Making a Triumphant Return to Competitive Hoops, PHS Alum Levy Earns Gold at Pan Am Maccabi
GOLDEN MOMENT: Lior Levy displays the gold medal he earned for helping the U.S. open men’s basketball team win the title contest at the 14th Pan American Maccabi Games in Mexico City last month. The former Princeton High and Franklin & Marshall standout emerged as a key frontcourt reserve for the squad.
By Bill Alden
After wrapping up his college basketball career for Franklin & Marshall in 2017, Lior Levy headed to New York City to work in the Teach for America program.
The former Princeton High standout immersed himself in his day job, teaching at Herbert Lehman High in the Bronx with little time for hoops.
But earlier his year, Levy was motivated to start spending more time in the gym as he was chosen to play for the U.S. men’s open basketball team at the 14th Pan American Maccabi Games in Mexico City this July.
“The coach [Jason Polykoff of Friends Central in Pa.] was asking around, looking for some good Jewish basketball players, so I got a call,” said Levy.
“It was guys from all over the country with a bunch of L.A. guys. The coach hand selected the team. When I found out I was going to play in the Maccabi games, I had to get in some sort of shape. This year, I was playing pretty consistently two times a week at least. I played in a competitive men’s league in New York with a bunch of the old Princeton University guys.”
The U.S. squad shaped up well, rolling to the gold medal at the competition, which took place from July 5-15
Before the team headed to Mexico City, Levy sensed that the group could be something special.
“We had a training camp for a week in Dallas and we stayed at a hotel together,” said Levy.
“We had practice twice a day and it was a good time for all of us to bond. It was literally right before, so the games from the first to the fifth of July. It was a really, really good time.”
Building on the bonds forged in Dallas, the U.S. team rolled through the competition in Mexico City, going 4-0 in pool play with wins over Mexico, Australia, Guatemala, and Argentina.
“Really from the start, we all got along really well,” said Levy. “Whether it was eating lunch between practices and dinner afterwards hanging out in the hotel room. We got close very fast and we took that right into the games. By the time we started actually playing, we knew each other well and because everyone was a good guy, everyone played the right way on the court. It was pretty easy to mesh together.”
Adjusting to international rules, the U.S. was able to display its brand of unselfish ball.
“We were from 30 second shot clock in college and we were playing a 24 second shot clock,” said Levy.
“It is much more physical. It was up tempo but we did a really good job of moving the ball and cutting hard, which caught teams off guard because we really did play well together.”
Levy, for his part, played well individually, emerging as key frontcourt reserve.
“I started one game and I was the first big off the bench for the rest of them,” said the 6’8, 230-pound Levy.
“I got to play at least half the game every game which was nice. I did a little bit of everything, I probably averaged about seven points, six rebounds, and four assists or something like that. I was pretty proud of myself. Now that I am not playing every day, and most of the guys on the team were still in college and they are practicing every day, I wasn’t sure how it would go.”
Saving its best for the gold medal game, the U.S. pulled away to a 93-52 victory over Argentina.
“We came in confident because we knew we were the most talented team,” said Levy.
“The whole day before we were very much concentrating on not getting too over confident and coming in like it is a normal game. We did know that we didn’t get Argentina’s best in pool play (an 80-52 win for the U.S.). In the finals we played unbelievable.”
For Levy, getting back on the court was an unbelievable experience.
“To be able to play basketball competitively again was incredible,” said Levy, who earned a gold medal at the 16th Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2013.
“After college, where you are always working towards basketball, you feel a little lost. I couldn’t speak more highly of the group of guys. I definitely do think we will keep in touch. We have our group chats and stuff. In only two weeks, it is hard to do that. That was awesome.”
Off the court, there was an awesome atmosphere around the games.
“From a Jewish perspective, it was cool to see all of these different Jewish athletes,” said Levy.
“There was a hotel resort place that we stayed where a lot of the different countries stayed. We got to meet other people; it was really great. Everyone was happy. Mexico City is a beautiful place.”
While winning gold would be a great ending to Levy’s hoops career, he isn’t ruling out a return to the court in the future.
“I have no plans right now to play again,” said Levy, noting that the Maccabi program also includes 35-and-over and 45-and-over hoops divisions. “Basketball is a huge part of my life, so I will be open to pursuing different options. I am always open to these Maccabiah games.”