By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Hoarse from days of shouting strategies, Max Kausman — coach of the Australian “Under 16” team — discussed the challenges of imparting teamwork to his youngsters during the recent Dallas Maccabi Games.
After clearing some developmental hurdles, the Aussie team came together to win the silver medal during the Maccabi Blue division tournament.
Kausman said a major obstacle at first was the fact that his members hailed from different parts of Australia — such as Sydney and Melbourne — and the youngsters did not have a lot of experience playing together before the tournament.
“It is a massive country,” he said. “The cost and logistics involved were considerable. … Most of the teams we played out there have kids from the same city or the same high school.”
But in the end, the Aussies developed a group focus that truly paid off. It was teamwork — not grandstanding — that was the real reason for the success enjoyed by young athletes Jack Burman, Bailey De Bortoli, Noah De Bortoli, Greg Diamond, Matt Gamerov, Jayden Gordoun, Nahar Pleshet, Jordan Spyrides, Jeremy Stein, and Aidan Zlotnick, Coach Kausman said.
“We’ve seen guys with more talent play against us, but we haven’t seen guys play together as a team,” he said. “Look, I’m really proud of my boys — we showed a lot of skill but more than that, a lot of heart.”
But by their own admission, the teenagers initially felt unprepared for the intensity of the Maccabi competition.
Aidan Zlotnick, 15, said the team’s first game — played against Baltimore Aug. 3— was a revelation.
“We weren’t used to that level of competition in Australia,” he said. “It was very difficult there at the start.”
So the Aussies struggled, but managed to find their footing as a team as that first game progressed.
Unfortunately, they didn’t find enough footing to save the first game. Baltimore defeated them, 52-16.
This was a very bitter pill to swallow, explained team captain Nahar Pleshet, 15.
“The games came off to a bad start against Baltimore with that 30-point loss,” the team captain said. “But shortly after that, we started bringing it home as we became more and more comfortable as a team. We’ve been playing hard.”
Indeed, Game 2 on Aug. 3 saw Australia defeat Houston, 52-32.
“The second game saw the boys step up in both in offense and defense — especially under the boards,” Michelle Israel, head of the Australian delegation, wrote in her online blog. “The improvement was evident and we came away with a win.”
But then, Aug. 4 the Aussie 16-and-under team lost the first game of the day to Greater Washington, 62-24.
“After an evenly matched first quarter the boys appeared to lose their way, and could not stop the points,” Israel reported in her blog. “Offense was often excellent — but the ball simply would not go in the basket. We took a lot from the game and used it in the second game.”
The 16U Aussies also lost the second of the day to Dallas Silver, 52-39.
“The Dallas team opened on fire, making some tough shots and opening up a 10-point lead,” Israel reported. “Our boys refused to give in, with a strong second quarter fightback.
The game was within two possessions at several stages, including through to the end of the fourth quarter. The stadium was full of supporters for both sides and had an amazing atmosphere.”
During Aug. 5’s tourney round, the work and dedication of the young athletes really paid off. They took Houston, 52-24.
“We really brought it home leading by those nearly 30 points,” enthused team captain Pleshet.
During the Bronze medal game Aug. 6. the 16U Aussies soundly defeated New Orleans, 61-54 — but lost the gold medal game to Dallas Silver, 61-39.
This placed them with the silver medal, between Dallas Silver with the gold and New Orleans with the bronze (during the blue medal round).
Jayden Gordoun, 16, said he is proud of the major strides he and his fellow Aussie athletes made.
“We really came together as a team,” he said.
Jeremy Stein, 16, who said he holds the distinction of being the oldest member of the team (an older 16 than Gordoun), agreed.
“This experience really pushed us forward as a team,” he said.
Kausman said the team developed an offense predicated on ball movement and teamwork and players setting up shots with each other.
“It is fluid side-to-side ball and I’m really proud of the way we handled it together,” he said.
The coach said the effort put forth by the Aussie 16U truly embodies the spirit of the JCC Maccabi Games — which is to bring thousands of Jewish teenagers together in a meaningful Jewish experience with as many opportunities as possible for athletes to interact.
“We’re not superstar-oriented,” Kausman said. “Our players are really enjoying themselves out there and playing better and better every game.”
The team has since proceeded to the second week of competition in Fort Lauderdale-Miami from Aug. 9 to Aug. 14.
But as an epilogue, here are some observations the members of the Aussie 16U basketball team offered about Dallas Maccabi — and Texas in general:
Matt Gamero, 15, said has never been to Texas before but finds it very pleasant — plus he is a big fan of Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers, which he said he never had before. (As a matter of fact, Cheez-Its were a big hit with most of the team — who had never seen anything like them before.)
“It’s really fun here,” he said. “I love it.”
- Noah De Bortoli, 15, said he greatly enjoyed the experience of visiting Texas and playing against other teen athletes.
“This (Texas) is very different from Australia,” he said.
- Jack Burman, 16, agreed with Noah De Bortoli’s assessment of the Lone Star State.
“It’s not the same as Australia — the land is flatter and there’s a lot more stuff on it. The food is different. We’re obviously from different cultures.”
- Nahar Pleshet, who also had never been to Texas, loves the food.
“There’s all different kinds of food — like tacos,” he said. “And it is a lot less expensive.”
- When he overheard team captain Pleshet discuss tacos, Greg Diamond, 15, chimed in with hearty approval.
“They taste so good over here,” he said.
- Jordan Spyrides, 14, likes the weather.
“It’s hot, but not humid hot,” he said. “But the food is too spicy.”
- Bailey De Bortoli, 15, said Texas was definitely not what he expected.
“I didn’t see any horses, cowboy hats or oil wells,” he said. “But people were very nice. Everyone here is so friendly.”