By Monty Wayland
The FM Home Loans Israel Basketball League tipped off this week, with a record 24 teams competing for the coveted Championship Trophy. Several much-anticipated big names and powerhouse teams joined the league, which league observers are calling the strongest in memory.
"We're amazed at the skyrocketing amount of interest - the league has over 200 players now, and thousands of fans," said league Commissioner Dovi Rabinowitz, crediting his co-commissioner in the league offices, Dovid Oratz, for the success of the league. "This league just improves from year to year - Dovid makes everything top-notch, and the players keep raising their games."
The competition was fierce right out of the gate, with excitement, overtimes, and and a dramatic buzzer-beater already in Week 1.
In a battle of two returning playoff teams, SINAI Schools edged Imrei Binah, 51-48. The Shalavim- based SINAI team used a balanced attack, with Dani Weinberger scoring 11, and Dani Stein and Yonah Tarzik putting up 10 points apiece.
Moshe Gross led all scorers with 20 points for Imrei, his lethal outside sharp-shooting including 5 three-pointers, while Yosef Sandler contributed 11.
Returning champions Yeshiva League Pass kicked off their title defense, with a 62-55 win over Baba Salis. Captain Moshe Heller slashed through the defense for 28 points, with Jake Goldberg adding 15 and Benji Dan 13. Ikey Cohen's 15 points, and a dozen each by Judah Klein and Binny Geizhals, paced the venerated kabbalists.
In what emerged as the most thrilling game of the week, Jesse Speers hit a dramatic buzzer-beater to give Chovat Piaseczna's a 63-62 victory over Derech Etz Chaim. Zeev Reemer poured on 30 points, while Speers' game-winner at the horn brought his total to 21.
The TVA-based Chovat squad had built a 9-point lead with just a minute remaining, before Derech Etz Chaim staged a frenetic comeback. DEC grabbed the lead with just seconds remaining, on big shots by Zevi Samet and Zack Lenick, only to witness Speers' climactic bucket send Chovat to victory, and the crowd into pandemonium.
In a tight game, Cyclone Investment was deadlocked with Demi-Glaze at the half, before finally pulling away down the stretch for 62-47 win. Jackie Haber's 17 points, Freddy Swaid's 13, and Jacob Zaccai's 12 powered the victory. Yosef "Rudy" Rudansky led Demi-Glaze with 14, while Shua Sinensky notched 11.
B-Money Cards made an impressive debut, cruising to a 60-37 win over Team Samet. Shmuli Coats poured on 22 points, Spencer Rubenstein scored 16, and Eli Jesselson 11.
TC came out ahead of Midrash Ballers in a defensive struggle, 40-33. Nechemia Gross scored a dozen points, and Ezra Gralla and Paul Haas recorded 8 apiece. Midrash's Nathan Assayag led all scorers with 20.
Vikings 48 - Seidel's Spartans 39
Ezra Sicklick scored 24 points, and Zevi Lawrence 13, as the Vikings pulled away in the waining minutes for a 48-39 win.
Ben Poloner scored 10 for Seidel's, including an astounding half-court shot to beat the halftime buzzer, and Logan Spector added 8.
Regah Ventures fully lapped their opponents, with a 56-28 victory over Big Ballers. Chaikel Schwimmer conducted the offense like a maestro, as the Regah team played with perfect morale and synchronicity.
In a final dash of drama on Opening Weekend, the Tubi Titans and Aish went to overtime, where the Titans prevailed 42 -37.
Titans Zach Brown and Jojo Velenski, HALB alumni both, scored 13 each, while Eli Igbui used all 6 feet 8 inches of his height to dominate the inside. Aish's Avery Stetner had 13 on huge shots.