For the second time in three years, the Yeshiva University men’s basketball team captured the Skyline Conference Championship with a 86-74 victory last Sunday over Purchase College.
Ranked No. 15 in Division III, the Maccabees ran off 27 consecutive wins this season, the most in their division.
The Skyline Conference championship earned the Maccabees a slot in the NCAA Division III tournament for the second time in the team’s history. The first game in that series is scheduled Friday afternoon in Baltimore, so the team will spend Shabbat there and play again on Saturday night if it wins.
The players come from across the United States and Israel.
Senior Tyler Hod (pronounced “Hode”), a 6-foot guard for the Macs, is a lifelong Teaneck resident.
The only team member from New Jersey this year, Tyler is the youngest in a YU basketball dynasty that started with his father, Lior, and his uncle, Ayal, who were known as the “Twin Towers” when they played for the Macs in the 1980s. Each broke scoring records — Lior first, with 1,541 career points, and then Ayal, with 1,807 points. Ayal’s record stood until 2002. Later, their younger brother, Asaf, also joined the Macs basketball squad.
Tyler and his two older brothers, Jordan and Justin, were water boys for the Macs when they were little. All three played high school basketball at the Frisch School in Paramus, and so did their sister, Samantha.
On January 25, 2017, the three Hod brothers made college basketball history by playing simultaneously during the Maccabees’ victorious 73-43 match against Sarah Lawrence College on YU’s home court in Manhattan. They were the first sibling trio ever to play in the same NCAA Division III college basketball game.
At the time, Jordan was a 22-year-old senior starting point guard, and the team’s co-captain. Justin was a 21-year-old shooting guard and small forward. Tyler was just starting out as a freshman point guard and shooting guard.
Last season, Tyler Hod was named to the NABC Honors Court. And he has earned an additional distinction: inspiring his teammates with a short d’var Torah — a Jewish teaching — before each game.
As the Associated Press reported in an article about the Macs’ victory last Sunday, called “Faith Before Basketball for Yeshiva University champions”: “Before tipoff, the team always gathers around Tyler Hod, a senior guard and their unofficial rabbi. Reading passages from the Torah, Hod shares a story, all the while drawing lessons to inspire them on and off the court in a pregame ritual that ends when they huddle and yell: ‘Amen!’”
Tyler explains that this custom started two years ago, when he and assistant coach Daniel Tamir decided “we wanted to learn a little Torah before the game. And after we won that game, we made it a routine.”
Eventually every member of the team joined them and — call it coincidence or not — the Macs began a winning streak.
“We had lost a lot of games and then we added some Torah,” Mr. Tamir said. “Shortly before that, I had gone to Ukraine with my rabbi from Jerusalem, and I was inspired to do more in my involvement in sports and Jewish basketball.”
He calls the 10-minute pregame d’var Torah, which he often prepares and presents with Mr. Hod, “spirituality before physicality.”
At last Sunday’s Skyline Championship game, Tyler said, they didn’t present a text but simply spoke about the concept of “kiddush Hashem,” sanctifying the name of God through proper behavior in public as very identifiable Jews.
“We said to the team that now, when you are at the peak of influence and thousands of fans are watching you and all these young kids are looking up to you, it’s very important to make a kiddush Hashem. God gave us this opportunity to make the most of it. Play well, but don’t lose track of what’s really important at the end of the day, which is kiddush Hashem.”
Playing well means fulfilling your assigned role on the team even if you don’t score any points, Tyler said. In his case, that role is “defense and moving the ball around.”
He sees this as an allegory (a “mashal,” in Hebrew) for life. “Everyone has a role in this world to do. We speak about that before games sometimes. Sports in general are a great mashal for life.”
Tyler Hod is majoring in marketing, with a minor in psychology. Like all YU undergraduates, he spends hours each school day learning Torah; he is in a high-level track that includes Judaic studies from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 1 to 2:30. Next year he plans to enter the university’s affiliated rabbinic school, RIETS.
Looking forward to the NCAA Division III tournament in Baltimore, Mr. Tamir said the Macs have a good chance of success. “We have a group of good human beings — the players and the coaches,” he said. “Everyone is willing to work together and to be completely selfless and super disciplined. These guys are extremely skilled.”
Occasionally the Macs have been subject to anti-Semitic remarks when they play away from home. Mr. Tamir says they try to approach these ugly incidents by “representing Jews in a positive way. Maybe these are people who never had an experience with a Jew and when they see how we play and how we act, they will realize they have no reason to hate us after all.”
In other words, kiddush Hashem.