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A Dream Fufilled: Magen David Beat Flatbush For Historic Yeshiva League Title

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A Dream Fufilled: Magen David Ousts Flatbush For Historic Yeshiva League Title

Written By Marvin A. Azrak
Magen David Warriors coaches are known for continuously directing things even when they are up big. Yet in the dying seconds of overtime in Sunday’s Yeshiva League Varsity championship match at the Max Stern Athletic Center, Benny Mann finally knew he could look away from the action on the court. He turned and hugged team captain Mark Sardar, who he’d spent several hours with nearly every day for five years and hugged him. They had finally turned that dream into a reality with a 57-48 overtime victory over the Flatbush Falcons.

With 9.6 seconds remaining on the clock in the big matchup between Yeshiva of Flatbush and Magen David, Flatbush star player, Jacob Haddad, makes an incredible steal in the most amazing moment in high school basketball history

What began on a backyard court in Deal, New Jersey, in August 2020 culminated in Yeshiva University. It wasn’t just the Warriors who made the event memorable, but the Falcons, some of whom had trained within the Dream basketball program. Jewish Hoops America nationally ranked them as the top two teams in the country for a reason. They didn’t just work to get here during the season but also in the five-month offseason. There were countless hours in the heat of the Summer and late nights in the gym.
Basketball became more than a hobby; it became their lifestyle. The two had met four times twice in tournament championship games. Magen won a thriller in the preseason tournament, and Flatbush struck back in Memphis. The Warriors used a fourth-quarter surge to win their meeting at the Falcons nest and appeared to be repeating the feat when they went up 19 at the Warrior dome a week later. Yet Flatbush roared back and tied it, setting up the buzzer heard around Brooklyn by Moses Smeke.
The coach of the Magen David team, Ikey “Spike” Dweck is hoisted on the shoulders of his players as he holds the team trophy in one of the biggest victories in high school sports
The teams left that night, hoping to meet each other again on Sunday. Magen did their part by thumping SAR and HAFTR, while Flatbush overcame a slow start to beat Ohor Yisroel and rallied past reigning Yeshiva League champion Northshore in overtime.
So it was set that these two prestigious Sephardic schools, which lie within two miles of each other, would meet for the first time at the Varsity level for the Yeshiva League title. It wasn’t any championship game; it was the crescendo of Brooklyn’s proud rivalry. For a basketball-driven neighborhood, it doesn’t get better than this.
“You can make the argument it’s the biggest sporting event in the history of the Syrian community,” Macslive broadcaster Norman Jemal said. “Tournaments happen every year, but Yeshiva league time is limited.” Indeed, this was treated like the Super Bowl. For every kid that crammed into the over 1,000-seat capacity gymnasium, hundreds were barred, and even a sniff at tickets sold out in minutes. Persisters had to pay ten times over ($100) on the resale market to get a pop. Security braced themselves for the invasion between the JV and Varsity championships.
The scene was unlike anything they’d ever witnessed for a high school basketball game, and to think it was the Syrian community from Brooklyn who ignited the chaos at a school that has hosted teams from around the country.
The final moments before victory at the Magen David/Yeshiva of Flatbush high school big basketball game that was held on Sunday.

 

“I’ve never seen so many Syrians in my life,” a staff member said. “Hundreds of people from Brooklyn here, and I don’t know one of them,” said another. “This is the loudest atmosphere for a Yeshiva basketball game I’ve ever seen.” Still, for every person who made it there and made their voices heard, even throwing broadcast communications in disarray at times, hundreds were glued to MacsLive broadcast at home, syncing it to their televisions and hosting watch parties. The game attracted 3,574 devices but didn’t include those sharing one. It celebrated community hoops, culminating in the gym, representing Jewish basketball’s heartbeat. It wasn’t the only Magen-Flatbush faceoff, for it’s happened down the pipeline. The inaugural fifth-grade league saw the Warriors ousted the Falcons 42-39 in a thriller at the Sephardic Community Center last week. It was finally a championship won for those boys who had trained hard under Dream and YU assistant coach and headman Abe Rosow, including Steven Sherr, who now has a title he can bond over with his dad and assistant coach Harold.
Large crowd waits to get in for the game
Both schools made the sixth-grade semifinals this year and are scheduled to square off on Wednesday (3/20) at the SCC in the seventh-graded finals. Then came the eighth-grade semifinals, where those Warriors, coached by Benny’s dream partner Joey Dayan alongside Leo Esses, used an 18-point surge to eliminate the top-seeded Falcons 66-58. The lone disappointment was on the JV level, where both teams lost before the semifinals. Yet, knowing those groups, they’ll be back more vital than ever.

But while those teams worked hard, this tilt was set to be a product of two teams who had outworked everyone on the highest high school level.

The initial start to the contest was everything you could’ve wanted. Right off the tip, Mark Sardar broke towards the hoop but was met by Solly Gadeh, sending the Flatbush side into early delirium. Yet it was the Warriors who drew first blood on the scoreboard, as after forcing a miss in their 2-3 zone defense, Joshua Chabbott found Moses Smeke, who swished a three and turned to the roaring Magen fans. He’d finally reached the pinnacle of his transfer from Hillel to MDY for his senior year of high school. His family had lived in Deal since the pandemic, but he wanted to win a championship with his boys and embrace the grind they were on to snap the school’s six-year drought, which is an eternity in Magenville.

During the awards presentation following the big Yeshiva of Flatbush/Magen David basketball matchup, the trophy for most valuable player was presented to Magen David’s Phil Sherr.

Flatbush, looking to win their first championship in 13 years, answered with a three-pointer from Ronnie Chaya. The kid had led teams before, under Rosow, from 6th through 10th grade, alongside many of his Falcons teammates at the Maccabi games in 2022. He made his mark on the Flatbush-MDY rivalry, calling game with a game-winning three in December of 2022 in Magen’s barn. Here he was chasing an elusive title. However, to do so, he would have to beat perimeter defender Jack Haber, who forced a Falcons turnover, leading to a bucket on the other end by the eventual finals MVP Phillip Sherr.

No, Sherr isn’t someone who will make your eyes light up when you rattle off the names of this Warriors team. He didn’t win this award because he took over this thing. He’s a classic, old-school point guard who distributes to his star-studded wingers. However, Sherr is the consistent, steady hand every loaded team needs. However, he’s also someone who can score the ball at will, as he did by going hard at Gedya and initiating the contact plus the bucket before letting out a roar as the Warriors took a 6-3 lead.

Magen David MVP Phillip Sherr

 

“It’s crazy to see how far Phil has come since we started grinding with him a few years ago. He has worked countless hours and dedicated himself to basketball and improving every day.” Benny Mann said last year at a “State of Dream” update on one of the mixtapes Mondays on Dream’s Instagram account. “Phil’s ability to transform his body has been remarkable. He’s in tip-top shape, which allows him to train at a high level.” With Phil, we’ve seen tremendous improvement in his all-around game; his handles have gotten extremely tight, and he’s become very shifty with the ball. His ability to change speeds and see the floor are great strong points of his game! Phil has also added the ability to finish with both hands at the basket.” On that one, he switched from his left to the right for the finish. It was a bucket that energized his brother Ray, who will lead the eighth-grade Warriors against Northshore in the finals at HAFTR on March 25th.

 

Leading 6-3, the Warriors shifted to a box and one defense, as instructed by assistant coach Morris Zarrif, who made signs for the coaches to hold from the bench since he knew the crowd would be too loud for any player to hear preffered plays.

“Mozart” as the boys call him, who was part of the most recent Warriors crown is an integral part of pregame preparation. He often delves into opponents’ games and develops the scouting report for Benny and coach Ikey “Spike” Dweck.

The switch forced the Falcons to make shots, which they eventually did. A long-range three by sharpshooter Isaac Cooper tied things up. The senior sharpshooter and all-star had fans and little kids in his “Sharpshooting BK” youth program on their feet. The three from nearly half-court also elicited the first “Coop” chants from the Falcons crowd. “Coop is incredible,” said an anonymous parent. “He’s not only an all-star player, but also an incredible teacher. My son is so happy he came into our life and is learning so much from him”.

Having the luxury of two great shooters isn’t something Flatbush takes lightly. “Coop and Chaya are such great shooters. They have the green light to shoot it from anywhere,” coach Matt Maleh said. They delivered and struck early for the Falcons.

With the clock winding down in the opening frame, Sam Jemal, the sensational sophomore who was so good he made this team and even skipped a family vacation to overcome an early-season injury to make it back for this game, found Beni Keda for a layup, giving the Falcons a 10-9 lead after the first quarter. It was a testament to the resolve players had shown throughout the season, including Joseph Shama, who, despite tearing his MCL in practice two weeks ago, played in this game.

The Keda bucket began an 11-2 spurt that extended into the second quarter, a Haddad and one after a feed and fake dunk attempt from Keda and was capped by a Cooper corner three for a 19-12 lead. Then it was Keyda’s turn, as he blocked Sardar, leading to a Haddad outlet to Cooper for a finish at the other end before Beni finished down low himself to give the Falcons a 28-22 lead at halftime.

As the boys came out of the locker room and walked the short hallway out to the court, Sherr stopped by me before going to the water fountain for a quick drink. What was said then was what I’d been telling him all year. “It’s a “Sherr” thing, Phill.” There was that feeling that a comeback was coming. These Warriors had been in almost every type of game during their run and weren’t ones to be phased by a halftime deficit. Ikey “Spike” Dweck settled the boys down at the break and, after some quick instruction and encouragement, sent them back to battle. Spike built this program from scratch and had experienced several thrills and heartbreaks. The bench boss was a star on the SY Angels back in his playing days before becoming involved in stopping kids from drug addiction and gambling. “He’s saved people’s lives and has shown what you can do to help kids in youth sports, which is incredible,” said broadcaster Dovi Forman. “It’s amazing there’s no one like Coach Spike”, Smeke said.

The coach doesn’t take any of that flattering for granted. “To be with these kids 24 hours a day, practicing 4-5 times a week for the past year, it makes my life”, the legendary coach said. “I’m lucky Hashem has put me in this position to teach and mentor these kids, developing relationships with them for the rest of their lives.” That said, Dweck ensured he wouldn’t stop shy of crediting Steven Dweck, who he said came into their locker room before each game and motivated the boys. “I can’t wait to put his name on the banner”, he said.

 

The tide turned for Magen David in the second half, as a slick Sardar cut and layup narrowed Flatbush’s lead to just five points. Then, the Warriors unleashed their infamous full-court press, causing chaos. Chabbott pulled off an epic diving steal, setting up Dream basketball misfit Jack Haber for an easy basket. Finishing the period was Jack Franco’s buzzer-beater, another Dream Basketball original who came back strong after an eight-month ACL injury, sending the Warriors fans into a frenzy.

Even though Flatbush still held a slim 37-35 lead heading into the fourth quarter, you could feel the momentum shifting towards the Warriors, courtesy of their comeback kid.

“Jack has expanded his game tremendously and has emphasized improving his handles and ability to finish at the rim”, Mann said. “In addition, his spot-up and off-the-dribble rhythm shooting has improved drastically. Not to mention his ability to guard 1-4 on the defensive side of the ball.”

“Looking back on all the days in camp, that’s the guy who made me better,” Sardar said. “We would push each other to be better. That’s the guy I would look at on the other end of the court (or compete with at the beach) and say, I want to go after him”.

MDY coach Ikey “Spike” Dweck

Sardar predicted Franco’s empathic return to the court a month ago. “He’s coming back, and he’s going to bring that fire and be the dog he always used to be.” There were flashes of it in the previous two rounds, but now he’d officially made his presence felt with a monumental basket to punctuate the game-turning frame.

The Warriors took their momentum into the fourth quarter. With just over five minutes left, Sardar made a crucial steal of Keda and dashed down the court to score, giving MDY a 40-38 lead with 5:30 remaining despite being one on four. Then, a Chabbot feed to Haber for a double clutch up-and-under finish gave the Warriors a 42-38 lead with 3:15 remaining.

Flatbush looked to their superstar for life with their hopes dwindling, and he delivered. Beni Keda, the 6’3 star center who made it onto Sports Center earlier this season with his block on one end and dunk on the other against Ohor Yisroel, pulled off an impressive and-one play, cutting the lead to one. Then, after Sardar missed a transition layup after Magen beat Flatbush’s “Diamond Press,” an Albert Khaski rebound and a layup put Flatbush back in front 43-42 as we hit a two-minute warning. Yet Sardar had an answer and a redemption bucket. He went right, got to his spot on the elbow, and knocked down a crucial jumper to give the Warriors a 44-43 lead with 37 seconds remaining. That confident shot was produced after hours of practice. “Sardar is the last one out of the Magen David gym. He has the keys to the place”, Norman said. “What can I say about this young man? He always amazes me with his passion, drive, and relentless pursuit of perfection every day.” Mann said in a mixtape produced by the fantastic “Lunae Clips.”

“We started working with Mark in the summer 20,’ and he has transformed every single part of his game. He is a superstar in every sense of the word, a valid number 1.” “Offensively, he can do it all; he can get to the basket and finish with each hand at will; he can cut your throat out in the mid-range, his handle has gotten sharp to the point where you can call him a point guard. “On defense, he can guard 1-4 and put the clamps on whoever is in front of him.” “Mark is the player he is because he is flat-out the hardest worker I’ve ever seen.”

“He’s always determined to get better. He’s in the gym, no matter the time of day or night. I’ve walked into a gym early in the morning, and Mark is there; I’ve left the gym at midnight, and he’s in there shooting when the lights are off.” “It’s no accident. He’s worked to be that next man up.”

As the final buzzer approaches in the big game between Magen David and Yeshiva of Flatbush High Schools, the Magen David players are filled with anticipation as they get ready to celebrate their huge victory!!

Things got even more intense after Flatbush failed to score on their ensuing possession. A costly turnover by Magen on an inbound play, followed by a foul on Flatbush’s inbound pass, gave Ronnie Chaya a chance at the free-throw line with just 8.6 seconds left on the clock. It was deja vu, as Chaya, despite being on one leg, was in the same situation in the semifinals against Northshore and managed to hit the second after missing the first, forcing overtime en route to victory. That happened here: he tied the game at 44 before Haber bricked a turnaround jumper, giving us bonus basketball.

Most teams would’ve caved under the pressure and disbelief of blowing their shot in regulation and faltered in overtime, but the Warriors never flinched. They had worked too hard for that to hapDonatebalance of naturepen.

 

Joshua Chabbott,, Phillipb Sherr, Moses Smeke, and Jack Haber

 

“It’s the late nights, early morning, even before sunrise sometimes; it’s all a product of our hard work,” Sardar said. “You put in the hours, you’ll get what you want.” These Warriors wanted a championship, a thing that’d eluded them in the past. There was the heartbreaking 46-43 overtime loss against Northshore in the 2022 JV finals. For some, there was the devastating 63-61 defeat to Miami in the finals of the Maccabi games last Summer. There was a stunning loss to Ramaz in last year’s JV semifinal, leaving the kids feeling empty despite winning countless tournaments beforehand. There were times when the kids and coaches undoubtedly questioned whether it was all worth it. They wondered when all the hard work would finally pay off. Then came this season, where you felt every tease imaginable. MDY entered the finals 34-2 and on a 21-game win streak. They captured three tournament titles during that span, including a fifth straight Satran championship. Yet all that meant nothing if they couldn’t finish the job here.

As we entered overtime, history was on the Warriors’ side. The last championship they’d won was in overtime 2,197 days ago against Frisch back in March of 2018. Sardar, Haber and Smeke had been in countless do-or-die situations en route to leading a team of youngsters, including  Keda and Maccabi champion Zack Hassoun, to a historic Hotshot tournament title on the blacktop last July over community stars, including the four-time Yeshiva League championship duo that was Albert Nsiri, and Micheal Natkin. They were ready for this moment. Yet so was another Warrior who was waiting for his chance to strike. It was the kid who became the first junior to participate in Hotshot; Yeshiva League all-star, Joshua Chabbott.

To say the 17-year-old phenom had worked hard to get here would be an understatement. “Josh is the most dedicated teenager I’ve ever seen,” Hotshot commissioner Joe Sutton said. “When he plays, you see his passion and love for the game. He trusts his work. He trusts his abilities. It’s amazing.” “I’ve never gone to the Magen David gym and not seen Josh there. He’s specific in what he does. He’ll shoot from the same spot for an hour. He doesn’t move on until he has the perfect feel.”

Josh is often up at the crack of dawn in the Summer and will be working out late nights during the school year. You can find him working on his shooting motion in the gym, changing his body in the weight room, or at a field late at night, perfecting his footwork. The relentless pursuit of greatness is what motivates him every day. He rarely takes a day off, nor does he take anything for granted. “It’s inspiring what Josh does and how hard he works,” Magen David middle school hockey player Judah Azrak said. “Coach Joe told us before one of our games he went to the Magen gym at 10:30 PM the night before facing SAR and put up about 200 shots. He didn’t want to have any regrets.” Unfortunately, up to this point, there wasn’t much he didn’t regret. Josh had opportunities to make Flatbush pay for their defensive lapses, but his shots fell short. However, he didn’t let that deter him and remained confident he would make his next chance count.

The four-minute overtime started with a free throw by Ricky Haddad, giving the Falcons a lead, which they immediately relinquished. Smeke brought the ball up himself and was picked up by Jacob Haddad. He ran close to the baseline, switched hands to create space, and sank a go-ahead jumper. Then, after Smeke tapped a rebound back to Sherr, he received the ball again before finding Sardar, who fed Haber at the elbow, who found a wide-open Chabbott for a corner three, giving the Warriors a 49-45 lead with 3:00 minutes remaining.

 

With two minutes remaining in the extra period, Solly Gadeh hit a triple to cut Flatbush’s deficit to two, 50-48. Those were the final Flatbush points of the season. Keda missed two free throws at the line, which would’ve tied the score, and Magen David quickly took advantage. Sherr found Chabbott, who started a two-on-one break ending with a Smeke finish, extending their lead back to four with 59 seconds remaining. That was the dagger as Haber and Chabbot knocked down free throws. When Smeke was fouled with 14.4 seconds left, he let out a roar, and so did his teammates. They knew the job was finished. Sherr, Haber, Franco, Chabbott, and Smeke huddled together one more time, telling each other to stay disciplined until the clock hit zero.

 

 

Smeke hit his two from the charity stripe, making it 57-48; as Sardar hugged Mann, Spike smiled, and the boys began to realize their dream had come true. It was pandemonium from there as the jubilant Warriors fans flooded the floor to celebrate with the elated players.

 

MDY group photo post game

 

“We wanted this badly. We would kill someone for it”, Josh said. “I feel on top of the world right now. All my hard work has paid off.”

“That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of”, Mark Sardar, who was crying tears of joy as the final horn sounded, said.

“I wouldn’t want to win a championship with anyone else in the entire world. We’re a family”. “We endured all that pain after a loss to Northshore and to win this in overtime is an unbelievable feeling.”

Smeke echoed that sentiment. “This is a childhood dream come true.“

“To win this with 16 of my best friends, it’s awesome”, Jack Haber added. These boys will now walk together forever as champions and because it was over their rivals, the community will talk about this game for ages.

Yet while that may be the case for fans, the victors won’t rest on their laurels. That’s because of the Sarachek tournament, which sees 20 of the best Jewish basketball teams in the country compete against each other at Yeshiva University from March 27th to April 1st.

“I’m back in the gym on Tuesday Marv”, Chabbott said. And that’s not because Monday was a night off. It was a day of celebration that started with dancing and confetti in the school atrium and ended with a dinner at Salt in New Jersey, where school Rabbinal Leader Rabbi Eli Mansour gave Divrei Torah to the champions.

After the emotions melt, the top-ranked Warriors and third-seeded Falcons will again begin a collision course to meet each other in the national final for a sixth installment of the rivalry this year. But what happens there will be gravy. The league championship was what Magen David wanted, and they got it. They did it the right way. “I’m very proud of our players but also the students who went to support them”, said Rabbi Eli Mansour, who predicted victory while giving Mussar to the school last Friday. “I got two wonderful reports. We won and were well-behaved.” That’s how it should be. That’s the Magen David Warrior way.

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