Many in the Jewish world have been following the historic rise of Yeshiva University’s basketball team, The Maccabees, since well before the pandemic, when their dramatic series of consecutive wins sent waves throughout the world of basketball and within the Jewish Orthodox community. Back then, they had a 45-game winning streak, the second longest in Division III history, which began with the second game of the 2019-2020 season that saw YU win 27 consecutive regular season games, a conference championship, and two NCAA tournament games as the team reached the Sweet 16 before the remainder of the post-season was canceled due to the pandemic. They were one of the favorites to win the Division III national championship each of the last two years, but last year’s tournament was canceled by COVID-19 before the season concluded.
Led by Woodmere resident and head coach Elliot Steinmetz and a crew that includes many local players, The Maccabees (14-0) now maintain the nation’s longest active victorious run at any level of men’s collegiate competition – 50 in a row. The NBA was quick to acknowledge YU’s milestone with a congratulatory Tweet. ESPN took to social media as well with a tweet: “FIFTY straight games for Yeshiva men’s basketball. Incredible.”
Stars Ryan Turell, a 6’7 senior guard who’s currently the nation’s frontrunner for Men’s Player of the Year, has high hopes of basketball in his future, hoping to be the first Orthodox Jewish basketball player in the NBA. Other notable stars include graduate student Gabriel Leifer, a DRS graduate; graduate student Jordan Armstrong; sophomore Adi Markovich; junior Matan Zucker; senior Eitan Halpert; and graduate student Ethan Lasko. The Macs, as they’re known in the Jewish world, have big appeal in the school due to YU’s relatively small size. Fans are more like classmates rooting for one another; the players do not walk about the campus like celebrities, rather they are friends learning gemorah and studying secular studies as a unit.
The next showdown at the Max Stern Athletic Center will be held on Thursday, December 30, when No. 1 Yeshiva hosts No. 4 Illinois Wesleyan University. The key NCAA Division III game will begin at 8:00 p.m. with 70% masked vaccinated spectators in attendance; no one under 12 years of age will be permitted.
A previously recorded interview hosted by Izzo Zwiren of the Queens Jewish Link’s Jewish Living Podcast with Coach Steinmetz is available at www.tinyurl.com/26b8dxjd.
By Shabsie Saphirstein