Hoop dreams

20 Jewish college basketball players to watch in 2023-24

New crop of Israelis also gaining attention, as they struggle with war; USF’s Levy says it has been hard to stay on top of school and basketball with ‘everything going on at home’

Stanford guard Benny Gealer (15) drives against Washington State guard Dylan Darling, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Washington, January 14, 2023. (AP Photo/ Dean Hare)
Stanford guard Benny Gealer (15) drives against Washington State guard Dylan Darling, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Washington, January 14, 2023. (AP Photo/ Dean Hare)

JTA — A standout at perennial powerhouse Duke. An Israeli WNBA prospect with a twin sister in the Israeli Defense Forces. A member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Those are just a few of the compelling stories from the best Jewish basketball players in the NCAA this year. Many are Israeli, with an eye on the situation back home, where the IDF has closed a month of fighting, after Hamas invaded Israel on October 7 in a brutal murderous rampage, killing 1,400 — mostly civilians — and taking another 240 hostage to Gaza.

“Trying to stay on top of school and basketball and also knowing everything going on at home was hardest the first week, and it still is hard,” said Romi Levy, a senior at the University of South Florida.

Here are 10 men and 10 women to watch, in alphabetical order, as the NCAA season begins on Monday.

Lior Berman, Auburn

The 6-foot-4 guard looks to build off a season in which he played a key role off the bench for the Tigers. Berman has also bonded with coach Bruce Pearl — one of the sport’s most outspoken Jewish coaches — who got Berman a full scholarship for the first time this past offseason.

Camilla Emsbo, Duke

A graduate transfer from Yale, the 6-foot-5 Emsbo did not play last year due to injury. In three seasons at Yale, Emsbo was a two-time All-Ivy League selection, scored 1,092 points and finished in the top 10 in program history in rebounds and blocks. If at full strength, Emsbo — who would have played in the 2023 Maccabiah Games had she been healthy — will be an impact player in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.

Yale’s Camilla Emsbo (2) runs during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Providence on November 9, 2021, in Providence, RI. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Jaclyn Feit, Franklin & Marshall (Div. III)

The 6-foot-3 Maccabiah Games veteran from North Carolina enters her senior year following a standout season in which she averaged 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.

Spencer Freedman, New York University (Div. III)

Now in his sixth year of college hoops, the graduate student and former three-star recruit played four years of basketball at Harvard and enters his second season with NYU. The 6-foot guard garnered Third Team All-America honors from D3hoops.com last year, after averaging 17.0 points and 5.6 assists per game.

Lior Garzon, Oklahoma State 

The 6-foot-1 senior forward from Raanana, Israel, spent two seasons at Villanova before transferring to Oklahoma State last year, where she averaged 10.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, shooting 41% from 3-point range. The WNBA hopeful has talked about the differing styles of play in Israel and the United States.

Yarden Garzon, Indiana

The younger Garzon sister played a pivotal role for the top-10 Hoosiers, starting in all 32 games and averaging 11.1 points per game. She talked to the Hoosier Network earlier this year about the anxiety of having a twin sister in the Israeli army.

Indiana’s Yarden Garzon dribbles during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, February 19, 2023, in Bloomington, Indiana. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Benny Gealer, Stanford

After starting his freshman year as a walk-on, the 6-foot-1 guard earned a scholarship ahead of this season. The lone high schooler on the 2022 Maccabiah Games gold medalist USA team (who is also a member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame) made 12 appearances off the bench for the Cardinal last season.

Adara Groman, University of New Hampshire

A three-year key cog in the Wildcats rotation, the 5-foot-8 guard is coming off a career-best season in which she started 27 games and averaged 8.2 points per game.

Lilah Grubman, Yale

After missing her freshman season with a torn ACL, the sophomore guard is one of JTA’s student athletes to watch this season. She was a two-time conference player of the year at Syosset High School in New York, where she scored over 1,000 points and led her team to four consecutive undefeated conference championships. She’s not the first Jewish basketball star to come out of that same school — WNBA icon Sue Bird played there in the ninth and tenth grades.

Yarin Hasson, University of Southern Indiana

A member of the national champion UConn Huskies team last year as a freshman, the 6-foot-9 forward played just 11 minutes across 11 games. But Hasson, who boasts a 7-foot-1 wingspan, transferred to a less competitive league and is now a potential breakout candidate as a sophomore. The former member of the Israeli under-18 national team played for Maccabi Rishon Lezion’s junior team, winning the 2014 Israel Cup and 2016 National Championship.

Connecticut’s Yarin Hasson (30) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UNC Wilmington, November 18, 2022, in Storrs, Connecticut. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Raziel Hayun, Manhattan College

The 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 4 points per game last year as a freshman hails from Eilat, the southern Israeli coastal city.

Romi Levy, University of South Florida

After three years at Auburn, the 6-foot-5 junior enters her first season at USF. A 2021 SEC All-Freshman Team selection, Levy missed her sophomore year due to an ACL tear. She returned last winter, averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 points per game, flashing the ability to connect from 3-point distance. She lost some of her high school friends during the Re’im music festival terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7. Her cousin, one year younger and like “a little brother,” was called into the army. “Trying to stay on top of school and basketball and also knowing everything going on at home was hardest the first week, and it still is hard,” Levy told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Lola Mullaney, Harvard

A two-time All-Ivy League Second Team player who has played in the Maccabiah Games, Mullaney enters her senior year with career averages of 14 points and 3.4 rebounds per game across 832 appearances — all but one of which she started.

Shirel Nahum, UC Irvine

The Raanana native, who is expected to play a key role off the bench as a freshman this winter, represented Team Israel at the last two FIBA U18 Women’s European Championships. She at first considered playing professionally in Israel instead of playing for a US college team. “Being far from home isn’t easy, especially with the time difference, makes it tough to talk with your [friends and family,]” she told JTA. “In the beginning, everything was new and different, including the language, but then I started getting used to it a little bit and now am getting better all the time.”

Ofri Naveh, West Virginia

The 6-foot-6 wing played with Team Israel at the FIBA U18 European Championship this summer and is a rare scholarship player at a top Division I school. He’s a native of Neot Golan, a moshav in the Golan Heights.

Blake Peters, Princeton

Dubbed “the most interesting man in the NCAA tournament” by NJ.com last winter, the 6-foot-1 sharpshooter enters his junior year with momentum after helping the Tigers to the Sweet 16. Peters averaged 6 points per game and broke out in the second round of the tournament with a 17-point outburst against Missouri.

Princeton guard Blake Peters (24) moves the ball against Creighton guard Francisco Farabello (5) in the first half of a Sweet 16 round college basketball game in the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament, March 24, 2023, in Louisville, Kentucky. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Maddie Plank, Davidson

The 5-foot-11 redshirt junior guard transferred to Davidson last year after two years at Princeton — where she played briefly with former Jewish Tigers star Abby Meyers. (The two also played together at the Maccabiah Games.) Plank averaged 5.9 points per game across 30 appearances (21 starts) in her debut season with the Wildcats.

Michael Rabinovitch, Holy Cross

Could this be the 6-foot-10 forward’s breakout year? The senior appeared in just 26 games over his first three seasons but remains an intriguing prospect with his size. He made several Jewish friends while playing in the Maccabiah Games last year. “A lot of my friends that I made at the Maccabiah Games actually stayed over there to play professionally,” he told Spectrum News 1. “So, they were there during the outbreak of war. A lot of them have made their way back here, but some of them are stuck over there.”

Ben Shtolzberg, UC Santa Barbara

Look for the 6-foot-4 guard, who transferred from Creighton, to crack the Gauchos’ regular rotation. Shtolzberg appeared in 17 games last winter, scoring 25 points across 98 minutes of action. He told a scouting website that he wants to be remembered as “an example for my community,” since there are so few Jewish basketball players in the pro ranks.

Danny Wolf, Yale

Likely the tallest Jewish college basketball player, the 7-foot Wolf also made JTA’s list of student athletes to watch this year for his oversized potential. He helped Team Israel win silver at the 2023 FIBA U20 European Championships this summer, averaging 17.7 points and a tournament-best 12 rebounds per game.

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