Final Four Goes Jewish at Hillel March Madness

Tourney Not Quite the NCAA, But Not Chopped Liver Either

Jacob Got Game: Maryland’s Jacob Susskind was among the top Jewish hoopsters battling at Hillel’s answer to the NCAA tournament.
Jacob Got Game: Maryland’s Jacob Susskind was among the top Jewish hoopsters battling at Hillel’s answer to the NCAA tournament.

By Hillel Kutler

Published April 05, 2014.
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(JTA) — Dribbling blurs across four parallel basketball courts, the players who came for the National Hillel Basketball Tournament filled a football field-size gymnasium in a marathon of games.

Forty-one teams and 300 players from colleges across the United States came to the University of Maryland campus last weekend for the tournament’s fourth incarnation in what also represented a homecoming of sorts:

Back-slapping recognitions renewed acquaintances from summer camp and high school days.

The 30 colleges whose Hillels sent teams here included seven — Duke, Harvard, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and UCLA — that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. And while the play here was hardly up to March Madness standards, it was plenty good and highly competitive.

The men’s title game, in fact, featured two athletes who have attained the heights of collegiate sports: Jacob Susskind, who plays for Maryland, and Anthony Firkser of Harvard — the Crimson’s football team, that is. Maryland would win not just the men’s crown but the women’s, too.

Arriving at Ritchie Coliseum for the championship game – most contests were held at the larger Reckford Armory across the street – Susskind hobbled in, a function of fatigue from the nonstop hoops.

The Terrapins played in the National Invitational Tournament last spring, so Susskind could not compete in the 2013 national Hillel tourney. He said he was glad he came this time.

“It’s to help spread the word about Jewish people in basketball. It’s a cool concept: to come together with the same religious belief, and to do something everyone likes to do, which is play basketball, is a plus,” Susskind said on Sunday afternoon after his team, one of seven Maryland men’s and women’s clubs at the tournament, won a preliminary-round game.

Susskind, who attended the Golda Och Academy, a Solomon Schechter school in West Orange, N.J., spoke at courtside while watching Kansas play Massachusetts, and pointed to a guard wearing uniform No. 10 for the former.

“He came up to me the other day and said, ‘I know you.’ It was cool to see him,” said Susskind, explaining that the two played seven years ago at a Jewish day school tournament in Baltimore.


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