Men’s Open Basketball team seeks Pan Am Redemption

Chile Basketball Team (2) Chile Basketball Team (1) Chile Basketball Team (6) Chile Basketball Team (7)By Alan Hudes, Freelance Writer.   

Ave Bross knew Canada’s Jewish basketball team had to get younger.

Two years after a disappointing seventh-place finish at the 19th Maccabi Games in Israel, the former McGill point guard and Maccabi veteran finds himself at the centre of the team’s budding core. One of three returnees from the 2013 squad, Bross highlights a handful of players with Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) experience that will compete at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Santiago, Chile this December.

“Israel was a tough time for us – we didn’t live up to our potential,” said Bross at the opening of the team’s training camp last month, which ran for four days at the University of Toronto’s new Goldring Centre as well as Downsview Park. “We’re going to work our (butts) off to make sure we make Canada proud, because last time, it wasn’t the best feeling.”

The Pan Am Maccabi Games is a regional event held every four years in a Central or South American country, organized by the Latin American Maccabi Confederation. Athletes from across the Americas, Israel and other countries participate, where the mission is “to perpetuate and preserve the Pan American Jewish community by encouraging Jewish pride, strengthening Jewish bonds, and by creating a heightened awareness of Israel and Jewish identity,” according to the Maccabi World Union.

Bross has embraced that experience, competing in the last four Maccabi events at both the open and junior levels, dating to the 2007 Pan Am Maccabi Games in Argentina. In his senior year with Redmen last season, the Toronto native appeared in his third straight Quebec university championship, after winning back-to-back titles from 2012-13.

He’ll be joined in the backcourt by three second-year guards – Toronto Varsity Blues’ Sage Usher, Keenan Benarroch of the Manitoba Bisons, who is the lone player from Western Canada, and Mor Menashe, a native of Ein Carmel, Israel, recruited last season by the Lakehead Thunderwolves. In a pair of recent preseason games, Menashe scored 18 points, followed by another 11 as Lakehead swept Benarroch’s Bisons.

“We’re not going to be the tallest team, but our strength is in our guard play, our quickness and our defensive abilities,” said assistant coach Alex Brainis, who serves as Maccabi Canada’s executive vice president. “Everybody came in with an intense attitude. We will have the strongest 1-2-3 combination in Chile.”

Prior to moving to Thunder Bay, Ont., Menashe spent time playing with current Israeli national team members Yogev Ohayon and Dagan Yivzori of Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Hapoel Jerusalem’s Bar Timor. Benarroch, meanwhile, redshirted in 2014-15 after transferring from the University of Winnipeg Wesmen’s college team, where he was named the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference’s most valuable player.

Chile Basketball Team (5)The abundance of CIS experience bodes well for the team, with the players being accustomed to FIBA’s 24-second shot clock and other international rules that are used here at home. But despite the familiarities and the high skill-level, height remains a concern.

“There’s not a lot of height on this team,” admitted the 6-foot-3 Usher, who will play alongside his brother, Brando, in Chile. “We’re going to have to play fast. We’re going to have to get down the court real quick, switch things defensively, and shoot the ball well from the perimeter.”

Max Segal and Max Grossman – two players that played in Israel in 2013 – along with newcomers Jason Bitton and Adam Halpern of Toronto and Montreal’s Noah Friedman, round out the roster. The open team will also have a new leader behind the bench in Allon Bross, Ave’s father and a member of Maccabi Canada’s board of directors.

With a young group whose most experienced players are 20-22 years old – and for whom Allon emphasized could “lay the foundation” of the team’s entry at the 2017 Maccabi Games – expectations are much higher than the previous outing.

“I don’t take the team on unless I think we’re going to medal,” said Allon. “We will face some stiff competition. The Americans are very difficult, but after that…we’ll be in the fight.”