For the past three years, University of Maryland Hillel has hosted a basketball tournament for Hillel teams from around the country. Students will gather in College Park once again on March 28 for the National Hillel Basketball Tournament, a weekend of food, speakers and basketball. The winning team will take home the Kiddush Cup.
The tournament was founded by students and continues to be mostly student run. Members of the tournament board are “people who just love basketball, love Jews and love camaraderie,” said senior Mike Shrager, who is chairing the tournament with Joseph Tuchman.
The tournament is at capacity, organizers said. There will be 41 teams — 32 men’s and nine women’s — from more than 30 schools and made up of almost 300 students. Maryland has five teams — three men’s and two women’s — but there are also teams coming from as far away as the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Shrager described the tournament as a “whole weekend experience” for participants, most of whom will stay in university housing. “We use the tournament as a way to bring Jewish students together,” he said.
The games begin on March 29 with each team playing three preliminary games that night and the following morning, and the single-elimination bracket tournaments begin late on the morning of March 30. There will be separate men’s and women’s brackets.
Participants will arrive next Friday, participating in what Shrager called a “huge kickoff Shabbat dinner” to which everyone is welcome. Following dinner, Jewish comedian Joel Chasnoff will perform. Afterward, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity will host an oneg Shabbat.
Past winners of the tournament reflect the diversity of its participants. The inaugural tournament was won by Washington University in St. Louis, followed by Yeshiva University in 2012 and the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, a New York City senior college, last year.
Maryland Hillel’s executive director, Ari Israel, said that while Hillel staff is involved, it is there to support the students and help with what is needed.
“We do everything we can to help them to grow and nurture,” he said.
The tournament “is a real tribute to what students can do,” he added. “It’s very sophisticated; students and staff put together a full gamut of events.”
Israel, like Shrager, stressed that the tournament weekend will be “more than just 10 minutes of playing ball.” While the games will take place in campus gyms, Israel said other events will take place “all over campus,” with Shabbat dinner taking place at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, and other events being hosted by Hillel and AEPi.
For the first time, the tournament will allow teams to include up to three NCAA athletes. While Shrager said that no Division I athletes will be participating, he said that there will be several Division III players.
Brad Alhadef, a recent Maryland graduate, is preparing to play in the tournament for his fourth straight year. The Dallas native will be involved for the first time this year as just a player. Previously, he was on the board.
“As a board member, it was a great experience,” he said, “and to be a part of it from the beginning was great. Being a player, it’s a very different experience.”
Alhadef, who is competing on Maryland’s Langer team this year, is looking forward to seeing friends from his yeshiva as well as fans who attend the games “all decked out in Maryland gear.”
He said that the tournament is a great chance to showcase the university’s successfully large Jewish community, specifically the modern Orthodox community.
Last year, students had the opportunity to hear from then-NBA commissioner David Stern following the championship game. This year, after the men’s final game (which will take place late afternoon on March 30), they will hear from Bruce Levenson, owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
Students can also submit their picks for the men’s and women’s tournament victors with the prize being a registration discount for next year’s tournament, “the NHBT Ultimate Fan Swag Bag Package,” and, perhaps most importantly, “national bragging rights,” according to hilleltournament.com, where the survey form can be found.
Alhadef, whose teams have not previously been successful in the tournament, believes his team will be competitive this year.
“We’ve never gotten that far,” he said. “We’re hoping to change that.”
The National Hillel Basketball Tournament will begin at 8:30 p.m. on March 29 and continue through March 30.