When the opening ceremony inaugurates the quadrennial Maccabi Pan-American Games on Sunday night in Mexico City, Bergen County will be represented by two of the 12 players on the youth basketball team, and Rockland by its coach.
Shmuli Coates of Teaneck and Max Zakheim of Bergenfield both are 17-year-olds who will be seniors at the Frisch School in Paramus in the fall. Both are on the Frisch basketball team. And both were recruited by Coach Josh Javer of New City.
The Pan-American Maccabi games are held every four years, in a cycle two years apart from the international Maccabiah Games held in Israel. The Pan American games bring athletes from North, Central, and South America, along with others from Australia and Israel. Competitors in Maccabi games must be either Jewish or Israeli.
“It’s a tough recruitment process,” Mr. Javer said.
“These two kids were in the regional Maccabi games last summer. They did a real good job.”
Mr. Javer has been coaching regional Maccabi games since 2006, overseeing the Westchester delegation. This is his first involvement in international games.
He played in the Maccabi games himself when he was 13. “We were very young. We played in an older age group. We lost every game by 50 points, but it was still a lot of fun.”
Max is very excited about going to Mexico City. He has visited Mexico before as part of a Passover program, but this will be his first trip to its capital city. On Monday, he and Shmuli arrived in Dallas for three days of training and practice before going on to Mexico on Friday.
Shmuli also is excited. “I’m doing what I wished I could when I was a little kid,” he said. “I’m hoping to have a really fun time playing basketball with people from around America.”
Frisch made it only to the semi-finals this year in the Yeshiva League. “We were up by 13 in the third quarter, and then we kind of gave it away,” Shmuli said.
Shmuli plays forward for Frisch, but on the Maccabi team, he may be a guard.
“We’re playing for America,” he said. “It kind of gives me the chills. Our first game we’re playing against Australia.”
Shmuli has been playing basketball “pretty much since I was a little baby. I would wake up at 5 a.m. before school to go to the gym and practice.”
He believes the secret to success in basketball is “consistency and hard work. If you want to get better, you have to get up and go to the gym for an hour and be consistent.
“I always dedicate time to basketball during the summer. There will be a time period during the summer where I’m fully engrossed, when everything will be about basketball. Since I ended school, I’ve been training every single day, going to the gym every single day. I’ll never take a day off. I’ll go to basketball camp for a week. I’m going back to Camp Step It Up,” an Orthodox Jewish sleepaway camp that focuses on basketball.
And as for the likely result of Team USA in Mexico City? “From what I’ve heard, the competition is not so amazing,” Max said. “USA usually wins.”