The 2019-2020 Macs: Our Champions
One night in the Rubin dormitory I wandered down the stairs to the gym and saw a basketball game going on. Intrigued but not fully interested, I sat down to talk to the two or three friends I saw in the stands. We chatted and did not pay much attention to the game. Then in a split second, something developed on the court and the conversation was silenced. The Macs were running a breakaway and Ryan Turell tossed an alley-oop pass to Ofek Reef. We rose to see; our adrenaline pumped. We watched Ofek jump high into the air near the hoop as Ryan tossed the pass. “AWWW” yelled the slightly disappointed — but mostly awed — crowd. Though he missed the dunk, I thought to myself, “Did you see how high Ofek jumped?” No longer was I focusing on the test I had the next day, I was simply in awe.
That moment epitomized the transcendent nature of the 2019-2020 men's basketball season. The Macs made your Tuesday nights wondrous. After I watched a few of these games, I no longer coincidentally wandered into the gym, I marked them on my calendar. I couldn’t miss one. I couldn’t miss Gabe Leifer’s defense and overall control of the court. I couldn’t miss Turell’s expert shooting or the Simcha Halperts’ threes. I couldn’t miss the first 10 minutes of the game when it felt as if Macs were picking apart defenses and creating the right shots, effectively ending the game before it even started. The Macs were nothing short of masterful.
The men’s basketball team represented the best of what Yeshiva University had to offer. While students sometimes demur the functionality of certain aspects of the university and feel divided on so many issues, the Macs were something we could all cheer for. The players, despite coming from all over the country and with varying religious backgrounds, overcame their differences and put their team above it all. They passed the ball to each other incessantly. They were role models of middos, and played the other teams with respect.
Three weeks ago, when our university was shut down because a student tested positive for coronavirus, the Macs were surging at the perfect time. The country was not yet shut down, we were scared and did not know how long the situation would last, but Friday and motzei shabbos March 6 and 7, we tuned in to the Macs games. We saw their incredible teamwork on the biggest stage in school history. We were shown that though we couldn’t be there to watch — the host Johns Hopkins University barred fan entry — and though we wouldn’t have class for a while, we could still thrive. Just like the warriors of the Chanukah story, in a time where many Jews were in crisis, the Maccabees stood up and showed us we would endure despite the hardships that lay in front of us.
As the dust settles on the season we should not look at how it ended — a cancelled trip to the Division III Sweet 16 — rather, we should try our best to remember the good times: the Skyline semifinal where after Gabe took control after we lost the lead and we pulled out the victory; yelling and screaming together at the Skyline championship game and the 29 game winning streak. We should remember the work all the players and coaches put in and the hope they provided us in this dark time.
Obviously, there is disappointment with the season being cut short. We all wanted to see how far this could have gone. Could they have put it all together to win four more times? Though that question lingers, the season is over, leaving us hanging in the air like Ofek on that Tuesday night when he jumped to catch the pass from Ryan. We stand in amazement, waiting to see if the shot will go in, if they could go all the way, if they could outlast the entire Division III and shock the world.
But the world pressed paused but perhaps that’s for the better, because the 2019-2020 Yeshiva University Maccabees were never meant to land back on the hardwood of reality. They were never meant to follow the normal rules of basketball tournaments and winning streaks.
The season ends in that glorious paused moment where Ofek jumped. The team was stopped mid flight in the Sweet 16. The dunk was a magical thing, we knew that it probably wouldn’t have worked out but there was a moment where the conversations halted and the awe was wondrous. We knew the Macs probably wouldn’t have won the next tournament game and three others after that. But it’s not about the finality of the shot missing or going in, it's about the awe and joy brought in that shot, and all the shots that did go in.
We will never know how far they could have gone, but now the 2019-2020 Macs will be perpetually suspended in the middle of an awesome dunk, always our champions.
Photo Caption: Ofek Reef jumps.
Photo Credit: Joe Bednarsh/Yeshiva Athletics