Tiger Hoops Coach Levy Adding to Family Legacy By Guiding U.S. Youth Team at Maccabiah Games
By Bill Alden
For Howard Levy, taking part in the World Maccabiah Games is a family tradition.
Levy's basketball education was colored by his father's recollections of experiences he had with the U.S. team in the 1957 Games, which bring together Jewish athletes from around the world for an Olympic-style competition.
"My father liked to tell stories about how they used to play in an outdoor stadium with the court surrounded by a moat," said Levy with his eyes lighting up.
"When the ball went out of bounds it got wet. His team was coached by Harry Litwack, the old Temple coach. I went to Harry's camp when I was a kid so I always knew what it was."
Levy grew into a 6'10 star center for Princeton University, graduating in 1985 with a career field goal percentage of .647, still the best mark in program history.
After graduating from Princeton, Levy followed in his father's footsteps and played for the U.S. team in the 1985 Maccabiah Games, earning a gold medal in the process.
Levy played again in 1989, getting silver as the U.S. fell to Israel in the gold medal game. The towering Levy served as an assistant coach for the U.S. in 1993, helping that squad to a silver medal.
The versatile Levy, a 1990 George Washington University Law School graduate, has been an assistant coach for the Tiger men's basketball team the last nine seasons in addition to running an apparel business, HYP Hats.
This week, Levy is adding another chapter to his family's Maccabiah lore as he arrives in Israel to serve as the head coach of the U.S. Youth Squad which includes players born in 1987-88.
"They asked me if I would coach this team and it's worked out fine," said Levy, who guided his squad two-a-day practices in Jadwin Gym during the last week of June before the team departed for Israel on July 2 for the Games which run from July 10-21.
"It's good to get to see some young players and help develop them. You can really teach them a lot. These guys have come a long way in a couple of days."
Like his experiences with Maccabiah teams, Levy can sense his players developing tight bonds already.
"They are a good bunch of kids, they have really taken to each other," said Levy, whose squad includes players from South Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and upstate New York. "I think they get along with each other and they care about each other."
In Levy's view, the benefits of the Maccabiah experience go far beyond the basketball court.
"I think it's a great trip for them to start the growing up process," asserted Levy.
"Basketball-wise it's a college experience before they get to college. To go over to Israel and experience all the things they are going to experience as friends and as Jews is great. You really feel like you are part of something."
Levy felt part of something special from his first moments at the 1985 Games. "It's the most amazing feeling," recalled Levy, who met his business partners at the 1985 Games.
"It's a great feeling to walk into a 50,000 seat stadium and know that almost all of the people there are Jewish athletes. When I went to college, there weren't many Jewish people at Princeton. It was great to meet all these people that were just like me and to see this whole world of Jewish athletes."
Levy's participation in the 1985 Games deepened his appreciation for the host country. "It helps you develop a strong feeling for Israel, which is important," said Levy, noting that he met his wife Riva, a native of Israel, on a subsequent trip to the country.
"I know that the friendships I have made there have lasted through my life. To me if you play basketball in Israel, you adopt this Israeli culture, it becomes important to you."
Another culture that has been just as important to Levy is the storied Princeton basketball program that he has been involved with for most of the last three decades. "There have been a lot of wonderful people involved in the program," said Levy, who played on Ivy League title teams in 1983 and 1984 and won the program's B.F. Bunn Trophy for the 1985 season.
"The program is the people and the people are the program. I think the way we do things is right. We do coach values that I think are the right values. We teach hard work, unselfishness, honesty, and giving maximum effort all the time."
Levy acknowledges that the Princeton approach, that was forged, in large part, by the fiery Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril, rubs some people the wrong way.
"These values may not be the most popular values right now," said Levy, who resides in Princeton with his wife and their three children.
"A word that comes up a lot is tough. We say that being tough is doing what you are supposed to do all the time. If you are supposed to be in this spot every day at 8 a.m., then you're there everyday at 8 a.m. If you're supposed to run to this spot on the court when that happens, then you do it every single time."
Incorporating that toughness doesn't just lead to winning basketball teams. "It helps you grow up," asserted Levy, whose coaching colleagues include such former Princeton stars as head coach Joe Scott '87 and Mike Brennan '94.
"It helps you be a good functioning member of society. You see that there is a bond that has developed across generations because we're teaching the same values that we learned."
Although the three-hour practices with his young Maccabiah players have left him hoarse, Levy is relishing the chance to pass on the values he has gained from the Games and Princeton.
"I feel lucky to have both the Maccabiah and Princeton experiences," asserted Levy. "A lot of people don't have one of those experiences and I have two. It's pretty special that these kids can take some of this stuff. We're telling them stuff that is going to help them become better players."
And no doubt, Levy's players will have some great stories to pass on to their friends and relatives.