Big league boys

Big league boys

Teaneck's hoopster Hods propel YU Maccabees to first NCAA tournament

Tyler Hod  is 44
Tyler Hod is 44

For the first time in the history of the Yeshiva University basketball team, the YU Maccabees have won the Skyline Conference championship.

The New York metropolitan area-based Skyline Conference is part of the NCAA’s Division III, so the win advances the team to the division’s tournament, which begins this weekend. The tournament hosts 64 different Division III college basketball teams. The Maccabees, which was the #4 seed, defeated the #2 seed Purchase College Panthers on Sunday, February 25, by a score of 87-81 at Purchase.

The YU team isn’t special only because its players wear kippot and are educated with a dual curriculum — Judaic and English subjects. This team, which is coached by Elliot Steinmetz, who has been working with them for four years, is also where two brothers, Tyler and Justin Hod, from Teaneck continue a tradition that was started by their father, Lior, and their uncle, Ayal, more than 30 years ago.

In this championship game, Justin went 6 for 6 from the 3 point line to score 18 points, and Tyler scored 9.

Justin Hod, 21

This wasn’t the first time the Hods made history at YU. The brothers had done it before, just a little more than a year ago, in January 2017, when Tyler, Justin, and their older brother, Jordan, all played in one game. That day, the Maccabees won, 73 to 43, against Sarah Lawrence College.

But the story goes back even further.

The Hod dynasty began when Lior and Ayal, originally from Israel, now in their 50s, started to play basketball in a Jewish community center in Atlanta, Georgia. Their parents, Dov and Rivi, and their four children had moved to Atlanta, and the parents opened a Middle Eastern restaurant. Like most new restaurants, though, the Hods’ attempt failed, and Dov and Rivi returned to Israel.

But Lior, then 15, and Ayal, then 14, stayed in Atlanta. They did not see their parents for seven years, but they were able to keep on playing basketball.

A Yeshiva University graduate saw them playing, and he was so impressed that he told his friend about them. His friend happened to be the legendary Yeshiva University coach Jonathan Halpert, who was able to get them the scholarships that brought them to Yeshiva University to study — and to play basketball.

Lior and Ayal played for YU.

The family had been devoutly secular until then; it was at YU that Lior Hod was introduced to Orthodox Judaism. He took to it.

In 1988, Lior broke Yeshiva University’s scoring record with 1,541 points. In 1989, Ayal quickly broke his brother’s record. (A third brother, Asaf, played from 1998 to 2002.)

Coincidentally, Lior’s young sons — Jordan, Justin, and Tyler — were all water boys for the Macs, and they all dreamed of playing for them when they got older.

A generation later, those same three water boys, the second set of Hod brothers, were playing for the YU Macs.

They made history last year, when they became the first set of three brothers ever to play for the same team at the same time in NCAA Division III. They also were only the fourth set of three brothers to play at the same time across the entire NCAA.

Jordan, who graduated last year, now works in sports technology; he’s at a New York-based sports league software company called LeagueApps. His brothers continue to play basketball.

Playing for YU is not like playing for any other school. According to Tyler, a 21-year-old junior, “A dual curriculum is hard on its own. To add basketball to the equation makes it that much more difficult and time consuming.

“I have a lot of work to do in terms of managing my time better. Thank God, I am able to manage it all by making a time and place for everything and focusing on each thing at its proper time.”

As for their prowess on the court, “My dad was an incredible shooter,” Tyler said. “But nothing in life comes without doing your hishtadlus” — due diligence — “and hard work.” “Repetitions and practice are vital.”

Though they love basketball, the brothers realize that they will not end up playing for the NBA. Justin, now a 22-year-old senior, wants to pursue finance, and 21-year-old Tyler, a junior, is leaning more toward the rabbinate.

But first they are savoring being part of the team that won the Skyline Conference Championship for the first time in YU history.

“YU ball keeps on getting more talented and God-loving, and that is a deadly combination,” Lior Hod said. And how does it feel for the younger Hods to have accomplished something that the elder Hods were never able to manage? “My father and my uncle had their fair share of success and they are happy for what we have succeeded in doing,” Tyler Hod said.

The boys’ parents, Lior and Janet, have lived in Teaneck for more than 30 years, where Janet is active in the community and Lior owns his own business, Elkay, which is involved in healthcare technology.

All four of the Hod children — including a daughter, Samantha Hod Locke, went to Frisch (and Samantha, like her brothers, was an avid and successful athlete there).

Tyler, Jordan, and Justin Hod all played for Frisch.

The brothers feel that the Teaneck community has been a blessing. It’s “one of the best places in the world to live, after Eretz Yisrael,” Tyler said. “Teaneck gave my brother and me the ability to play in various sports leagues and constantly compete every season on some sport. And it helps to have supportive parents. “We thank God and thank our parents for giving us this great home and environment in Teaneck.”

And how do their parents feel about their children’s athletic feats? Their father couldn’t say enough. “There is no feeling like watching your children accomplish something incredible like this,” Lior said. “I was able to sit in the stands with my brother Ayal, and see them do something that has never been done.

“I am so happy for my boys, for the entire team, and for klal Yisrael. These boys are great ballplayers, but they are even better people. They learn before every game. They arrive early at the gym, warm up, take a break to learn together, and then return to the court.”

Lior also takes pride in how his boys daven after every game, wear kippot as they play, and rush to help the opposing team when they fall. “They respect the refs and coaches even when they disagree,” he said. “They pick up the garbage from their bench and sometimes even in the stands.”

Tyler, left, and Justin study together in YU’s beit midrash.

He is proud not only of his sons, but of the entire team. “I have had many of them stay in my home, and they are the same way, polite, respectful, and thoughtful,” he said. “They are incredible role models and athletes. They make Mac alumni proud. They make Yeshiva University proud. These are basketball-playing mentsches.”

There is no greater victory than that.

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