Learning from basketball

Learning from basketball

Fort Lee hoops hero inducted into YU’s Athletics Hall of Fame

Dr. Herbert Schlussel during his YU playing days. (Courtesy of Yeshiva University)
Dr. Herbert Schlussel during his YU playing days. (Courtesy of Yeshiva University)

On May 8, Dr. Herbert Schlussel of Fort Lee was one of 11 people inducted into Yeshiva University’s inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame.

The celebration paid homage to iconic YU coaches and all-time leading scorers for men’s and women’s basketball.

Dr. Schlussel, now a retired dentist, was a 5-foot-11 guard on the YU basketball team from 1953 to 1957. He served as co-captain with Irwin Blumenreich — another of the Hall of Famers — during the 1956-1957 season.

Over his four-year career, YU basketball posted a 51-29 record, which still stands as one of the best career win-loss records in its history. During the 1955–1956 season, the team broke every individual and team scoring record, including most wins (16), most points, most field goals, and the highest average score per game.

Yet back then, YU didn’t even have a gym on campus.

“Every day, we had yeshiva classes from 9 to 1, and from 1 to 6 we had secular studies,” Dr. Schlussel recalled. “Then we had practices at a gym on 23rd Street” — quite a schlep downtown from YU’s Washington Heights campus — “and had to get down there by 7 or 7:30 by subway or car or whatever way we could. We’d practice till 10, and I wouldn’t get home to the Bronx until 11 or 11:30 at night.”

Today, the YU men’s basketball, men’s volleyball, and men’s fencing teams practice and play in the large, modern Furst Gymnasium on campus.

“I said at the induction ceremony that if we’d had that gym, I’d still be in school,” Dr. Schlussel joked.

“At the time it was a hassle and a lot of hard work, but I realize now how much I enjoyed it. Playing team sports gives you a sense of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. It helps make you a stronger person as you get older. And you make friends who you keep for a lifetime.”

Dr. Schlussel played under another Hall of Fame inductee, the late Bernard “Red” Sarachek, coach of the YU men’s basketball team from 1942 to 1943 and from 1945 to 1968. Credited with putting YU basketball on the map, Mr. Sarachek also coached and mentored legendary players and coaches including the New York Knicks’ Red Holzman, St. John’s/Nets Coach Lou Carnesecca, and YU’s Jonathan Halpert. During World War II, Mr. Sarachek coached a military team at Pearl Harbor that won an armed forces title.

“Coach Sarachek was one of the best coaches of his day. He got offers to coach professionally, but even though he wasn’t a religious man, he had strong feelings for Yeshiva and that’s where he wanted to be,” said Dr. Schlussel.

The coach was tough on his guys.

“He was always yelling and screaming and throwing chairs, but I was very comfortable with him,” Dr. Schlussel said. “He was influential in molding my character and my life. Ten days after my graduation, he was at my wedding with his wife.”

At the induction ceremony Dr. Schlussel said that it took him four years to get up enough courage to suggest to Mr. Sarachek that perhaps if he had not yelled so much at the younger guys he might have gotten more out of them.

“He said to me, ‘Schluss, once I stop yelling you’ll know I gave up on you.’”

Among Dr. Schlussel’s most memorable highlights are playing in Madison Square Garden against the Israeli Olympic team (the Israelis won by 2 points) in 1957; beating the University of Toronto team in Toronto, where the then-small Jewish community came out to cheer on the YU team; and a match against St. Francis College at the Brooklyn Armory during his junior year.

The latter game stands out not because YU was victorious — it was not — but because it was the only game he ever played that was televised. “YU and St. Francis each had 10-and-0 records. We were the only teams in New York City that were undefeated. Even though we ended up losing to them, I scored a lot of points in that game and from then on I got a lot more confidence.”

Dr. Schlussel had played on the basketball team of YU’s high school for boys, and he said “there was no question of where I would go to college.” If YU had had a dental school, he probably would have gone there, but instead he was trained at Columbia University.

The Schlussels’ three sons and one daughter also graduated from Yeshiva University’s colleges — Yeshiva College for Men and Stern College for Women.

His sons Richard and Larry live in Englewood and Edison, respectively. His son David and daughter, Joy, live in Israel. Dr. Schlussel and his wife, Rita, have 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Eleven of those grandchildren live in Israel, so the Schlussels travel there often and otherwise split their time between Florida and Fort Lee. They lived in Monsey, N.Y., for 47 years.

The other inaugural YU Hall of Famers inducted on May 8 were:

• Heidi Nathan Baker, who led the women’s tennis team to a Skyline Conference Championship in 1999, went undefeated in singles all four years she played, and coached the women’s tennis team for two years;

• Daniela Epstein, the all-time leading scorer of the women’s basketball team and the only woman in YU history to score over 1,000 points in her career (1999 to 2003);

• Yossy Gev, the all-time YU men’s basketball points leader with 1,871 points and winner of many awards (1998 to 2002);

• Marvin Hershkowitz, the first basketball player in YU history to score 1,000 points. In the 1949–1950 season, he led Yeshiva’s scorers with a total of 269 points;

• Sheldon Rokach, who played on the men’s basketball team from 1962 to 1966 and racked up 1,020 career rebounds, most points in one game (48), and most rebounds in one game (33);

• Abe Sodden, who played from 1952 to 1956, serving as captain during the 1955–1956 season and breaking the record at the time for most points in a season, with 384 points, averaging the highest individual points per game (20.2) in school history;

• Professor Arthur Tauber, the YU men’s fencing coach from 1949 to 1985 and athletic director from 1979 to 1985. He also coached the baseball, soccer, tennis and cross-country teams, taught health and physical education, and was inducted into NYU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001;

• Henry Wittenberg, YU wrestling coach from 1957 to 1967 and a two-time Olympic medalist (gold in 1948 and silver in 1952). He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the CCNY Hall of Fame.

“We are thrilled to gather some of Yeshiva’s most accomplished alumni and honor them at our inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremony,” said Joe Bednarsh, YU’s current athletic director. “The establishment of the Hall of Fame is both a testament to and reflection of the contributions YU’s athletes and coaches have made to not only the world of sports but to the University for more than a century.”

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