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The recent implosion of Tamir Goodman’s playing career at Towson University attracted national press. But almost nobody noticed that the basketball team at Talmudical Academy, where Goodman inspired so many Hebrew hoop dreams, has been disbanded.
“The basketball team is finished. Done. Out,” says Aaron Heisler, Talmudical’s head coach the past two seasons. “It’s not coming back.”
In the fall, Heisler says, Talmudical Principal Tzvi Teichman told him that henceforth only intramural ball will be played on the Pikesville campus. Though in recent years the basketball team was responsible for essentially all the attention the small parochial school got outside the Orthodox Jewish community, insiders had seen the ax falling for some time.
“Nobody here is surprised by this,” says Heisler, who came to Talmudical for the 1999-2000 school year. “Rabbi Teichman wanted no part of what was going on when Tamir was here. If this school is going to have a niche, that niche is going to be academics, not basketball. I knew he wanted to ease basketball out the door when I came here to coach. And this year, he did that.”
According to Heisler, the Talmudical administration began getting skittish about basketball way back in January 1999. That’s when the University of Maryland decided to offer Goodman, then Talmudical’s 16-year-old junior point guard, a basketball scholarship. It is believed that no other Orthodox Jew had ever been given a free ride by a Division I program.
Goodman’s star within the Orthodox community rose higher with every proclamation that he wouldn’t compromise his religious observances, which included staying away from basketball during the traditional Jewish Sabbath and wearing a yarmulke even on the court, for the game’s sake.
Talmudical up to that point played its home games not in a basketball gym but in a catchall facility called the Holtzman Multi-Purpose Room. The sidelines and baselines in the grandstandless space can comfortably accommodate only a few dozen spectators. That was roomy enough in the pre-Goodman years, when the team was semiseriously dubbed the Fighting Davids: deserved underdogs who usually lost, even with God on their side.
But with Goodman on their side, the losing stopped, and then-coach Harold Katz changed the Talmudical team’s name to the Thunder.
After the commitment from Maryland, game nights were indeed different from any other nights. A lot of folks who thus far had had zero interest in basketball or any other athletic endeavor began making regular pilgrimages to Thunder games to have an audience with the slight, redheaded lad who so dominated opponents—Goodman averaged about 37 points per game that season—that he was dubbed the “Jewish Jordan.” Games were moved to huge field houses at area colleges such as Loyola and American.
Ronnie Rosenbluth, owner of Tov Pizza, a kosher pizza establishment near Talmudical’s campus and a favored student hangout, got a bellyful of Goodmania in early 1999 while organizing the annual basketball tournament that his eatery sponsors for Jewish high schools in the Baltimore and Washington area.
“We had to rent out the gym at Goucher College,” says Rosenbluth. “In any other year, we might get 300 people to our tournament. For Tamir’s junior year, we sold all 2,400 tickets three days after we put them on sale. Every ticket we had!”
Fans weren’t the only ones coming to see Goodman, however: When Talmudical played in a New York tournament, representatives from 60 Minutes, the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, MSG Sports, WFMU, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the local WB affiliate, the Jewish Week, the Forward, the Jewish Press, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, along with “some documentary filmmakers,” attended, according to the Yeshiva University PR office.
The buzz finally got to be too much for Talmudical’s administrators.
“I was at Talmudical the night they told Peter Jennings’ crew to leave the campus,” says Rosenbluth. “[School administrators] had had enough.”
Goodman’s hoops career and Talmudical’s basketball program both began a downward slide after his junior season. Before the end of the school year, Katz was asked to look elsewhere for a coaching job. Then Talmudical Academy administrators asked Goodman to find another high school. And, in September 1999, after Goodman played far below expectations against other top hoops recruits at summer basketball camps, Maryland coach Gary Williams backed away from the scholarship offer, according to the player.
Katz was replaced by Heisler. Goodman transferred to Takoma Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Takoma Park, for his rather anonymous senior season. And Towson University tendered to Goodman the scholarship he wouldn’t be getting from Maryland.
On paper, Towson seemed like a nice fit for Goodman. The college’s campus is mere minutes away from Talmudical’s, and enough of the Orthodox community turned up at Towson games during his freshman year that kosher food and yarmulkes in school colors were sold at home dates. For the first time, Tov Pizza even became a sponsor of Towson’s athletic program. A basketball signed by Goodman and other members of last year’s Towson team is on display in the restaurant.
But Goodman couldn’t adjust his all-pass, no-shot game to the higher level. As a freshman last season, he started 23 games, but averaged just six points on 37 percent shooting. Towson put up a dismal 12-17 record, so coach Mike Jaskulski, who had recruited Goodman, was fired. Last summer, Goodman didn’t even make the U.S. basketball team for the 2001 Maccabiah Games, the so-called Jewish Olympics held every four years in Israel.
This season, new Towson coach Michael Hunt took Goodman out of the starting lineup, and the player-coach relationship blew up in December. Goodman accused Hunt of kicking a stool into him and threatening him with a chair in a post-game locker room tirade. After he considered pressing assault charges against the coach, Goodman, who was averaging under 2 points per game for Towson, instead quit the team and declared he would never again play for Hunt. Towson’s athletic department stood by Hunt. Goodman, who turns 20 later this month, has said he’ll transfer but hasn’t said where.
By last year, Talmudical was back to playing like the Fighting Davids in the Multi-Purpose Room, and administrators were making it clear that they wanted the school to crank out rabbis, not point guards.
“I really don’t know what our record was,” says Heisler, who now runs Talmudical’s intramural program. “Winning really wasn’t important. Things are different here now than when Tamir was here.”
Rosenbluth stopped sponsoring Towson basketball after Goodman quit the team. He is, however, preparing for another Tov Pizza Invitational. Current plans call for the 2002 tourney to tip off March 9, assuming Rosenbluth can find a local rec center to host it. The size of the gym isn’t much of an issue this year, he says. —Dave McKenna