Coach: Four from the North Shore part of Maccabi USA Team
When he was asked to be the USA 16 and under basketball coach for the upcoming World Maccabiah games in Israel, one of the first requests from longtime North suburban basketball guru Mike Weinstein was "Can we hold the tryouts here in Chicago?"
The answer was a hard no.
Philadelphia to the east, and Los Angeles to the west would be the tryout locations, making it inconvenient, to say the least, for any of the Chicago-area athletes interested in competing.
This, however, proved to be but a small stumbling block for four of our top up-and-coming local basketball standouts, with whom hoops fans will become very familiar in the upcoming high season. Not only did they make the long trip out-of-state for tryouts, they bested dozens of others and played well enough to be selected for the team!
Deerfield's Drew Rogers and Charlie Robin, along with New Trier's Logan Feller, and Glenbrook North's Brandon Wilensky all will be making the trip to Israel later this month, and their head coach Mike Weinstein, couldn't be happier to have them part the team.
"All four are really great kids," Weinstein says. "I have worked with them before and, besides their obvious basketball talent, they all have great attitudes, are solid teammates, and most of all, have a real passion for the game of basketball."
Feller, from New Trier, a still-growing 6'2 point guard, directed the Trevian sophomore squad last year. I remember going to a sophomore game last season between New Trier and Glenbrook South, and not knowing anything about the Trev sophomores, he was the one who caught my eye and who most impressed me. Feller figures to play a prominent role for the Trevs varsity this upcoming season.
"I love this guy's game," says Weinstein of Feller. "First of all, he can play multiple positions on the floor and be effective from each, and he just has a way of making his teammates better. Logan is tough, he is smart, plays with an attitude, and he is like a coach on the floor. Really excited to have him be part of the team," coach adds.
As for Glenbrook North's Brandon Wilensky, who played a key role for the Spartans outstanding sophomore team from last year and figures to be in the varsity rotation in the future, Weinstein had nothing but praise. "He just outworked some of the guys at the tryouts who maybe came in with bigger reputations," coach said.
"Brandon is the type of kid that will do whatever it takes to help his team. He takes charges, he dives for loose balls, he battles for tough rebounds, sets screens, plays bigger than his 6'3 size, and just when you least expect it, he can bury the three. Most of all Brandon is a team-first guy and will do whatever it takes to support the squad."
As for the two from Deerfield? Both should be impact players, not only in Israel but also for the upcoming 2022-23 Warriors basketball squad.
Charlie Robin is listed, maybe a bit generously, as a 6'2 guard, but the kid who starred for Deerfield's sophomore team last year is clearly an arrow pointing up basketball talent.
"Charlie simply knows how to play the game," Weinstein says, describing why he chose the young man. "He knows how to score, he knows how to set up teammates; he is not afraid of the moment, and he has a unique toughness on the court as well. All of these attributes achieved mainly because Charlie has been an absolute basketball junkie -- playing since he was a little kid. He is a true gym rat who quite simply has a tremendous passion for the game of basketball."
The last member of the locals for the Team USA squad is 6'8 rising sophomore Drew Rogers. Rogers impacted early for Deerfield as a freshman, when he was promoted to the Warriors varsity team and, in fact, started for them most of the season. His is a name that, with his skill set, desire to work, and natural athletic talents, has a chance to be one of the better ones to come out of the North Shore in recent memory. Oh, and his height and length doesn't hurt either.
"Drew is really working hard on his game," Coach Weinstein says. "He is in the gym a ton this summer and working on his footwork, his moves, and his overall skillset. Drew is hungry to get better and, combined with his natural athleticism for a big man, his future is definitely very bright. I think the experience playing in the World Games in Israel will be really valuable for him."
The other players from around the United States have just arrived here in Chicago for practice time and team bonding before leaving. They come from North Carolina, California, Georgia, Texas and New York.
So molding this group into a cohesive unit in such a short period of time will be a challenge.
"We are going to get them in a big tournament this weekend here in Chicago where they will face some solid competition, and maybe get some scrimmage games, so hopefully that will help them get ready," says coach.
The Team USA contingent will head out to Israel en masse on Monday, July 4. The first week will be for cultural programs and some practice time; the competition runs through July 26.
The Maccabiah Games, which started in 1932, have grown to become the third largest athletic competition in the world, with more than 10,000 athletes competing. The games are played similar to the Olympic Games, every four years, with the previous two years being canceled due to the Pandemic.
A few other local basketball stars will be making the trip. Niles North, now Washington University guard Yogi Oliff, Evanston hoops legend, now Princeton player Blake Peters and New Trier, now Harvard's Sam Silverstein, all will be competing for the older squads.
A final note: One of the reasons Weinstein took the job as Team USA coach was so that his dad, Allan, could watch his son coach maybe one final time. Dad was living in Israel at the time and Coach Mike thought this would be a perfect opportunity to see him and get some quality hoops time with him.
Unfortunately, since the time he was named coach, dad's health has gotten worse and they had to bring him back home, closer to family here.
"My dad won't be able to make the trip," Mike said sadly. "We will make sure he gets to watch as the games are streamed, and I know he will be our biggest fan -- even from the great distance away."
The squad of 12, including the four here from the Chicago area and their families, are looking forward to the trip. Both the basketball part and the great culture and education they will get along the way. It should be a tremendous experience.
And make no mistake, the team plans on bringing some medals back and making the reunion of coach and his dad a happy one.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email email@example.com.