This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of MemphiSport.
People love a good Cinderella story and this year, there is one about a Memphis team that is being talked about around the country. There is a high school basketball program that is on the rise. The Margolin Hebrew Academy Cooper Yeshiva Boys’ High School represents Memphis and the Mid-South as the only Jewish High School in the area.
The Margolin Hebrew Academy is a small school in the heart of East Memphis. The boys high school, Cooper Yeshiva, has only 40 young men. The academy was founded in 1949 in order to provide academic excellence in general studies as well as in studying the Torah and Israel. In recent times, however, the school can add successful extracurricular activities to their list of accomplishments.
This year, under the coaching of Richard Lewis and Craig Wiener, the boys basketball team broke all previous records held by the school as well as won regional and national recognition. (quote from Lewis)
Head Coach, Richard Lewis, has a rich history with the school. He played for the high school all four years and then went to Yeshiva University in New York, where the Championship tourney was held, and played at NCAA Division III level.
Lewis returned home after college and wanted to get back involved with the school. He was contacted about a job opening three years ago and took the job. He does this completely voluntarily, as does his coaching staff. That is something he has in common with his players, as they go to school for over nine hours a day and have to fit basketball into their everyday lives.
There are many things that made this team special. For one, these kids are not only teammates, but they do everything together as they have such a small school and very tight-knit community.
Coach Lewis said this year was different because, “usually we have one good player and the team revolves around them, but this year we had a really good player and a great supporting cast.” The specific player that Lewis referred to is junior Eli Osdoba. The other starters on the team were Bryan Itkowitz, Justin Wruble, Ethan Cooper, and the lone senior Jeremy Cooper.
The Margolin Hebrew Academy recently brought home the Tier 2 Championship title from the 21st Annual Yeshiva University Sharacheck HS Basketball Tournament held at Yeshiva University in New York. Not only did the team win this title, a first for their school, but they went into the tournament as a major underdog. Other schools at this tournament had long-running records and nearly six times the student body compared Margolin.
Another honor Margolin brought back to the Midsouth was Tier 2 MVP, awarded to a Cooper Yeshiva junior, Eli Osdoba. Eli Osdoba generated quite the buzz at the tournament not only on the offensive end, but on defense as well. Eli was the 2nd leading scorer in the entire tournament and guarded the best player in the “Box-1” scheme called by Lewis Osdoba even caught the eye of Yeshiva University coaches.
The end of the game was intense, Margolin held a lead at halftime, their first halftime lead in the tourney. They fell behind in the fourth quarter and had to mount a comeback in the final minute to snatch the victory. The game came down to a foul call in the final 20 seconds that went Margolin’s way and Osdoba sealed the win with a pair of free throws in the final seconds.
On the victory, Lewis said, “The victory was a culmination of the season and all the hard work, I had to fight back tears once that buzzer sounded.”
While the season is over for the team, they can take off their uniforms knowing that they had an incredible season. Regional season highlights include winning the Shelby County Basketball League in both the regular season and the playoffs and winning the Collierville Classic. On a national level, Margolin Hebrew Academy finished as the #14 Jewish high school in the country with the Jewish nation’s longest winning streak of 17. They also finished the year with an impressive record of 27-5, putting them as the second best of any Jewish high school in the country.
Next year the team hopes to compete in Tier 1 of the tournament. “I think we can compete with the best Jewish schools in the country with this team.” The team will be returning all but one player from this year’s squad, Jeremy Cooper, who is the team’s only senior. The main thing Coope brought to the table was a leader off the court. Cooper was a young man who organized team BBQs, team trips, and provided many things that were not seen on the basketball court. Lewis is hoping that one or some of the current players fill the void of Cooper’s absence next year.
This team has given Memphis another reason for some pride!
Photo courtesy of Margolin Hebrew Academy