Ed Wiener won a gold medal as part of Team USA’s basketball squad in the 1953 Maccabiah Games. His competitive nature says that it’s past time for another one. This year, with Ed at the helm, he’s hoping the 10-man team he’s rallied together will bring home the 2017 Maccabiah basketball gold.
And won’t that look good on his resume?
It’s been well chronicled here in Jewish Scene Magazine about his Hall-of-Fame Tennessee Volunteer basketball career, his eight games played against the Harlem Globetrotters, and even his brief stay in the NBA before entering the field of dentistry. But coaching – that’s a first for the man who just celebrated a very special birthday.
Wiener’s been available for individual coaching work over the years, maybe for a Margolin Hebrew Academy MACs player during their pre-season local tournament, or years ago when he reached out to help former University of Tennessee (UT) star Ernie Grunfeld with his jump shot. But being responsible for an entire team – now that is a first.
It took a call from Josh Kahane to convince him. Kahane, a former MACS player, former Pan American player and Maccabi USA Masters Men’s 35+Basketball co-chairman, asked Wiener last summer if he’d considered the opportunity to pilot the team. At first Weiner was hesitant.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, I didn’t know if I could do it,” Wiener said. “It’s a big responsibility.”
He wasn’t the only reluctant party. When Kahane approached Maccabi USA officials about wanting Wiener to lead them, they thought he was crazy. After all, they could have gone with a well-known name such as Josh Pastner, Larry Brown, Seth Greenburg or a spate of other Jewish coaches. But Kahane convinced his teammates that it was a right call, and the Maccabi officials came around.
After a few minutes he got the response he was hoping for from the UT great. Teaching these players would be at a minimum, Kahane assured him, but instilling chemistry and teamwork in players unfamiliar with others’ play might be a bit more difficult.
The players – hailing from L.A. to New Jersey, Houston to Illinois and Virginia – have all played either Division I or II basketball during their college days and are still active in summer and JCC leagues. They all love the game and maintain those competitive edges on the court and at work.
One of the Maccabi 35+ USA Masters player is 46. “He was a point guard at the University of Wisconsin, and he’s in great shape,” Wiener said. “As good as any point guard you’ll find in a small college. He’s got a great game.”
Another player was a two-year starter for Yale. So, this team knows how to win. “Coaching them is a pretty easy thing to do – if we can get everyone’s head straight,” he added.
In addition to college ball, they’ve all competed in various Maccabiah divisions.
The team has settled on an eight-man rotation. “Everybody is on board,” Wiener says. “I’ve got a couple of big guys, finesse guys and a pure point guard. As far as the local Memphis hero, game conditions will determine Kahane’s minutes. Josh is a good shooter; he’s got a great shot. He’ll get his minutes in, but it’ll depend on who we play and the situation.”
The team has gone through several mini-camps to prepare for the Israeli games – ones in Miami, Kansas City, L.A. and Phoenix where they’ve prepared for what will be a competitive week against teams from all over the world. In addition to their man-to-man defense, they’ve added a “few twists” in anticipation of zone defenses.
The players have eaten together, played together, and talked basketball together, hoping to prepare themselves for the international play. The pace and the schedule should be quick and competitive. Immediately after the opening ceremonies on July 6, USA faces the national teams from Australia, Russia, Chile and Israel.
“I’ve got the same goals they have,” Wiener said. “We’re all in it together. I want to win a gold medal and after that I’ll retire.”