The North Shore Hebrew Academy High School Boys Basketball team slam dunked their season, winning 14 games and clinching the Metropolitan Yeshiva High School Athletic League for the championship for the first time since 2014. The team was undefeated this season and was seeded third in the country ahead of the Yeshiva University Red Sarachek national tournament.
A special congratulations to junior Ben Abizadeh, who was named MVP in the Regional Championship game and David Orbach who was season MVP.
Coach Shalom Babayev, who is coaching his first year at NSHAHS, said the secret to the team’s success is carefully preparing for each game, rather than thinking about their undefeated season. “It’s about looking at the tree, rather than the forest,” he said. “We did our best to prepare for each game individually, and we didn’t get caught up in thinking about our record.”
A championship team years in the making
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve been building a strong core of really talented kids, and this year, everything just clicked,” said Billy Muir, the NSHAHS Athletics Director since 2019. In fact, the JV boys basketball team won the championship last year.
Babayev said that the team had a lot of challenges with injuries early in the season, forcing each of their key players to miss multiple games. But the injuries forced the team to gel together as a unit and rely on each other. A tournament loss at the HAFTR tournament mid-season was also a wake-up call and allowed the team to learn from their mistakes, Muir said.
“Many times over the season, they got off to an early lead, but then the other team would slowly catch up to them as the game went on,” said Muir. “Sometimes, that kind of pressure can make a team turn against each other, or freeze and get into their heads too much. But one of the things that really set the team apart is that when things became dicey, they really worked together to protect their lead.”
He also credits Babayev with being a great role model for the players, by showing up early to pray with the team before games and building community in various ways.
This is the first time NSHAHS has won the boys basketball championship since 2014. The NSHAHS coach at the time, Elliot Steinmetz, left after the 2014 season to become the head men’s basketball coach at Yeshiva University, and led the YU Maccabees team to its 50 consecutive wins in 2021, the longest active winning streak in men’s college basketball.
The MVP of NSHAHS’s 2014 season, Cody Cohen, is now the assistant coach for the boys’ basketball team. “Coach Cohen was really integral to our success, because he has the experience and knowledge about what it’s like to be on a winning team,” said Babayev. “When I took this job, one of my requests was to have an assistant coach who was also an alumnus and can be someone the students look up to.”
One of the challenges for student athletes at NSHA is that the dual-academics program is so rigorous it doesn’t leave a lot of free time for athletics, Muir said. The basketball team, like all the other sports teams, practices about three times per week, while other public and private school teams practice up to six times per week. But Muir said the basketball team members were so motivated they would spend their own time studying film of past games and practices, learning about their opponents, and brushing up on strategies.
Babayev said the students’ dedication helped them become a championship team both on and off the court.
“I always tell them, we represent three things — the name on front of your jersey, which is NSHAHS, the name on back of your jersey, which is your family, and the kippah on your head, which is for Hashem, who runs everything and makes sure that everything goes according to plan,” Babayev said. “The most important thing for students to keep in mind is that this is greater than their basketball career — it’s about holding ourselves to a higher value.”
—Written by Rachel Sales
from North Shore Hebrew Academy