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2017 World Maccabiah Games

Jake Rauchbach reports from on the ground at the 2017 World Maccabiah Games.

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Every four years, 10,000 Jewish athletes from approximately 78 countries descend upon the country of Israel to compete in the World Maccabiah Games. Just like the Olympic games, each country fields a team in an effort to bring home medals for their respective countries, while maintaining a larger goal of strengthening Jewish relations with foreign countries. Since its inception in 1932, athletes such as Mark Spitz have competed in Maccabiah, and throughout the Games’ storied history, basketball has gradually grown into the Games’ most visible sport. With past participants such as David Blatt, Larry Brown, Ernie Grunfeld, Nat Holman, and Bruce Pearl, the Maccabiah Games have served as a world stage for the best of the best when it comes to Jewish sportsmen and women.

This year, the USA’s Maccabi team is coached by Fox Sports Analyst and TV personality Doug Gottlieb. With the help of team General Manager Josh Schachter, Gottlieb helped to hand select the team. Gottlieb is the all-time assist leader in Oklahoma State history and was a finalist for the Oklahoma State and Tulane head coaching vacancies. Gottlieb draws upon a breadth of experience and competed as a player in the Maccabiah games on two separate occasions, in 1997 and 2001.

“I have played a game in 10 different countries, I have played professionally in three countries, and in three professional leagues in the states,” Gottlieb said. “Some of the greatest connections I have made were in Israel and with Jewish players. My golden rule for life is do onto others as you want done to you. As a coach, I try to coach them how I would want to be coached. I want to help these guys win, but also want them to have an even better experience than I did.”

Gottlieb is a player’s coach. His ability to connect with and motivate players, while also implementing a system geared towards allowing players the freedom to make basketball plays, is why many believe Gottlieb could be poised to successfully lead a high-major division-1 program in the near future.

Among the members that make up this year’s Maccabiah Team USA are Sam Singer (California-Berkely/Israel), JoJo Fallas (Cornell), Jeremy Lieberman (Cal Baptist via Wyoming), Alec Kobre (Pacific/Spain) Travis Warech (St. Michaels/Germany), Jimmy McDonnell (Temple/Israel), Joe Schneider (Amherst College), Grant Greenberg (St. Mary’s), Jordan Cohen (Lehigh), Danny Janel (Connecticut College), Robbie Feinberg (Harvard), and Marc Chasin (Ithaca College). During his first week in Israel, Singer inked a deal with Bnei Hertzliya in the Israeli first division. Like Singer, many of Team USA teammates are hoping to leverage their Maccabiah tournament performance into Israeli Basketball Premier League jobs come next season.

Kobre, McDonnell, and Warech all have professional experience, and according to several Israeli first team division coaches and general managers, virtually all of the Team USA could have the chance to play at some level once their college careers are complete.

USA has a quartet of guards all possessing differing skill-sets. Singer provides good size and great versatility in regards to his ability to shoot and facilitate for teammates. At his size, he also possesses an ability to get in the lane and shoot over the top of smaller defenders. Coming into camp, Lieberman, the former Wyoming Cowboy and current Calvary Baptist Lancer transfer established himself as an explosive guard who gets into the lane at will. Lieberman was slightly erratic when it came to his decision-making and regarding knowing when to pass and or shoot during US camp. However, his game rounded into form nicely while in Israel.

Fallas is a lead guard who started at Cornell last season. Coming into camp, he at times lacked the aggressiveness required to consistently assert himself on the offensive end and apply adequate ball pressure on the defensive end. However, this has gradually improved as he has embodied a bulldog-like mentality. Look for Fallas to be the steady hand that steers the ship for Team USA. Lastly, the youngster of the team, Jordan Cohen, a rising sophomore at Lehigh, has all of the tools to be one of the Team’s better scorers. He has a good pace to his game, which allows him to initiate his drive and/or set up his solid jump shooting ability.

Because of the ubiquity of these players’ skill-sets, they find themselves being shuffled between the point and wing positions within Gottlieb’s ball screen heavy offense. This being said, Greenberg (St. Mary’s, NAIA – Kansas), Feinberg (Harvard), and Chasin (Ithaca) are true wings who have all gotten better during the short time period that the team has been together. Greenberg scored over 3300 points in college, and is an explosive scorer who comes ready to play and gives the defense fits. Despite sometimes trying to do too much, Chasin plays all out, and with no fear on both ends of the floor. His high-energy nature adds significant value to the overall performance of the team. Feinberg, a rising junior at Harvard, has shot lights out while in Israel. Interestingly, he shoots it especially well before 9 am Israeli time. Gottlieb attributes this to time change: “He is actually shooting on West Coast time.”

The team’s sharp shooter is Kobre, who played in the Spanish B-league last season and can make shots in bunches. The team leans on Warech’s extensive professional experience, and leadership abilities. The team’s consensus captain can play multiple positions and is hoping that his international playing experience will rub off on the rest of his teammates.

“I am hoping my knowledge of the international game will provide guidance and insight into how this game is played a little bit differently overseas to put us in the best position to be successful,” Warech said.

The team is anchored down low by pick and pop guy Jimmy McDonnell (Temple), along with Schneider (Amherst) and Janel (Connecticut College). McDonnell fits perfectly into Gottlieb’s pick and pop heavy offensive schemes, while Schneider and Janel are more traditional bigs who do much of their work down low. Janel, who moonlights as an acapella singer and reportedly has broken out in song at the most random times during the team’s training camp, brings the bass down low. Gottlieb said about Janel, “He looks like he could literally be in the Maccabiah family – he is broad bone thick and is our team’s unquestioned sneaky singing sensation, our go to translator, and one of the larger cranium’s in the history of Judeah.”

Maybe the best prospect on Team USA is Schneider. The 6-foot-10 big man has blossomed over the course of training camp, per Gottlieb.

“He probably has the greatest upside of all of our guys,” Gootlieb said. “He has incredibly long arms, and good timing. He is struggling a little bit with feel and lateral quickness, but he attacks the rim when he gets in for dunks. He blocks shots without fouling and wants to be coached.”

The Maccabiah experience lasts only 3.5 weeks. First is a 2-week period through two training camps, with one held in the US at Gottlieb’s house and the other at the Kfar Maccabiah Village in the Tel-Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. Team USA must gel during this time and be ready to face off against France in the first round of pool play. The Americans will need to survive their pool and finish either first or second out of five teams in order to advance to the medal rounds. From there, the four best teams will battle it out for the gold.

In past seasons, along with Team USA, Australia, Argentina, and Israel have all been some of the favorites to capture the tournament championship. Capturing gold will likely be a challenging road, one that Singer relishes along with the overall Israeli experience.

“The goal is obviously to come here and win Gold, but the overall experience means much more than that. We have an unbelievable chance to represent our country while embracing our heritage and showing everyone how proud we are to be Jewish.”

Considering the history and over-arching mission of the games, Maccabiah USA is playing for much more than just the chance to bring home the Gold.

Jake Rauchbach is the founder of The MindRight Pro Program and has coached numerous professional and collegiate basketball players. Rauchbach serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University’s men’s basketball team. He is currently serving as Team USA’s Open men’s basketball Assistant Coach at the 2017 World Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Twitter: @mindrightpro

Jake Rauchbach is an Integrated Player Development Coach, specializing in High-Performance Mindfulness. He has coached professional and Division-1 basketball. He is the founder of The MindRight Pro® Program and consults on the Olympic, collegiate and professional levels. Follow him on Instagram @mindright_pro and twitter @mindrightpro

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