By Yakira Cohen
The National Hillel Basketball Tournament brought roughly 1,200 Jewish students from across the country to campus this weekend, NHBT Board Chairman David Stein said. Along with the basketball competition, an itinerary packed with social events and opportunities to connect with other students was a huge draw for many to attend.
“I just saw it as a great time to see old friends that I hadn’t seen in a while and my girlfriend goes here so I am visiting her, and I just love to watch good basketball, so this overall was a great experience,” said sophomore biology major Zack Stauber, who came down from Yeshiva University to watch.
“It’s really two of my favorite things: basketball and Jewish people,” added Robbie Feinberg, a senior economics major from the Harvard team.
NHBT was planned by a board of 27 students, subdivided into different positions of board coordinator, events and attractions, campus recruitment, graphic design, PR writer, marketing, technical division, hospitality, game operations and business development.
Elana Sichel, a sophomore education major, decided to join the board this year after playing in last year’s women’s tournament.
“Last year watching the board come together, to me it was watching them be the true team,” she said. “It really inspired me that I wanted to part of that team of 27 students helping run the entire tournament.”
This is the ninth year that the tournament has taken place. There were 42 teams, roughly 300 players and the budget was over $100,000, said Stein. This is the first year that players stayed in The Hotel at the University of Maryland rather than smaller-scale accommodations that are further from campus, like the Best Western Plus.
The weekend kicked off Thursday night with NHBT bar night at Cornerstone Grill & Loft, an event run in partnership with the Jewish Student Union at this university.
On Friday, preliminary games were held at the Xfinity Center and the Armory. Maryland students, along with guests, brought a crowd as they watched the proceedings.
For Sam Finkel, a junior bioengineering major at this university who hosted two guests this weekend, the best part was “getting to watch the high caliber teams and seeing the best Jewish basketball players in the country play.”
Following Friday night services at Hillel, players, guests and students enjoyed dinner at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. There were larger and smaller meal options to cater to the different Shabbat expectations of the many attendees.
“Whether it’s playing on the courts or the Shabbat meals, it’s really nice just interacting with a lot of different people and saying I had a role in bringing all these people together,” said Sichel.
On Shabbat, lunch was followed by an appearance by Charles “Buck” Williams, who spoke about his experiences as a former Maryland player, retired NBA player and former assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Shabbat afternoon programming included a dunk contest and skills contest for the players and a newlyweds game featuring some of the guests.
“It really brings people together and promotes some of the best parts of Judaism, not even the super religious aspects, but about teamwork and being happy for others’ success and the healthy parts of competition really get to come out in this,” said Feinberg.
On Saturday night, games resumed following Shabbat, and on Sunday, championships for the three men’s tiers as well as the women’s bracket took place. The tier one champions were Yeshiva University.
As students headed back to their respective campuses after a packed weekend, they were already looking forward to what’s in store for next year.
“I’ll come again next year, im yitrza hashem (if God wills it),” said Stauber.