Had this website been around while I was in high school, I would have been obsessed with it. As anyone who has played in the Red Sarachek Tournament or an intense rivalry game with Jewish pride on the line, JewishHoopsAmerica.com adds a little more fuel to the fire. The Great Rabbino loves the site and the idea, so much so, I reached out to Elliot Steinmetz, the creator to find out more. Turns out he was a pretty good player himself. Below is the interview:
1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I am currently the head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball team at the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School (NSHA) in Great Neck, New York. In my first season at NSHA, I led the school to its best record ever (23-8 overall, 12-2 league), as well as a division title and the school’s first ever semifinal appearance. From 2003-2008, I developed and ran the JV Elite basketball program before ultimately selling the program and maintaining and running the JewishHoopsAmerica.com website. I live in Woodmere with my wife, Sima and our three children, Jacob, Noah and Lea. During the day I am an attorney licensed in both New York and Connecticut and currently working as an Associate General Counsel at Arbor Realty Trust, Inc. in Uniondale, New York.
2) What made you want to start JewishHoopsAmerica.com?
My brother and I used to run a basketball camp at the end of each summer for Jewish HS kids from around the country called JV Elite. We felt it was great how the players had those five days to see and compete with players they do not see or know of during the year. The site evolved from that lack of connection that we felt existed for Jewish schools across the country. We decided to put together the website and rankings so that players from across the country could have a place to follow each other's progress throughout the season.
3) What are some of the cool features on JHA?
I think the twitter feed is a terrific feature. We see every year how more and more people get involved with social media and this allows our visitors to interact with the site and help get information out there. The rankings are obviously a big hit because there is no other measure for Jewish HS teams nationally to compare. I think the rankings have also helped fuel a lot of the out of town tournaments and turned them into real competitive contests with legitimate repercussions in the rankings. I also have started to try and bring out more feature and interest articles. The last few articles have gotten a lot of feedback and sparked a lot of conversation in the Jewish and mainstream basketball world. I think features like that make it more than just an informational site and start to become thought provoking as well.
4) How do you accumulate all the information for scoring and scores for the site?
Jon Bandler. Many know Jon from the Sarachek tournament at Yeshiva University. Jon is the reason we are able to pull together the national information. Jon is behind the scenes but the site doesn't run without his hard work. He is in touch nationally with coaches and athletic directors and compiles all the information for us to post. Obviously a lot depends on the cooperation of the schools. I would love to see more students get involved as well. Perhaps get credit for a club or put on their résumé their work as a reporter for the site. I think it's been great in the past when we have student-written articles about their teams' success.
5) Who is on the panel for rankings? Is there a New York bias?
Since I am a coach in the Yeshiva league I am actually not told who is on the panel. Again, Jon Bandler takes responsibility for the rankings panel which consists of knowledgeable basketball personalities from around the country. There is not a NY bias by any means. I think often the stronger base of teams are going to be in NY and CA. You have to remember, with schools like Frisch, Ramaz, North Shore, Magen David and others, along with YULA and Valley Torah, the sheer volume of kids in the schools lends to a stronger talent pool year by year. This generally plays out in the tournaments as well. Any of the big tournaments, be it pre-season in Memphis or Sarachek in the post-season will often see their final four dominated by NY and NJ schools along with CA and occasionally Chicago. Often, though not always, it is the larger schools too.
6) Out of all the players you have covered who is your starting 5 all-time?
Fun question. I would have to go with (in no order):
1. Jordan Marcus of Solomon Schechter (now Golda Och Academy).
2. Eitan Chemerinkski of JDS Maryland.
3. Benjy Ritholtz who played for me at HANC.
4. Yisrael Feld who played for MTA and played for me on the gold medal winning USA team in the Maccabi Games in Australia.
I have to say to round this out I'm going to take a left turn. And by the way, there are so many great players I am leaving out here. But many of them I didn't have the chance to see in person, and truth be told, I had the good fortune to sit on the bench and watch two of the above players win championships for me so those are my guys. But to throw out just a couple of other names, Eric Avdee, Aaron Liberman, Solomon Schoonover, Shlomo Weisberg, Dovie Hoffman were all terrific players. Most of the above players are playing college basketball.
Now for my 5th, I'm going with a young woman who played for Ramaz. Charlene Lerner. Charlene was a terrific player for Ramaz and a great three point shooter. Why does she make this list? Because she did all that with only one arm. Charlene was born without one arm from the elbow down. I was lucky enough to be a guest speaker with her at the preseason Cooper Tournament in Memphis last year. She is an extremely inspirational person with a great story and lesson. She would be my fifth starter along with the others.
7) What is the future of JHA? What is the next step?
We are actually working on a site update now that will hopefully take place in the very near future. This will help make the site more user friendly and social media capable. It will enhance the coverage and modernize many of the features. My hope is to continue to make the site as interactive as possible and continue to get as much school and student involvement as possible. I also want to continue to regularly put out opinion articles and interview pieces which I think fosters discussion and brings people of many different ages and backgrounds to the site.
8) Can Chicagoland Jewish High School finish #1 even without going to YU this year?
Absolutely. My North Shore team played them in the championship at the Memphis tournament early this season. They were missing a top player and even so, were as good as anyone. They are a well-coached and fundamentally sound team. And the kicker, they play harder than everyone. Those kids are committed to a way of playing that requires major conditioning and major heart. They are a terrific team. I think there are a few teams that can compete with them. Shalhevet in CA is excellent and deep and has size. Frisch, north shore, MTA and Magen David from the Yeshiva League are all very strong as well.
9) Anything else you would like the TGR readers to know?
Sure. For those of you who have involvement in schools or athletic programs, I think it's extremely important that while everything must be kept in balance, especially with student athletes, I think it's important not to lose sight of the tremendous value that comes with competing as a student athlete. The social and yes, academic value, that comes from being part of a team and representing your school is not only a real honor and privilege for those who have the opportunity, but a real and genuine way to help shape your future.
I am an attorney at a real estate investment trust. I still remember what my current general counsel said to me during the interview process—he told me he could never put enough value on the level of competency at work that comes with having competed in high school or collegiate sports. I hope that as parents, students and administrators, that we support our schools athletic programs and recognize their importance to the student athletes both for the present and the future.
Thank you to Elliot for the great interview and keeping an awesome site running.
Can't wait for Sarachek!
And Let Us Say...Amen.
- Jeremy Fine