July 23, 2024
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Amit Yona’s Promising Basketball Future

Like many boys, Amit Yona grew up loving sports. A talent for sports runs in the family; Amit’s father, Moshe, was a professional soccer player in Jerusalem. For the younger Yona, basketball is his sport of choice and the one at which he excels. Yona is a top player on Tenafly High School’s varsity basketball team.

According to Yona, “I played basketball when I was young, enjoyed it, and stuck with it.” When he was in fourth grade, Yona began playing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Basketball every summer. After a brief stint for a New Jersey team, Yona played for a squad in the Bronx known as the New York Gauchos, an elite traveling basketball team. Yona remained with the Gauchos through tenth grade before switching to New Heights also based in the Bronx. Playing in New York was a conscious decision, as the Amit family felt that New York City basketball offers the best competition and the most opportunity for its players to develop. It was during that first year on The Guachos while playing in a tournament in Connecticut, that Yona got a sense of his skills. “I put on a great shooting display, and I knew I could become special.”

Two years later, during sixth grade, Yona had one of his most memorable games ever. It was during a championship game between his Tenafly Middle School and Bergenfield Middle School. Bergenfield’s team featured a player who was over six feet tall and broad, much bigger than Yona. Additionally, Bergenfield played a ‘box and one’ defense (a special type of defense designed to focus on the opponents’ best offensive player) on Yona. With the special defense, the hulking 12 year-old and the packed house, Yona was extra amped. It proved to be a special day: Yona’s shot was dead-on that game. “I couldn’t miss,” recollects Yona, “the shots I made were crazy. I can’t believe it to this day.”

Yona’s role model is NBA point guard, Stephen Curry, who he has followed since Curry entered the league back in 2009. “I try to implement his moves into my game.” His calm, cool, and collected approach on the court are also something Yona strives to emulate. Closer to home, Yona has admiration for his many coaches over the years. One coach in particular who helped Yona take his game to a different level is Sean MacIsaac. Formerly the JV coach at Tenafly, MacIsaac—currently the head coach of Cliffside Park’s varsity team—worked closely with Yona. “For two summers (after ninth and tenth grade) Coach MacIsaac was there every morning, and we worked on everything.” Yona appreciates the dedication his coach showed. But above and beyond his coaches, Yona’s most treasured mentors are his parents.

“If I don’t have a great game, my parents advise me to go into the gym, work out and my game will get back on; stay the course, keep going.” This is wise advice for Yona who loves to be in the gym working out, all the while striving to improve his game. Not only have Yona’s parents acted as mentors for their son, but they have been part of the basketball journey. “It’s a huge commitment for us too. It’s a tiring road that we have had to travel, but it has been amazing,” says Smadar, Yona’s mother. She notes that she and her husband have been at nearly every one of Yona’s games.

As Yona’s high school basketball career winds down, his thoughts turn to the future. He is hoping to play basketball at Baruch College. However, his long term goal is to play professional basketball in Israel for Maccabi Electra (formerly Maccabi Tel Aviv). Yona has followed Maccabi for years and even attended the European Final Four in Prague when Maccabi was there in 2008. Along with his father, Yona cheered on the team that made it to the finals but ultimately lost to a Russian affiliated team. “It was a crazy experience and inspired me to want to be part of the team.” Another draw for Yona to play in Israel, is the family that he has there. “It would be an honor to compete in front of them,” he declares, “and in such a high level league.”

When asked to describe himself Yona replies, “I’m a dedicated Jewish boy.” Yona’s favorite holiday, other than Hanukah, is Yom Kippur. “It’s 24 hours of remembering everything and being with the whole family.”

Family time is Yona’s favorite element of celebrating holidays. He speaks of his family’s time enjoying Shabbat dinner and attending the Chabad Temple in Tenafly.

Yona is thankful for his experiences in basketball. “It’s brought me so much,” he reflects, “I’ve seen things I never would have seen, played with kids who have the potential to make it to the NBA, and it’s made me a better person.” Smadar simply says that Yona is a “much better kid” because of his basketball experiences and all he has learned from it.

By Larry Bernstein

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