By: Marvin Azrak
They looked as rusty as you can imagine, underwhelming, and unsynchronized back in the October preseason tournament, which prompted an opposing coach to tell me, “They lack shooting depth and don’t know how to play defense correctly.”
There was a concern regarding the newfound version of Yeshiva Darchei Eretz basketball after being swept in front of the Sephardic community that day. Still, new head coach Corey Sandusky has worked for his team rigorously since that point, and it’s paid off. In their season opener against the feisty Waterbury Wolfpack from Connecticut, the Thunder eked out a win in what Corey said was “One of the most unbelievable games I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching Yeshivah Basketball since I was six years old,” before they trounced the HANC Hurricanes this past Wednesday night to move to be the season 2-0 as they prepare for an upcoming road trip.
The season opener saw YDE trailed by ten late in the third and 7 entering the fourth. Still, they switched from zone to man defense, and it worked to their advantage as they rallied to force OT and received two threes from Isaac Tawil and Eddie Beda to stay alive and force another overtime tied at 35.
The scoring picked up in the next frame with the teams exchanging blows and, with it, the lead. The Wolfpack found themselves leading by four as we approached the final minute, but back-to-back layups by Tawil got the Thunder even.
After Waterbury took the lead on the other end, David Sayeg hit two from the charity stripe with 30 seconds remaining to force a third overtime period.
That’s when Isaac “Let’s finish them” Tawil took matters into his own hands and outmuscled the opposition, single-handily lifting YDE to a 69-61 with him cracking the 40 mark at the line inside the final minute. The kid the Thunder acquired from Shaare Torah set a precedent for a YDE debut posting a rousing stat-line of 43 points, 20 rebounds, and ten blocks, becoming the first in school history to record a triple-double with blocks. As one can conceptualize, Tawil was the toast of the school for the next few days, as many inside and outside the institution doors were buzzing about the surprise that shook 73% of the Yeshivah league fan community(That was the pregame poll) to its core.
Looking to continue their winning ways, YDE practiced deliberately and prepped for superstar YOSEF LUBECK and the HANC(Hebrew Academy of Nassau county) Hurricanes. Coach Sandusky instituted a box and one defense. It worked, as Ikey Greenstein executed it to perfection throughout the contest, eschewing Yosef off the ball and limiting him on the stat sheet to a single point. On the other end, YDE confounded HANC early and often, going on an 18-0 run led by Victor Guindi, Jack Levy, and Isaac Tawil. “I told Vic to give it a couple of games, and he will start to see results,” per Coach Corey, “Tonight, he looked more like he normally does in practice.”
The second portion of the first quarter consisted of a three-point barrage led by sharpshooter Eddie Beda, who punctuated a season-high 31 point frame for the Thunder, who led 31-7 after the first eight-minute. YDE became more passive in the second stanza, with Abi Khezrie and David Sayeg as the facilitators keying the team’s dazzling ball movement at times that allowed buckets from Tawil, Greenstein, and Beda, who only padded the aforementioned hefty margin, with Eddie finishing off the half with a 30FT three-ball to send a revved up squad into the intermission up 54-19.
The second half would consist of Sandusky’s Thunder playing the string, which allowed Eddie Beyda to nearly answer up his coach’s pre-game plea of eight from beyond the arc with seven, and saw game time from Eli Jajati(8) Jacky Yedid(6), Nissim Levy(3), Freddy Souid(2), and speed demon Eli Barnathan to make appearances, as YDE increased the lead, and pulverized a Hurricanes team that many expect to wound up in the postseason 88-39. Eddie Beda finished with a team-high 21 points, Isaac Tawil netted 17 points in just eight minutes of action, and Victor Gundi finished with career-high 10 points on the evening. After the contest, Corey Sandusky dubbed Abie Saideh, the team manager.
But considering they only fended off this same HANC team 40-36 two years ago, this was a statement of epic proportions.
“We’ve arrived!” exclaimed Corey, who emphasized the “Defense first” mantra as the reason for his team’s comfortable victory. “If Grossman(Ikey Greenstein) didn’t execute his assignment exquisitely on the floor tonight, Doublek would’ve torched us. The fact we didn’t need to use our showstopper(Isaac) to combat there’s is a testament to the way our guys defend.” But how to explain the offensive production out of their new all-star? “We constantly preach in practice to not hesitate when you have those looks, and Beda almost brought tears of joy to my eyes with how poetic it was to watch him out there.”
The aura in the locker room has drastically changed from that fateful day in October at the preseason tournament where a disappointed coach Sandusky told me, “We made a host of careless mistakes and didn’t play team basketball. Our defense was out of whack(Allowed a combined 127 points in the two games), and you can’t win in this league only relying on our offense or else you’re going to get beat.”
The Thunder lured coach Corey on board, hoping he would solve the team’s inefficiencies, and although those were exhibition tilts, there was a what to be concerned about. Yet fast forward to now, and the new coach has put the league on notice by orchestrating two YDE wins to begin the season over teams others will likely have fits over.
“We were humbled in the preseason tournament, but since then, we’ve dug into coach Corey’s mentality, and the cohesion, the determination, and the feeling of winning has never felt better,” said David Sayeg postgame.
Perhaps it may have to do with the fact that Sandusky was a player in his childhood, so he’s got the mentality of one, or maybe that he’s been evoked with Yeshivah Basketball since he was in first grade. Still, one thing he’s got is the ability to be flexible with his gamelan. “Basketball is a game of adjustments, and you must make them even In difficult situations to be successful. The team has done a great job of being sacrificial thus far, but now we’ve got to turn the page.”
“We took care of business at home, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t have fans in our gym. I know they would appreciate what we’re doing here, and we hope they can join us eventually, but we need to remain focused on stockpiling victories until we reach the top of the mountain”.
However, no matter what transpires when the Thunder travel to Ramaz to face hotshot star CY AMINZADEH and the Rams on Tuesday, or in their home playoff rematch date Thursday against the team that foiled 51-35 them two years ago in the Northshore Stars, they have ignited realistic hope to a high school starving for its maiden championship.