Guest blog written by one of our “on-the-ground” reporters and bloggers, Logan Schiciano.

In games that featured fast starts by both teams, Maccabi USA’s Junior Boys’ and Girls’ basketball teams won by significant margins over their opponents on Sunday, Aug. 4, and Monday, Aug. 5, respectively. 

The Boys’ team met a Hungarian squad that had lost its first two games against Germany and Turkey–both teams that Maccabi USA had already beat. While this was the Boys’ third contest, it was only the second for guard Andrew Robinson, who sat idle during the win against Germany on Thurs., Aug. 1, due to back spasms. A couple of days of rest, including Shabbat, were all he needed, it appeared, as the rising high-school junior got out to a blazing start. Shooting four-for-four from the field, including a three-pointer to open the game, Andrew led Maccabi USA to a 25-3 advantage. “It felt great! I was just really excited to be back with my teammates and I came out of the gate 100 percent [with regard to his condition],” he said. 

Johnathan Acevedo of Miami, FL also contributed early with two triples of his own and one additional hoop. With eight points in the opening period, Johnathan recalled the attacking mindset the team possesses as the motive for his early success. “We are always trying to dominate no matter who the opponent is. We’re ready to score,” he said. 

Easy buckets were coming in bunches for Maccabi USA as they closed out a 40 point first quarter with eight straight points in the paint. 

Following a win against one of the two Israeli teams in the female tournament, the Girls’ squad was back at it on against Spain. In this contest, Team Maccabi USA opened the scorebooks in a flash. The jump ball to start the game was tipped forward by center Jaclyn Feit and into the hands of teammate Angelina Barokas; after a couple of dribbles, Angelina whirled a bounce pass to a cutting Adara Groman who scored a lay-up it in with her left hand just five seconds in. On the next possession, point guard Daniella Bessler drove down the lane and fired a pass to the left corner where Adara was waiting to drill a three pointer. In addition to a couple of dimes in the opening quarter, Daniella would add two transition buckets of her own as part of a 25-0 opening quarter for Maccabi USA. Adara, who finished the game with seven points, noted that getting ahead early has much more of an effect on the game than just a sizable difference in score. “A quick start hypes everyone up and gives the team a lot of energy throughout the game.”

In compliance with the ideal of sportsmanship, which is prevalent throughout the European Maccabi Games, both the Boys’ and Girls’ teams used the big leads as an opportunity to work on tactics and skills, including passing. Head Coach of the Juniors Boys’ Team, Scott Berman, explained how the team changed their strategy to ensure players on both sides had a positive experience. “At the end of the day, we’re all Jewish athletes doing something great. To run up the score and beat someone badly, you don’t want to do that. I had them move the ball with three, four, five passes. It was the right thing to do,” he said.

Junior Girls’ Head Coach Sherry Levin agreed with Coach Berman’s sentiment. “We always focus on what we can do. At one point, we had to have five passes before we could take a shot. When we stole the ball at half-court, we pulled back and didn’t take any transition layups,” she said. 

Her team shared the ball as six of nine players racked up seven or more points. Jaclyn, the game’s leading scorer with 11 points, earned high praise from her coach. “She’s been really strong in the middle getting a lot of offensive rebounds and putting them back in for us,” Coach Levin said. Eight of Jaclyn’s 11 rebounds did indeed come on the attacking end. 

As the final seconds in the Boys’ game wound down, a missed shot by Hungary was corralled by none other than the leading scorer, Andrew, who dribbled out the clock and finished with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists. Rising freshman from Phoenix, AZ, Jackson Spiro chipped in with 14 points on an efficient 64 percent shooting performance. 

As both teams go on to face Israel in their next games (semi-final for the Juniors Boys’ on Mon. afternoon and final for Girls’ on Tues. afternoon), members of each squad feel that their group’s chemistry is at a new high. “We’re all so close now. We respect each others games,” Daniella said. Andrew also mentioned that the Boys’ team celebrated their win against Hungary by relaxing at the hotel pool and eating pizza.