2012-01-18 / Sports
Goldstein & Burach are golden at Maccabi Games
Players with ties to area help USA win hoop crown
A t the age of 19 and as the youngest player on the United States Pan- American Maccabi Games men’s basketball team, Andrew Goldstein did not mind the ribbing he took from his teammates; not when the end result was a gold medal and a bond that he and his teammates will share forever.
The same can be said for Todd Burach, 26, who was the oldest player on the team and was called “old man.” The nickname did not bother Burach, the team’s co-captain, one bit as the United States squad achieved the goal it had set for itself — winning the gold medal at the Maccabi Games that were held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from Dec. 26 through Jan. 2.
Goldstein, a Marlboro High School graduate, and Burach, a graduate of Manalapan High School and Syracuse University, were two of the 12 players from across the United States who were selected to represent the nation at the Pan-American Maccabi Games.
The Maccabi Games are an international athletic event for Jewish athletes, and are often called the Jewish Olympics. The Pan- Am Maccabi Games are for athletes from North, Central and South America.
The American team had one mission in Brazil— to bring home the gold medal. The team achieved its goal by beating Canada, 87-70, in the gold medal game.
Team USAwent through the tournament undefeated (6-0).
“A lot went into it,” Burach said. “It’s one thing to experience it (the Games). It would have been totally disappointing if we did not win the gold.
The most memorable moment of the adventure for Goldstein was standing on the podium and receiving a gold medal.
“It’s the greatest feeling anyone could ever have,” Goldstein said. “Standing on the podium, hearing the national anthem, it was an unforgettable moment.”
Burach had the honor of carrying the American flag at the ceremony.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said of the ceremony, adding that everything he and his teammates accomplished in Brazil “has not really set in yet.”
The Maccabi Games managed to gain some nationwide attention when David Liss’s off-balance three-point shot at the buzzer lifted the United States over Brazil, 72-69. The shot made ESPN’s Top 10 highlights for that day.
The Pan-Am Games were an experience unto themselves because they were played under international rules that included a 24- second shot clock and a longer three-point shot, among other things that are different from the brand of basketball that is played in American colleges and professional leagues.
“It’s a totally different game than here,” Goldstein said. “They (international players) are less athletic and they use their body more. What might be called as touch fouls here are not called. It’s very different.”
Burach said theAmerican players had to “learn a different game. They (foreign players) are really aggressive and we are more finesse. It took some getting used to.”
Perhaps the biggest advantage the American squad had, according to Burach, was the ability to adjust.
“We were a smart team,” he said. “We watched film and we were able to respond to what we had to improve on and then implement that.”
Burach and Goldstein said the Americans were a true team.
“There was a lot of team chemistry,” Goldstein said. “We did everything together.”
Much of the credit for that chemistry goes to Burach, who took his co-captaincy seriously and saw to it that the players remained a team on and off the court.
Goldstein, who is a native of Marlboro, and Burach, who is a native of Manalapan, discovered that they have a lot of friends in common. They did not grow up far from each other. They found out they had mutual acquaintances through the neighborhood and basketball.
Goldstein admits he knew nothing about the Pan-Am Maccabi Games before he received a telephone call from the U.S. coach, Steve Wittner.
It turned out that Andrew Theokas, who had coached Goldstein at Marlboro High School, put in a good word about him with Wittner. Theokas and Wittner had Columbia University connections.
Goldstein received a call from Wittner on a Friday night, the day before tryouts started. Ten hours later he was on the court inWest Orange with no expectations.
“I had no idea (what to expect),” said Goldstein. “I was just going there to try out.”
Goldstein got better with each practice and eventually found himself a member of the United States team heading for Sao Paulo. Learning what the Maccabi Games were all about made him honored to be a participant.
Playing in the event was just what Goldstein needed. Last week he made his debut with the nationally ranked Brookdale Community College team. He transferred to Brookdale from Montclair State and did not become eligible until the college’s second semester began.
Goldstein is expected to be the sixth man on a Brookdale team that is ranked No. 7 in the nation among Division III junior colleges. The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region XIX Tournament will be held at Brookdale this season. The winner will advance to the NJCAA national championships.
Burach, who said he is going to frame his uniform and gold medal, thought his serious basketball playing days were over before the Maccabi Games, but the event gave him one more taste of competitive play. He said his jump shot has not left him since he returned home from Sao Paulo.
There was more to the games than basketball and both players said they enjoyed meeting Jewish people from other countries and striking up friendships. With Facebook and texting, they will keep in contact with their new foreign friends, as well as with their teammates. In the end, they said, it was an unforgettable experience for everyone.