9 Jewish college basketball players and coaches to watch during March Madness in 2024
From left, Yarden Garzon, Todd Golden, Danny Wolf and Lindsay Gottlieb (Getty Images; Design by Mollie Suss)

By Greg Levinsky
March 20, 2024

(JTA) — The 2024 NCAA Tournament, known as March Madness, tips off Thursday with plenty of Jewish players and coaches to follow — from the coach of the top overall seed in the women’s tourney to two players from the same city in Israel to a standout on the men’s Ivy League champion team.

In the more than eight decades of the NCAA tournament, only two Jewish coaches have led teams to the title: Nat Holman’s City College of New York squad in 1950 and Larry Brown’s 1988 Kansas team.

Is this the year the drought ends? Here are four players and five coaches to watch as fans follow their brackets.

Players

Camilla Emsbo, Duke

Camilla Emsbo is introduced at a Duke preseason event at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.,
Oct. 20, 2023. (Lance King/Getty Images)

A graduate student in her first year as a forward with Duke’s program after spending four years at Yale, the 6-foot-5 Emsbo has appeared in all of Duke’s 31 games this season, with two starts. The former two-time All-Ivy League selection, who planned on playing in the 2023 Maccabiah Games before pulling out due to injury, averages 4.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and a team-high 1.4 blocks per game.

Duke, a No. 7 seed that received an at-large bid in the women’s tournament, plays Richmond, a No. 10 seed, Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET in Columbus, Ohio.

Yarden Garzon, Indiana

Yarden Garzon shoots a free throw in a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Jan. 26, 2023. (Photo: Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

This is the second NCAA Tournament appearance in as many years for the 6-foot-3 sophomore guard from Ra’anana, Israel. Garzon has received a Big Ten honorable mention, starts every game and averages 11.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists. She also shoots a blistering 43.8% from 3-point range on nearly 4.5 attempts per game.

Indiana, a No. 4 seed and at-large team, plays Fairfield, a No. 13 seed, Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET at home in Bloomington, Indiana.

Shirel Nahum, UC Irvine

Another Ra’anana native, the 5-foot-9 guard carved out a key role in the Big West champion Anteaters rotation, averaging 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds across 20.1 minutes per game. A Big West All-Rookie Team selection, Nahum has posted six double-figure scoring efforts.

UC Irvine, a No. 13 seed, plays at Gonzaga, a No. 4 seed, in Spokane, Washington on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. 

Danny Wolf, Yale

The 7-foot big man broke out as a sophomore, helping the Bulldogs to the Ivy League tournament crown. After scoring just 52 points as a freshman last year in limited action off the bench, Wolf blossomed into a star this season, averaging 14.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game as part of his First Team All-Ivy campaign. He helped Israel to a silver medal at the 2023 FIBA Under-20 European Championships. Wolf was featured in JTA’s list of 36 Jewish student athletes to watch this year.

Yale, a No. 13 seed, faces No. 4 Auburn and its Jewish coach, Bruce Pearl, on Friday at 4:15 p.m. ET in Spokane, Washington.

Note: Yale’s director of basketball operations, Matt Elkin, is also Jewish and heads up the Jewish Coaches Association.

Coaches

Keith Dambrot, Duquesne 

Keith Dambrot, head coach of the Duquesne Dukes, during the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship game against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, March 17, 2024, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dambrot led the Dukes to the Atlantic 10 tournament championship, capturing an automatic bid in his seventh season at the helm and the program’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 1977. Dambrot was Lebron James’ first high school coach in Akron, Ohio, and also led a program at the local Jewish Community Center. He previously served as the head coach at Akron and Central Michigan. He plans to retire after this season.

The Dukes, a No. 11 seed, play BYU, a No. 6 seed, Thursday at 12:40 p.m. ET in Omaha, Nebraska.

Todd Golden, Florida 

Head coach Todd Golden of the Florida Gators looks on during the first half of a game against the Auburn Tigers, Feb. 10, 2024, in Gainesville, Florida. (James Gilbert/Getty Images)

A former player in the Israel Basketball Premier League with Maccabi Haifa, Golden led San Francisco to the NCAA Tournament in 2022. Two years later, he has again guided the Gators to March Madness. Golden was coached by Auburn’s Bruce Pearl on the gold-medal winning U.S. team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games, and later served on his staff before becoming a head coach himself. 

The Gators, a No. 7 seed, face the winner of Wednesday’s First Four play-in game between No. 10 seeds Boise State and Colorado on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET in Indianapolis, Indiana

Lindsay Gottlieb, USC 

Southern California Trojans coach Lindsay Gottlieb during a NCAA college women’s basketball game against the Colorado Buffaloes, Feb. 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (Kirby Lee/Getty Images)

The Jewish coach with the best chance at a national championship, Gottlieb’s Trojans earned the No. 1 overall seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament after capturing the last-ever Pac-12 tournament title.

Now in her third year leading USC, Gottlieb, already a member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California, in 2019 had become the first women’s collegiate head coach to serve on an NBA staff with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

USC hosts No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Bruce Pearl, Auburn

Bruce Pearl celebrates with his team after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide at Auburn Arena, Feb. 1, 2022. (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Known for opening his home to Jewish students for holidays and for his outspoken support of Israel, Pearl has 14 Division 1 NCAA Tournament appearances on his resume from stints at Milwaukee, Tennessee and Auburn. Pearl led the Tigers to the Final Four in the 2018-19 season, and scored opening round wins in each of the last two years.

Auburn, a No. 4 seed, faces No 13 Yale and Danny Wolf Friday at 4:15 p.m. ET in Spokane, Washington.

(Worth noting: Auburn senior guard Lior Berman, who played 28 games for the Tigers off the bench, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee during an early March game against Mississippi State. Berman made JTA’s preseason list of 20 men’s and women’s college basketball players to watch in 2023-24.)

Jon Scheyer, Duke

The second-year coach won the NCAA title as a Duke player in 2010 and later played professionally in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv. A member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Scheyer led the Blue Devils to a win in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last year. Scheyer has drawn support from Duke’s Jewish student body.

A No. 4 seed, the Blue Devils face No. 13 Vermont on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

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