A Brief History of the Last 36 Years of YU Macs Basketball
In 1985, my father, as the sports editor for The Commentator, wrote an article detailing the first 50 years of Yeshiva University basketball. In order to continue the Wildes legacy, I decided to write about the years since then. This is a brief summary of the last 36 years of Yeshiva Maccabees basketball.
The 1985-86 season was the Maccabees’ first year with a home gym as the building of the Max Stern Athletic Center had been completed. Led by backcourt mates Joey Eaves and Ronnie Schwartz along with brothers Lior and Ayal Hod, the Macs went 14-9. Star guard Joey Eaves wrapped up his YU career with 1,324 points. The next season, however, the Macs stepped backward, finishing the 1986-87 season with a record of 10-13. Yeshiva’s Ayal Hod stepped up, averaging 19.9 points per game (PPG) and 9.5 rebounds per game (RPG) on an efficient 66% shooting, with older brother Lior averaging 18.9 PPG and 7 RPG on 45% shooting from beyond the arc.
Yeshiva bounced back in the 1987-88 season, tying the school record in wins en route to a 16-9 year. In his final season for YU, Lior Hod averaged 19.7 PPG and 10.2 RPG, culminating in being named the Independent Athletic Conference (IAC) MVP, and finished as the all-time leading scorer in YU’s history with 1541 points. His younger brother Ayal had a fantastic season in his own right, putting up 19.7 points and 11.5 rebounds a game, and Yudi Teichman averaged 15 points and 10.7 rebounds per outing. With the loss of Lior Hod, the Macs regressed to 12-11 in 1988-89. Seniors Ayal Hod and Yudi Teichman led the pack, with the former averaging 22.3 points per game, (wrapping up his career with 1807 points, over 260 more than his brother Lior), while also grabbing 13.9 RPG, and with the latter averaging 18 points and 12.6 rebounds per game.
The 1989-90 Macs were led by junior Eric Davis and his 22.5 PPG, going 12-10 in a transition year for the team. The following season, the team’s record improved to 15-10, with Davis again scoring over 22 points per game, finishing his career with 1008 points. Senior Jon Rosner averaged 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Israeli newcomer Miko Danan averaged 15 points per game.
The 1991-92 season saw former Yeshiva League MVP Daniel Aaron join the squad, scoring 20.4 points per game in the 11 games he played. Miko Danan’s 434 points paced the way for Yeshiva, whose 13-10 record marked their fifth-straight winning season. Sadly, this streak was broken the next season. In the 1992-93 season, the Yeshiva Maccabees went 12-12. Aaron and Danan led the way for the Macs, averaging 19.6 and 14.6 points per game, respectively. Aaron also grabbed a team-high 8.6 rebounds an outing.
The Macs returned to their winning ways in 1993-94, as the defense-oriented Maccabees went 12-10 on the season. Both Aaron (18.9 PPG) and Danan (12.6 PPG) scored their 1000th career points during the season. Following the departures of Aaron and Danan, Yeshiva somehow improved on their record from the previous year, going 13-10 in the 1994-95 season, while also advancing to the second round of the IAC tournament. Barry Aranoff was the IAC Rookie Of the Year, leading all of Division III in steals per game (SPG) with 5.5.
In 1995-96 Yeshiva claimed a 13-12 record, their third consecutive winning season, with seniors Alan Levy leading the team in scoring and Barry Aranoff leading the defense, swiping 4.6 SPG. The ensuing season saw the Macs led by a new face: junior big man Joel Jacobson. Jacobson led the Macs in points (315, for a 15.8 PPG average), and rebounds (9.6 RPG), leading the team to a 15-6 record. In the 1997-98 season, Jacobson’s last, he once again paced the Macs in points (20.9) and rebounds (10.7), finishing his career with 1330 points, and leading the Macs to a 15-8 record.
While some expected the team to suffer without the presence of Jacobson, in the 1998-99 season the Macs sported a 16-7 record. First-year Israeli player Yossy Gev was the scoring leader for Yeshiva, scoring 447 points in 23 games for a 19.4 point per game average. In the subsequent season, the Macs again won 16 games, this time losing 8. For the second straight year, the team’s scoring charge was led by Yossy Gev and his 21 points per game average.
The Macs regressed to 13-8 in 2000-2001, though Gev was his dominant self, leading the conference in scoring with 20.8 PPG and scoring his 1000th career point in the process. Gev’s scoring did not stop here, though, as towards the end of the 2001-02 season, he passed Ayal Hod for the all-time scoring record at Yeshiva, leading the Macs to their 17th-straight season with a record of .500 or better, as they finished with a record of 14-12. Jack Yulzary had himself an all-around season, averaging over 5 assists and 5 steals per game.
Sadly, this streak ended the following season, with the Macs only able to muster an 8-17 record without Gev. Star Eli Hami wrapped up his fantastic three-year Macs career being awarded the Skyline Conference’s MVP. Hami led the conference in scoring (and set the YU single-season scoring record) with 548 points, for a 21.9 PPG average, and averaged 5 rebounds and 3 steals per game. The departure of Hami gave way to new stars for the Macs, as the 2003-04 Macs improved to 11-14 with five players — Benji Golbert, Harel Vatavu, Yitz Ribald, Alex Lapidus, and Jack Yulzary — all averaging over 8 points per game.
The succeeding season saw the record flipped, as Yeshiva went 14-11 in 2004-05, with Roy Goldstein leading the Skyline Conference in scoring with 21.5 (earning a spot on the All-Conference First-Team). The 2005-2006 season saw familiar faces become leaders, as third-year players Itzy Ribald (14.4 PPG) and Harel Vatavu (12.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG) lead a balanced Yeshiva team to a 13-12 record. In the following season, the fourth and final years for Vatavu and Ribald, the Macs went 15-11 as both seniors crossed the 1000-point plateau.
After three straight winning seasons, the Macs regressed to 11-16 in the 2007-08 season. The Macs, led by Skyline Rookie Of the Year (and Skyline Conference First-Team honoree) Zack Gordon’s 20.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a night, advanced to their second-ever Skyline Conference semifinals. With Gordon’s departure the following year to D1 UPenn, Yeshiva relied on D2 Barry University transfer and Buenos Aires native Martin Leibovich, who in turn averaged 18.1 PPG and 6.8 RPG. However, the team as a whole struggled, managing to go only 7-17 in the 2008-09 season. The team improved the subsequent season to 12-14, with Leibovich leading the team again in points and rebounds, with 15.8 and 7.4, respectively.
The Macs were without Leibovich in the 2010-11 season, dropping to 7-18 without his presence. Dovie Hoffman stepped up for Yeshiva, averaging 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and about a steal and a block a game. Gil Bash chipped in with 13 PPG and Omer Haim dishing out 6.3 assists per game (APG). The next season was the worst season in 30 years for Yeshiva, as they were only able to muster a 5-20 record in 2011-12. Once again, Hoffman, Bash and Haim led the offense, with Hoffman averaging 14.7 points and 7.1 rebounds, Bash putting up 10.5 points and Haim averaging 6.2 assists.
The 2012-2013 season saw the Macs improve to 11-16, a big jump from the previous season. The team was led by seniors Bash (15 points, 5.7 assists) and Hoffman (13.1 points), both of whom scored their 1000th career points during the season. Also stepping up were Benjy Ritholtz (13.5 points) and Shlomo Weissberg (10.4 points, 9.3 rebounds). The ensuing season, Coach Jonathan Halpert’s last, the team faltered to a 7-18 record. Newcomer Yisrael Feld paced the team with 16 PPG, with Ritholtz (14.5 PPG) and Weissberg (9.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG) producing solid numbers as well.
Former Mac Elliot Steinmetz took over the coaching reins in the 2014-15 season, ushering in a new era for Macs basketball — one of Jewish Day School recruiting and free-flowing offense. Senior Benjy Ritholtz (17.7 points) and junior Shelby Rosenberg (15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds) led Yeshiva to a 14-11 record, their first winning season since 2007. Due to the departure of the 1000-point scoring Ritholtz, Rosenberg’s scoring output increased to 18.4 PPG in the 2015-16 season (hitting 1000 career points in the process), helping the Macs secure a 15-12 record. Building off of their newfound success, the 2016-17 Maccabees improved slightly to 15-10. Second-year player Judah Cohen led the team, averaging 14.9 points, while freshman Simcha Halpert (13 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and senior Michael Berg (11.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5 APG) were major contributors as well.
The 2017-18 season changed the course of Yeshiva history forever. In the first half of the season, the Macs went 6-8, but with the arrival of Gabe Leifer (SSSB ‘21) from Israel in January, the team turned around completely, going 12-3 the rest of the way (leading to a program-record 18 wins). The team advanced to their first Skyline Conference championship (and won for the first time) and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Leading the charge were sophomores Simcha Halpert (YU-record 599 points, for 20.7 PPG), Bar Alluf (17.9 PPG), and Gabe Leifer (17.4 PPG, 10.9 RPG).
With 8 out of the top 9 minute-earners returning the following season, along with the highly anticipated arrival of McDonald’s All-American nominee and D1 prospect Ryan Turell (SSSB ‘22), the Maccabees’ future was looking bright. Led by the powerful trio of Turell (20.1 PPG, 5 RPG), Halpert (18.4 PPG, breaking the 1000 point plateau), and Leifer (18.1 PPG, 12 RPG, 5.4 APG, Skyline MVP), Yeshiva set their school record for most wins in a season in the second straight year, winning 19 while only losing 8. While Yeshiva made it to a second-straight Skyline Conference championship, their loss in the championship was a disappointing blow to the NCAA Tournament aspirations of the team.
After the bitter end to the previous season the Macs, armed now with high-flying freshman Ofek Reef (SSSB ‘23), were ready to win the conference once again. After losing the first game of the season to Occidental College, the Macs reeled off 29 straight wins, including the Skyline Conference championship and two NCAA Tournament wins (the first two in school history). Alas, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament was canceled in the middle, robbing the Macs of a chance to continue to make YU history. The Macs ended the season with a record of 29-1, and without the opportunity to advance past the Sweet 16. Turell had the best individual season in school history, scoring 646 points (for a 23.9 average) on 63% shooting and 46% from beyond the arc, culminating in being awarded the Skyline Conference MVP and being awarded a spot on D3Hoops.com’s All-America First-Team. Gabe Leifer put up 16 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, being awarded a spot on D3Hoops.com’s All-America Fourth-Team. Both Turell and Leifer crossed the 1000-point mark during the season. Simcha Halpert finished the season with a 16.7 point per game average, finishing his career second on the all-time scoring list with 1845 points (26 points shy of the all-time mark).
After the premature ending to the previous season, the Macs came back with a renewed hunger, desperate to climb to the heights achieved the season before. Unfortunately, with the pandemic still in force, an NCAA Tournament was not to happen. Yeshiva attempted to schedule as many games as they could during the shortened season, yet with COVID-19 outbreaks and other logistical issues, the Macs would have their season ended without warning for the second straight time, playing only seven games, though they would win them all. This marked the first time in YU history that the team would go undefeated.
By the end of the season, the Maccabees’ win streak reached 36 straight games, tying them for the second-most straight wins in D3 history. In those seven games, Turell averaged a mind-numbing 26 points and 8.3 rebounds, Eitan Halpert (SSSB ‘21) averaged 18.1 points per game, and in what may have been Gabe Leifer’s last season, he averaged 13.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per outing. Turell, for the second-straight year, was nominated on D3Hooops.com’s All-America First-Team, while Leifer was voted as D3Hoops.com All-America Second-Team.
While the past couple of seasons ended abruptly, with Ryan Turell and Ofek Reef leading the charge, along with D1 grad transfer Ethan Lasko’s presence, expect the Macs to continue their recent stretch of dominance.
Photo Caption: The Macs are an integral part of YU’s history.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University Athletics