Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
When he looked at ‘U.S.A.’ spelled out across the front of his jersey, Aiden Abrams was in disbelief.
Danny Rosenblum’s thoughts when he found out he’d be able to play basketball for his country were similar.
Abrams, a rising senior at Harriton, and Rosenblum, a rising senior at Radnor, are two local boys high school basketball players who will suit up for Team USA at the 21st Maccabi Games from July 5-26 in Israel — an event typically described as the ‘Jewish Olympics’.
“We got our jerseys recently and just seeing the USA on there, it almost doesn’t even feel real,” Abrams said. “I’m an example of my country when I go out there. It’s really cool to be able to represent the USA and then to have it on the jersey just makes it all come together.”
Harriton's Aiden Abrams poses in his Team USA jersey. (Courtesy)
The Maccabi World Union describes the Games as “the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition in the tradition and values of Maccabi, emphasizing the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people.”
The event began in 1932 and now takes place every four years as athletes and teams of Jewish descent from countries around the world compete against each other in a variety of sports in Israel. It is considered one one of the largest athletic events in the world.
Abrams will play in the U18 3-on-3 basketball event, while Rosenblum will play for the U.S. U18 5-on-5 team.
“I probably won’t get another chance to represent my country, which is pretty crazy,” Rosenblum said. “To be able to go over and play basketball too, what I love to do, is an even crazier experience in a country like Israel.”
Abrams’ first exposure to the Maccabi Games was playing on a U14 team affiliated with his local Jewish Community Center. The competition was regional with teams from Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
He played up and spent two years playing at the U16 level for a Philadelphia-based team that competed against other states and cities around the country.
In the second year, Rosenblum and Abrams were both on the U16 team that finished with a silver medal at the JCC Maccabi games in Atlanta.
The try-out process for the current U18 teams took place over two days in the fall at two locations — in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The local tryout was hosted at Abington Friends.
Rosenblum was one of 13 players selected to the 5-on-5 boys basketball team, a roster that has some Division I talent, including Class of 2022 Yale commit Danny Wolf, a 6-11 forward from Virginia.
“I’m going to try and bring some pressure on the defensive end, hopefully control the offense and also try and be a threat offensively and make plays,” said Rosenblum, the point guard for Radnor’s District 1 5A runner-up team this past season. “But we’ve got a bunch of talented guys, so I think if we all play together and realize our goals, we’ll be set.”
“Our coaches told us that our main goal is to come away with gold, but also have fun while we’re over there because it’s a crazy experience.”
Radnor's Danny Rosenblum poses in his Team USA jersey. (Photo: Courtesy)
Abrams was one of eight players selected to two four-man 3-on-3 teams. The event is one of the newer sports at the Games, and Abrams, a self-described basketball junkie, is excited to play a different variation of hoops.
“I love learning about the game of basketball and I think there’s a whole new aspect of basketball that’s being born with 3-on-3 coming up,” Abrams said.
“I would say I’m definitely one of the better ball handlers, that’s something I’ve always been really good at and my athleticism is there. I’m not the tallest guy, but I give a lot of effort on defense. That’s going to be big on 3-on-3.”
Abrams had Zoom calls with his coaches and teammates to go over plays in the lead up to the event. The group also had a training camp planned in New Jersey at the end of this week before departing for Israel.
Rosenblum said he got to spend a weekend with his teammates practicing and playing after the end of the high school season this spring. The group also communicated via Zoom calls and studied plays with a virtual app called VRep before a final training camp planned at the end of this week before their departure.
On one of those Zoom calls, Rosenblum and his teammates found out one their assistant coaches would be former NBA All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire.
“We had no idea,” Rosenblum said. “Our coach just said he had a surprise for us on the zoom call.”
Along with using their basketball talents to represent their country, Abrams and Rosenblum have the opportunity to connect with their culture and religion in a location with important significance to both at the Maccabi Games.
Rosenblum said he and his teammates completed courses to learn about Israel, its history and history of the Maccabi Games before their arrival. They will have a chance to travel around the country as well before competition begins.
“In the Jewish community, sports are pretty big, at least from what I’ve experienced,” Rosenblum said. “To be able to share religion and basketball is just an awesome experience with a bunch of guys I already like.”
“It’s really special. It obviously connects to my religion and I’ll see people who I have that connection with.”
Abrams said he doesn’t describe himself as being very religious, noting he didn’t celebrate a Bar Mitzvah. This is an opportunity for him to connect more with his religion and his ancestry through the sport he loves.
“A lot of people locally are very excited to have me go to Israel and honor my religion in an athletic aspect, which is something that is kind of unique,” Abrams said. “My whole family is really excited for me and a lot of my friends are Jewish as well, so they’re also really excited.”
“I think this is kind of a way to make up for not being as religious is going to Israel to play basketball and be a part of the culture.”