A Macs-tastic Basketball Season
The 2014-2015 Maccabees Men’s Basketball season was the start of a new era. For the first time since 1972, the team did not have Jonathan Halpert as their head coach – instead, Elliot Steinmetz took over the reigns from the legendary 400-game winner. After achieving a remarkable level of success coaching Hebrew Academy of Nassau County and North Shore Hebrew Academy in the high school Yeshiva League (while also heading the gold-medal winning U-18 Team USA in the Israeli Maccabiah Games), Steinmetz returned to his alma mater at YU to coach at the NCAA level and bring an new style of exciting basketball to the Max Stern Athletic Center (MSAC).
The head coaching change was hardly the only storyline heading into the new season though. Only seven players from the previous year’s squad returned, led by senior star Benjy Ritholtz who had a brilliant Academic All-American campaign in 2013-2014. There were many transfers ranging from post presence Michael Berg to three-point threat Joseph Ammar, many of whom it was clear would make significant contributions to the Maccabees’ rotation. In addition, Yogev Berdugo, another accomplished Jewish high school coach, joined Steinmetz as assistant coach and was a tremendous asset in developing player skills. However, arguably the biggest story of all was that last year’s leading scorer Yisrael Feld deciding to sit out from basketball for the year, putting an early dent in any playoff hopes for the Macs.
As a whole, expectations were not too high for the new-look Maccabees, but by the time winter break came around, they found themselves at the top of the Skyline Conference standings. This surprising run to first place was keyed by a six-game winning streak after starting off the year 3-3. “Maybe we caught a few teams by surprise,” Steinmetz said remarking on the Macs’ early season success. He continued, “It was fun and something our guys worked for, I'm glad they got to experience being at the top for a bit. But ultimately, it only matters where you are at the end of February in the conference.” The Maccabees were lead in their winning ways by the stellar play of Ritholtz with his 17.7 points per game and the breakout season of junior forward Shelby Rosenberg who was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of thee court (15.8 points per game and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds per game). Another third-year player who shined for the Macs was Shaje Weiss, who in previous years struggled to get playing time, but quickly established himself as a starter that was top-five in the conference for shooting percentage and the team’s go-to defender. The MSAC was rocking during home games, and Macs Madness was back on campus.
The goal of the Maccabees coming into the season was to host a home playoff game in the Skyline Conference tournament, and that seemed well within reach as the spring semester beckoned. This was not only thanks to the Macs’ impressive record, but also due to the fact that two significant additions were being made to their roster after winter break. The first of those was the heavily touted recruit Benjamin Oirech from Israel joining the team to play as a 6’9” center. Secondly, the return of Feld after his first semester absence really got fans excited. Things were definitely looking up for the Maccabees.
Nonetheless, the second act of the season did not go well for the Maccabees. They went 2-7 after the break with a brutal six-game losing streak where seemingly every loss had the same crushing theme: the Macs would open up a large double-digit lead before somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with a second half collapse. There were also many injuries as the season wore on, effecting team lineups and clearly taking a toll on the team. The one bright spot of this difficult stretch was Ritholtz becoming the 27th player in Yeshiva University history to score 1000 career points.
Despite being in excellent position to seize a top playoff seed earlier, the Macs needed to win their last three games of the season to take the fifth place spot, meaning they would need to play Old Westbury on the road for their first playoff game in two years. The game ended up being a blowout, even with Rosenberg putting up a monster game of 29 points and 11 rebounds. As the final buzzer rang and MacsLive wrapped up their coverage of the Maccabees’ 70-82 playoff loss, the most exciting Men’s Basketball season in recent memory came to a close.
Although the Maccabees did not get to experience a storybook ending, this season still was undoubtedly a step in the right direction. For the first time in years the team finished with a winning record in both overall and conference play. Coach Steinmetz said, “It was great to get some playoff experience for our guys coming back, but they also see how hard they have to work to take the next steps.” In fact the Macs will have almost all their players back next year, for the only departing senior from this season was their team leader Benjy Ritholtz - who again received the Capital One Academic All-American Award for the second straight year and Skyline First Team All-Conference (Rosenberg received the latter honor as well).
The future is bright for the Maccabees and the Steinmetz era is off to an excellent start. “Overall, the goal for us is to find ways to improve every day,” he said, “if we can do that over the entire offseason as players and coaches, then we should be very successful.” Success that Macs players and fans alike hope will finally lead to that elusive conference championship and the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.