Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Frisch Cougars traveled to Los Angeles looking to start their season with a strong showing at the annual Steve Glouberman Basketball Tournament. With high hopes for the upcoming season and coming off a disappointing quarter-final tourney exit last year against Shalhevet, Frisch was highly motivated. The Cougars also hoped to become a more cohesive unit through bonding on and off the court. To that end, the team had an incredible time at the Staples Center enjoying each other’s company while watching the LA Clippers take on the Milwaukee Bucks on the eve of the tournament.

The next morning, Frisch squared off with the Ramaz Rams, in the opening of pool play. After an intense battle with many lead changes, the game came right down to the wire. Three times in the fourth quarter Danny Weinberger (11 points) hit shots to put Frisch ahead and each time Ramaz answered with a basket of its own. With Frisch down one, with one minute left, Max Zakheim (25 points) drove to the basket and layed in an and-one putting Frisch up by two. After a stop and a pair of made free-throws, Frisch was seemingly cruising to a win, up four with 17 seconds left. However, a quick 3-pointer and a pair of missed free-throws by Frisch gave Ramaz the ball back, down one with nine seconds left. The Rams put the ball in the hands of their star player Spencer Rubenstein who drove the length of the court and laid in the game winner as the buzzer sounded. The Frisch team was heartbroken. For the second year in a row, Frisch had lost the opener on a buzzer beater after blowing a lead. With all the confidence coming into the tournament, this was a massive blow. However, after some motivational words from the coaches, Frisch realized that this tournament was just getting started.

In their next game Frisch faced Hebrew Academy (Miami). The game was very close and by the end of the first half, Frisch was up by one. Plagued by foul trouble (Shmuli Coates) and injury (Danny Weinberger), a short-handed Frisch fell behind by six in the closing seconds of the third quarter. With the tournament slipping away, Akiva Feit (13 points) connected for a huge momentum-shifting four point play to end the quarter. A tight fourth quarter followed and after a Coates 3 pointer (20 points) and a defensive stop, Frisch had the ball, down one with 30 seconds left. The ball went into the hands of Coates and he hit a tough mid-range jumper to put Frisch up one with 10 seconds left. However, this game was far from over. After Coates fouled out, Hebrew Academy went to the line and hit one of two free throws, sending the game into overtime. In overtime, with the game tied, Zakheim (17 points) scored on back-to-back possessions to give Frisch a five point lead and Frisch never looked back as it took a much needed win in their second game of the tournament.

It was on to the elimination portion of the tournament and Frisch, seeded fifth, was set to face YULA, one of the local teams, in the quarterfinals. In a packed gym filled with YULA fans, Frisch was not phased, as they took the lead early and never let up. Through the scoring of Coates (21 points) Zakheim (17 points) and Eitan Dukas (15 points including a dominating fourth quarter shooting display), Frisch cruised to a double digit win in their most complete team win of the season.

Friday night team davening, dinner and oneg at the Feldman home was a combination of great food, divrei Torah, ruach, singing, game playing, laughter and team building. Coaches Franz, Tamir and Eli joyfully watched as the already close team forged an ever tighter bond. After a very meaningful and uplifting Shabbos, it was time for the semi-finals, a rematch with Hebrew Academy of Miami.

Hebrew Academy started the game off strong getting out to an early seven point lead. Frisch, however, through some tenacious defense (Weinberger eight points, five steals), a Feit shooting heat check and some Billy Krause paint dominance picked things up and opened up a small halftime lead. After a Zakheim-led run by Frisch to open the second half, Hebrew Academy responded by hitting two big threes. The game ended up being tied with two minutes to play when super-sub Sam Bendheim of Frisch hit a deep 3to put Frisch in the lead, which they would not surrender for the rest of the game. Zakheim lead the team with 25 points along with Krause and Feit who each added 11. Frisch was going to the championship.

This year the semis and finals were both being held on Saturday night, a true test of endurance. Frisch was set to face the tournament host school and defending champion, Shalhevet. In the locker-room, Weinberger delivered the team’s pregame dvar Torah and Coach Franz implored the team to block out the hostile crowd. A few minutes past midnight, after both teams had already played in tough games just two hours earlier, a standing room only gym packed with hundreds of cheering Shalhevet fans—and a dozen or so Frisch fans—the teams were ready for battle. The first quarter started off as expected, teams trading bucket for bucket. The quarter ended 12-10 with Shalhevet in the lead, much to the delight of their boisterous crowd. The second quarter did not go Frisch’s way, with the offense struggling to get up good shots and it seemed like Shalhevet hit every shot they took. The only reason Frisch was somewhat in this game was because of Zakheim’s heroic one man first half show (14 points). Shalhevet started the quarter with a quick 7-0 run and Frisch struggled to bounce back. The half ended with Shalhevet up 33-20. While things looked bleak for the visitors, there is simply no quit in this Frisch squad.

Frish’s coaches gave a fiery pump-up speech in the locker room, reminding the boys that there was a lot of basketball left to be played and Frisch had played as poorly as possible and they were still in the game. Tactictly, the coaches implored the team to trust each other on offense, and more importantly, win the game with their trademark defense, one stop at a time. Other adjustments including putting Sam Bendheim on the court to start the half for his defense and having Danny Weinberger guard Shalhevet star Zeev Remer to start the second half. A quick 3 by Shalhevet to start the half put them up 16, and the Frisch faithful in the crowd were bracing for the worst. However, the Frisch players, would not let them down. After a few 3s from Weinberger and Coates, some tough drives from Feit and Zakheim and most importantly, terrific defense all around, Frisch saw themselves only down two at the end of the quarter. Frisch stopped the Shalhevet offense nine times in a row, led by Weinberger’s taking four charges and stealing the ball twice.

All of a sudden, in just five minutes of basketball, Frisch was right back in the game. The quarter started with a Shalhevet 3, putting them up five. A quick jumper by Weinberger put them back down three, and then after a stop, Bendheim drained a 3 to tie the game. After a made free throw from Shalhevet, Feit made a spin move inside and gave Frisch their first lead of the game. Another few defensive stops and an acrobatic and-one from Shmuli Coates put Frisch up 47-43. Shalhevet came right back though with a thre3 of their own by Jacob Benezra, their own defensive stop and a Shalhevet free throw knotted the game with just over two minutes to play. The game was tied at 47 and Frisch was poised to take the lead when Zakheim took the ball strong to the hoop but was called for a dubious offensive foul. With the momentum swinging back to Shalhevet, Weinberger drew yet another offensive foul, forcing a key turnover, and giving Frisch the ball back with a chance to take the lead. After a balanced team scoring attack in second half, it was now time for Zakheim to close it out. He drew a foul and hit two free throws, putting Frisch back up two. A few stops by both teams left Frisch back with the ball, up two with 1:20 left. After working the ball and bleeding 33 of 35 seconds from the shot clock, Zakheim hit a clutch floater put Frisch up four. Coates, cool and composed, iced the improbable comeback win by going four from four from the line in the final seconds. Coming together as a team, inspired by a bench that pushes them as hard in practice as they cheer in the games, the Frisch seniors won their first major tournament in their four years together, coming back from down 16, becoming champions in style. Zakheim led the team with 20 points, Coates added 17, and Feit and Weinberger combined for a solid 14 to go along with their game changing defense.

Zakheim was awarded tournament MVP after being Frisch’s leading scorer averaging 21 points a game. Coates was awarded first team all tournament. Most importantly though, Frisch went home with a championship won by everyone from their best player to their insanely loud and encouraging bench. When asked to sum up their feelings after the game, co-captains Zakheim and Weinberger looked at each other and said in unison, “We’re just getting started.”

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