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

After a long flight from JFK, the Junior athletes of Team Maccabi USA arrived at the hotel in Budapest through late morning and afternoon on July 29. Most of the athletes’ rooms were not ready upon arrival so teams took the opportunity to lounge around the lobby, snack on pizza, or get some much needed rest.

Shortly after settling in, the Juniors’ Boys’ and Girls’ as well as the Youth Men’s teams bussed over to the Ludovika Campus for their first training session.. The campus is the main hub for the 15th European Maccabi Games.

The respective practices began similarly with members from each of the teams shooting around and getting stretched-out. The Youth Team took to the court first, with an intense five-on-five full-court scrimmage. The Youth Men’s Basketball Head Coach Scott Berman explained the reasoning behind the decision, “We weren’t able to have training camp back home, so today was really just about getting to know each other.” He noted the difficulty of having such little time to prepare before the team’s first game. “It was a bit ragged, which I expected. It’s the first time these guys are getting together and we’re trying to get a lot done in a short amount of time. The most important thing is that they played hard.”

Unlike the Youth team, both the Juniors’ Boys’ and Girls’ had the chance to practice as a team at training camps in New York before making the journey over to Budapest.

Daniella Bessler, an incoming high school senior and one of the point-guards on the team said that the squad had six training sessions over the course of three days during the week prior to the Games. Bessler explained how this was beneficial to the team’s camaraderie, “We’ve done a lot of bonding activities so that on the court we mesh well together. Our team’s really close already!” The Girls strengthened their ties by executing a three-man weave drill during practice. Later on in practice, they reviewed some of their plays which they had already devised back in New York. 

The Juniors Boys’ practice was fast-paced, yielding few breaks for water and with a focal point of “putting up shots” according to one of the team’s players, Jack Weiss, an incoming high school senior on the team who hails from Princeton, NJ. Jack mentioned that the rigorous training prior to stepping foot on the hardwood at Ludovika Campus “felt more like two weeks than two days.” Back at Ludovika arena, during the final stages of the practice, the team had a little fun competing in an around the world shooting competition, where the group of players made all the shots from various points around the three-point arc. The fastest group was deemed victorious. Speed was not only critical in this exercise but will continue to be in order to ensure success for the team. “We’re all very fast and if we just run the floor we can easily win. We’ll probably one of the fastest teams on the court,” said guard Zeke Blauner from Dobbs Ferry, NY.

The Juniors Boys’ team began competition on Tuesday, July 30 against Turkey while the Youth Men’s team will kick-off their games on Wednesday, July 31 and the Juniors Girls’ on Thursday, August 1. The Youth Men will compete against Germany in the morning and Israel in the afternoon, while the Juniors’ Girls will compete against Germany.