21 ppg (on 398 pts.) and finished his college career as YU's all-time #1 scorer with exactly 1500 points, Eaves had 371  points for a 16.9 average.

Sheff’s graduation left the 82-83 Macs center-less, as they posted a 7-13 ledger. Eaves (16.4 ppg) and Krevsky (13.8) led the team as smooth-shooting Ron Schwartz, another Halpert recruit, averaged 10.6 ppg. In 1983-84, while Eaves spent the year in Israel, the Macs were 5-15. All-IAC guard Schwartz paced the team with 18 ppg.

After 23 years, the YU Maccabees attained a winning record, going 11-8 and narrowly missing the playoffs in 1984-85. The fastbreaking duo of Eaves and Schwartz scored 391 and 320 points for averages of 20.5 and 16.8.

Next year, with both Eaves and Schwartz returning for their senior year, the two Hod brothers maturing and the completion of the Max Stern Athletic Center, basketball at YU should be more exciting than it has been in years.