As Lior Levy prepared this summer to start his basketball career at Franklin and Marshall, he embarked on an overseas hoops adventure that both sharpened his skills and added a chapter to a rich family history.
The recently graduated Princeton High star played for Team USA in the Junior Boys (ages 17-18) division at the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel last month, coming home with a gold medal.
Levy is the third generation of his family after grandfather, Sydney, and father, Howard, a former Princeton University star and assistant coach, to earn gold at the Maccabiah Games. In addition, his younger sister, Mia, a rising junior at PHS, played for Team USA in the Junior Girls division at the competition and also struck gold.
For Levy, the experience was the culmination of a long-held goal. “My dad told me a bunch of stories about it and my granddad did too,” said Levy.
“When my father coached in 2005, the whole family went to support him. I saw the gold medal match in 2009 and it was a great game. It is something I have wanted to do my whole life. It was great.”
The process of playing for the U.S. team started last summer. “I went to a tryout last August in Philadelphia,” recalled Levy, a 6’8 forward.
“It was one day, two sessions. I was there pretty much the whole day. I felt good about the way I played in the tryout but you never know. I found out in the fall, late October, early November. I was really happy.”
It didn’t take Levy long to feel good about the team assembled. “In May we all got together in Philly at the Chestnut Hill Academy,” said Levy, noting that the U.S. head coach Jamie Chadwin guides the boys’ hoops program at the school.
“You could definitely tell that everyone was playing well together and that we could be a good team. We had a lot of smart players.”
Arriving in Israel in early July, the squad came together even more, both on and off the court.
“We got there about 10 days before the games started,” said Levy. “In the first week, we had two practices a day. In the second week, we would get up early and practice at 7 a.m., eat lunch and then go touring. The Holocaust Museum was amazing; it was really moving. The Dead Sea was great.”
On the eve of the pool play portion of the competition, the U.S. team was confident that it could do some great things.
“We thought we could do some damage,” said Levy. “We were playing well together. We had a scrimmage against an older Israeli team and we only lost by two.”
The U.S. team played well from the start, topping South Africa 105-15 in its opener as it went 4-0 in Group B play, winning by an average margin of 81.5 points a game.
“Some of the teams weren’t that good but we kept practicing everyday and got better,” said Levy, who came off the bench and played all three frontcourt spots and had his tournament high with 17 points in a 100-11 rout of Turkey.
“There was a 24-second clock so we played up tempo. We pushed it when we got a chance but we moved the ball around really well in the half court. Defensively we played man to man with a lot of pressure.”
While the U.S. had a lackluster performance in a 63-37 semifinal win over Brazil, the team responded with aplomb to the pressure of facing host Israel in the gold medal game.
“We played our best game against Israel,” said Levy, reflecting on the 78-62 triumph.
“The night before we had a really good team meeting. The coaches prepared us well, they had really scouted them. It was a gold medal game and there was a lot of adrenaline. We were really pumped, the gym was packed and the crowd was against us.”
In the postgame celebration, Levy and his teammates were pumped up. “It was awesome; we were all jumping on each other,” said Levy.
“Our goal was to win and we were relieved. If we had lost it still would have been a good experience. I made some great friends.”
As a bonus, Levy got to share some great moments with his younger sister as she helped the U.S. Junior Girls team win the gold medal.
“That was awesome; I got to go to most of the girls’ games,” said Levy. “They usually played before us so we would get to see half of their games. It was great to support her. It was pretty cool that both of us got gold medals.”
Having arrived at F&M last weekend, Levy believes his experience this summer will help him as he gets into the college game.
“I got a lot better; there were a bunch of good big men on our team and it was great going against them in practice,” said Levy.
“Everyone on the team is going to play in college and the coach ran practices like it was college. We will have captains’ practices and conditioning at F&M this fall. I want to get as good as I can be and fight for some playing time.”