The 18th World Maccabiah Games were held this past July in Netanya, Israel. The games are held every four years in a similar fashion to the Olympics. It is an international Jewish sporting event where any Jewish person is eligible to compete at three different levels. They are “Open,” “Juniors,” and “Masters.”
The event is the world’s third-largest international athletic competition where over 9,000 Jewish athletes from more then 50 countries compete.
This past summer Bruce Pearl, head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers Men’s Basketball Team was elected to be the head coach for the Maccabi USA’s Open Men’s Basketball Team. “We are pleased and delighted to have a coach of Bruce’s caliber join us for the 18th Maccabiah,” said Ron Carner, General Chair, USA 18th World Maccabiah Games Organizing Committee.
Recruiting efforts and getting ready for the 2009 Tennessee season took a back-seat for Pearl in order for him to follow his dream and get involved with the Maccabiah Games. Bruce has been eying the games for a while and was finally recognized while coaching at Tennessee. “Quite frankly, they weren’t interested in a Division II coach,“ Pearl said, noting his career path. “It took my being successful at Milwaukee, at Tennessee to do it.”
The team, which consists of Jewish college players from teams including Bucknell, UPenn and Tennessee, began training camp at La Salle at the end of June in preparation for the tournament. Some of the players have a lot of ties to former NBA players and coaches. Dan Grunfeld, son of former Tennessee Volunteer, and Steven Pearl, son of head coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl and his team displayed a convincing 94-32 win in an exhibition game against Canada.
Not only is this a great honor for Pearl and his players to go visit the homeland and play against some great competition, but it also is a treat for the Israeli players. Pearl mentioned the exposure that this brings to Israeli players like Omri Casspi, who was a first-round draft pick this year by the Sacramento Kings.
In addition, to his attempt to bring home a gold medal at the Maccabiah Games, it would also be beneficial for Pearl to make some connections with the Israeli basketball players. “I would love to have a couple of young Israeli players at Tennessee,” Pearl said. There is a lot of talent in Israel and the professional Israel Basketball League has been improving the level of play each year. Yaniv Simpson, a former member of the Under-19 Israeli national team, currently plays at Monmouth University.
After posting a 3-1 record in pool play, coach Pearl led Team USA to the medal round. Their only loss came to Russia with a last second basket that gave the Russians a two-point win.
Pearl and company entered the medal round with a match-up against Canada. With solid play from Dane DiLiegro, Bryan Cohen and Steven Pearl, Team USA showed that their exhibition win over Canada was no fluke. The win over Canada, earned the Americans a spot in the gold medal game against the home favorites and defending gold medalist, Israel.
Israel dominated all of their opponents up until the final game against the Americans. They beat Argentina by over 50 points, when the USA only beat Argentina by eight points. Israel also benefited from having the luxury of having home-court advantage during the gold medal game. In addition to the home crowd, Israel also had a number of players who were playing professionally.
The game turned out to be a fantastic game. Grunfeld put together a nice three-point play with under 30 seconds left to tie the game in regulation and send the game into overtime. Once the Americans got the Israelis into overtime, it was all Grunfeld who had six points to lead the Americans to a 95-86 victory. The clutch performance earned Grunfeld MVP honors.
It was the third gold medal that the USA has won in the last 24 years. Coach Pearl was finally able to accomplish one of his long-time goals and bring home the gold. “This is one of the highlights of my career,” Pearl said. Now the focus is back to getting Tennessee ready for their 2009 season and hitting the road recruiting.