By Spencer Dobkin
Students and players have already begun preparing for the National Hillel Basketball Tournament, coming back to this university in April 2019.
Since its founding in 2010 by Rachel Epstein, a former student at this university, NHBT has grown from a small event to the largest Jewish basketball tournament in the U.S. with roughly 50 teams competing every year. Players are gearing up to compete with and against fellow Jewish students representing their school’s Hillel at next year’s NHBT.
Arik Tieke, a sophomore public health sciences major and small forward for one of this university’s teams from last year, can’t wait to get back on the hardwood. “You look up and you see how big of arena it is. We’re playing on the actual Maryland Terrapins basketball court,” Tieke said.
After going undefeated in the preliminary rounds, Tieke will return next year more confident than ever. “Once you realize that it’s all for fun, win or lose, you have almost a settling feeling. You know you don’t personally have anything to prove,” he explained.
Michael Bixon, a sophomore biology major and player from one of Yeshiva University’s teams this year, hopes to be returning for a second year after losing in the quarter finals last time. “Even if you don’t necessarily play, it’s a great social scene at the Hillel. A lot of people come to the games,” Bixon said. He recently tore his ACL, but hopes to be back to playing basketball by March.
The tournament brings many individual athletes who have been part of other club and tournament teams, and even brings in students from college teams such as Bixon, who currently plays for Yeshiva University’s team. “You make friends with so many people, and its still competitive basketball,” said Bixon. “We played a team from the University of Chicago, it was great meeting them,” he added.
Tieke enjoys playing with a mix of players from high school as well as Division 1 and 3 players in the tournament. “For the most part, in high school you have to deal with a mix of good and bad teams, here almost every game is super competitive,” said Tieke.
Players are not only preparing for the gameplay, but for the other events they partake in as part of the experience as well. Most players come in at least knowing someone, but tournament events encourage a growing community.
Zev Ben-Ami, a sophomore finance major, fondly remembers the Friday night meal with tons of people and said it felt “good to get back to playing ball.” After playing for the Baruch College Hillel team last year, Ben-Ami isn’t sure if he will be returning to play next year.