Capturing the Captains’ Excitement

As an organization one thing we don’t have a problem admitting, is that we boast. We brag whenever we can, and wherever we can.

But the truth is—how could we not? When every year this student-led event welcomes hundreds of Jewish athletes to partake in a tournament shared by fellow classmates, fans, families, and sponsors.

This year is unsurprisingly no different, with over 55 teams competing, and more than 400 Jewish athletes coming, the National Hillel Basketball Tournament has created a new outstanding record.

But in reality, our proud feat of “bringing Jewish students together,” means that much more when it is echoed by the athletes that participate in the Tournament.

This week, the NHBT board reached out to both veteran and rookie NHBT team captains to get their perspectives on taking part in the sixth annual largest inter-collegiate basketball tournament for Jewish students in the U.S.

If one thing is clear, it’s that NHBT has the power to bring together all different types of Jews, from all different corners of the country.

But aside from building relationships throughout the Tournament weekend, it creates bonds and connections among teammates, and even Hillel communities themselves.

“Our school is a small liberal arts college with about 2000 kids,” Bates College senior Zaq Shabman said. “It’s not a very big Jewish population…I found (people) just through talking and networking. (There’s) six guys, and we’re ready to play, we’re excited.”

Shabman explained he heard about the Tournament through a close friend, and Maryland senior, while he was studying abroad. Positive feedback gave him the drive to create Bates’ first ever competing NHBT team and serve as team captain.

“(Its not) just the basketball aspect of it, I think it’s just really cool how big of a Shabbat it’s going to be,” Shabman said. “It’s a really special event considering how many teams and Jewish athletes (NHBT) brings together all across the country, it’s going to be a really exciting experience for all of our guys.”

According to Syracuse University sophomore Scott Slutsky, participating in NHBT has become a tradition at his school. Slutsky said he got involved in NHBT through upper classmen who had participated in years prior.

“(They said) you have to do this, it’s a great opportunity,” Slutsky said.

After unexpectedly having to back out of the tournament last year, Slutsky is finally seizing that chance.

“I know that last year our team didn’t do that well in the games, so I’m really looking forward to (taking) the playing part a little bit more seriously than I think we have in the past,” Slutsky said.

Slutsky put together Syracuse’s team roster with the help of last year’s team captain, bringing together a total of eight competing players.

Muhlenberg College sophomore Rachel Plotke learned of the Tournament through her own school’s Hillel staff members last year.

“I got together with four other freshman girls, my friends who had never played basketball before, so that was an experience,” Plotke said. “We had practices five times a week leading up to the tournament, and it was a good bonding experience, and it was just fun all around.”

Plotke, who will be serving as team captain for the second year in a row, recalled the chance to meet people from other teams.

“After the games, before the games, we would just talk with the other girls from different schools,” Plotke said. “I remember we talked to the Kansas girls…(it) was just cool getting to know them.”

All five girls will be returning to play in this year’s Tournament, with the help of one new sophomore player joining the team.

Just like Plotke, Penn State University freshman Jon Gross discovered NHBT through his school’s Hillel.

After being approached by a staff member about forming a team, Gross started recruiting players while Penn State’s Hillel promoted the tournament through emails and social media.

“One of my best friends goes to North Carolina, I just found out he’s going to be there playing on the UNC team,” Gross said.

“I’m expecting it to be a really awesome experience…my dream has always been to represent Penn State in some way, and this is kind of doing that, and it’s pretty awesome.”

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