By Bryan Cytron
In front of a capacity crowd, Feb. 22, the Yavneh Bulldogs pulled away late to defeat Frisco Legacy Christian Academy 56-39. In doing so, the team moved to 32-4 for the season, extending their winning streak to 16.
Senior big men Itai Guttman and Adam Schor anchored the victory. Guttman recorded his 200th career block, while Schor added a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with three rejections. Schor attributes his success to Coach David Zimmerman and a shift in his role on the team.
“Last year, I was more of a role player,” Schor said. “This year, I’ve become a force. Zimm (Zimmerman) always tells me to go up strong, and I feel like I’ve gotten better at that. With defense, I’ve learned the fundamentals much better.”
Zimmerman, 34, has coached at the college and semi-pro level, but said his head coaching position at Yavneh was a dream come true.
“This was a dream job because one of the reasons that I was always tied in with the Jewish basketball world was that I really got tired of hearing the stereotypes,” Zimmerman said. “I got tired of hearing that Jews can’t play sports and aren’t athletic. I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, Jewish or Christian. We all put our pants on the same way. I always wanted to go out and show that if you had a kid that was Jewish and wanted to succeed in the world of athletics, it was possible.”
Just as the players were starting to show those signs, the team’s strength took a massive blow on Jan. 7, when senior guard Adam Karnett broke his finger against Celina. The team went on to win, but lost Karnett for the season. However, Karnett said the team’s chemistry and mentality got them through the pain and on to their deep playoff run.
“The team picked up right where I left off, as if I never even was gone,” said Karnett, who hopes to be back for the highly coveted Red Sarachek Tournament at the end of March. “We’re a team, and don’t revolve around one player. We didn’t miss a beat.”
The guard’s backcourt teammate, Sam Kleinman, said Karnett has always been the “heart and soul” of the team. Assuming more responsibility, Kleinman stepped up his play and led the Bulldogs to a perfect 10-0 District season. He capped it off in the District final against Brook Hill, when he hit a game-winning floater with four seconds left to win by one point. Against Frisco legacy, he found the seams and threaded 13 assists, tying his career high. Despite the heroics, he says that the team’s success is due to Zimmerman’s coaching philosophy.
“I’ve been telling people all two years that with Zimm, the whole style is different,” said Kleinman, a senior and team captain. “It’s more of a team game, and the goal is to get everyone touching the ball before we score. We are deep and he plays almost everybody on the bench every game. It makes a big difference.”
Zimmerman, who started coaching basketball at age 14, said that his coaching style took awhile to implement because of old habits.
“When I got here, there was an interesting mentality that you could see in tryouts and practices,” said Zimmerman, who has also coached Maccabi basketball teams since he was 18, the youngest coach in the tournament’s history. “Kids weren’t comfortable doing a lot of things, and really acted as though they were more of facilitators. They were used to facilitating to the next big superstar, and it took a really good amount of time the first couple of months to begin to change that mentality and have kids be less robotic and have the faith and confidence to do more in this different type of philosophy and system.”
His system helped vault the team into a quarterfinals showdown with defending state champion Lubbock Christian Tuesday, Feb. 25. At press time, the TJP learned that Yavneh lost that game, 59-54. A team filled with seniors, the Yavneh players want to leave their mark on the program sans regrets.
“We [seniors] really just want to leave everything on the court, and play every game like it’s our last,” said senior Adam Steinbrecher. “We don’t have a lot of games left and we see our high school careers coming to a close, so we’re just giving it all we have every game.”
Zimmerman said he gets as much from the players as they get from him. More than wins or losses, he believes his job is about impacting and improving the lives of his student athletes.
“Some coaches want a clear separation between themselves and the players,” Zimmerman said. “I want the players to respect the coaches as adults and teachers, but at the same time, I want players to know that my door is open and they can talk to me about what’s going on in their life.”