By Eli Davis
Jewish college students from around the country gathered in College Park, Md., for the fourth annual National Hillel Basketball Tournament.
More than 300 athletes and 41 teams represented 30 different colleges and universities including newcomers to the tournament such as University of Southern California, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, and Duke University, among others.
NHBT, which has become the largest intercollegiate basketball tournament for Jewish students, started Friday night with a Shabbat dinner in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Student Union and continued with games Saturday night after Shabbat and into Sunday in Ritchie Coliseum and the Armory.
Ari Israel, executive director of University of Maryland’s Hillel, said the dinner was a “great kickoff” to the tournament. While he enjoyed watching all the teams compete, basketball was not the focus of the weekend for him. “The purpose was to build the community through playing ball,” Israel said.
“Friday night was really special,” said the tournament’s co-chair, sophomore finance major Joseph Tuchman. “Everyone was enjoying food, and Shabbat, and culture and getting to know each other,” he said.
University of Maryland teams won both the men and women’s tournament, keeping the “Kiddish Cup” championship trophy in College Park.
Although the University of Maryland has won the women’s championship every year, the competition was tougher this year, said Danielle Miller, a senior at the University of Maryland majoring in business management and kinesiology. “This was the hardest championship game we have played in,” Miller said.
“I was impressed with the quality of play of the girls games,” said Bruce Levenson, owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Levenson, who was in attendance as a guest speaker, said the “whole idea [of the NHBT] is fantastic.” It was great to see Jewish college students having fun and playing basketball, he said.
Basketball games of all-girl teams are hard to come by around campus, Miller said. She enjoyed the elevated competition as well as playing against familiar faces from high school tournaments and the JCC Maccabi Games.
The tournament was set up and executed by a board of over 20 University of Maryland students. “I was shocked at the University of Maryland student involvement,” said Mark Kaplan, a junior real estate major who represented Emory University.
“It is unbelievable that a group of 20 students can put together such an intricate program,” Tuchman said. Although the NHBT is student-generated, the tournament would not have been possible without the help of the University of Maryland Hillel’s staff, according to Tuchman.
Coinciding with the NCAA’s March Madness, the NHBT is “Jewish madness,” Israel said. Kaplan agreed, pointing out the “hype” that surrounded that tournament’s final four games.
“This year’s tournament put us on the map,” Tuchman said. “The gym was going crazy. There was contagious energy.”