Lions head to Memphis
Varsity basketball team finishes fifth in the Cooper Invitational
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Senior Nadav Kalender caught the ball on the wing and effortlessly drained a three-pointer over his defender. Immediately after, he got the ball back off of a turnover and got the Lions out to an early lead, which they would hold on to en route to their first win at the 2016 Cooper Yeshiva High School National Invitational Basketball Tournament.
This is the fourth year that the CESJDS boys varsity basketball team travelled to Memphis, Tenn. to compete in the Cooper Invitational, a four-day preseason basketball tournament for Jewish high schools from Thursday, Nov. 3 until Sunday, Nov. 6.
While the team went into the tournament with hopes of winning the championship, they lost their second game and, as it is a single elimination tournament, were out of contention for the championship. However, the tournament is structured so that even when a team loses a game, it does not stop playing. The Lions ended the tournament with a record of 3-1 and a fifth-place finish.
They started off strong by routing their first opponent, The Atlanta Jewish Academy, by a score of 63 to 19. The next day, however, the Lions, even with a major comeback in the fourth quarter, were upset by Milken Community High School (Los Angeles) when they lost 58 to 55. The Lions recovered after the loss and went on to win their final two games against Rochelle Zell Jewish High School (Chicago), 65-63, and the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy (Miami), 63-47.
This year, 14 players and three coaches from JDS attended the tournament. On the first day of the tournament, the Lions played a game, attended a banquet and heard guest speakers, including University of Memphis coach Tubby Smith and former Israeli basketball player Tamir Goodman. The next day, the team played another game before going to a synagogue for Friday night services and spending their Shabbat dinner together with a local Jewish family. On Saturday, after Shabbat, the team played another game before their final game on Sunday.
While the basketball aspect of the tournament is what brought the team to Memphis, the players also enjoyed the additional programming. In the four years that Kalender has gone to the tournament, it has always been a highlight of his year.
“[It was] one of the best weekends ever for me. There were some young kids there that we bonded with a lot,” Kalender said.
The team trained hard in order to prepare for the tournament and held up to three practices a week from the time school began until they left for Memphis. In these practices, they played many scrimmages in an attempt to build team chemistry before the tournament. All the players were able to bond in Memphis, but some of them had to catch up with the rest of the team, as they could not go to every practice.
This year was sophomore Max Stravitz’s first year going to the Cooper Invitational. He was one of four players on the basketball team who went to Memphis and also competed on the JDS varsity cross country team. Stravitz had to miss multiple basketball practices for cross country practice in order to keep himself in shape and up to speed for the cross country season.
“It’s hard to build chemistry when you have not gone to too many practices,” Stravitz said.
Unlike regular season games, the invitational is unique because it is a preseason tournament and does not count towards the team’s conference records, allowing the coaches and the players better a understanding of how the team will look before conference play begins.
“It’s a preseason tournament, but we still want to be successful, and put the guys in a place to be successful,” Assistant Coach Brian Westerman said.
Westerman said that while the team tries to win no matter where they play, the coaching staff was willing to take more risks during the invitational. For instance, the coaching staff was more willing to call press coverages as it was good practice for the team.
“That’s the best showing that we had; it gave us a lot of things we can build off for the rest of the season,” Westerman said.