Since Elliot Steinmetz took over as the head basketball coach at Yeshiva University (YU)—a predominantly Orthodox school in Manhattan that offers rabbinic ordination along with conventional degrees—the team has won 69 percent of its games, with a record-making streak this season. Its best player, the six-foot-seven Ryan Turell, turned down athletic scholarships at schools with Division I teams so that he could continue his religious studies at YU; the NBA has nonetheless shown interest in him. Gary Belsky describes what makes the team unique:
Yeshiva’s subordination of athletics to almost everything else is unusual, even for a Division III school. “There’s no pressure from boosters on coaches,” the athletic director, Greg Fox, says. “There’s no pressure from coaches on professors or admissions. Zero. Student-athletes are expected to fulfill both their undergraduate Torah studies and general-studies class requirements.” Practice on most days is at 6 am, before morning prayer services. The result is a team of players who present as notably thoughtful and balanced, sometimes to an almost unbelievable extreme.
Gabriel Leifer, [another of the team’s star players], who’s all of twenty-two, is gearing up for his final season while navigating the demands of his second year of marriage, his first year of grad school, and the early months of a full-time job as a real-estate tax associate for the global consulting giant PwC.
Steinmetz knew all the obstacles and saw opportunity. “I thought if I could get top-level Orthodox kids to ‘stay home,’ [i.e., attend YU rather than a school with a Division I basketball team], we could build something great,” says the coach, whose team hasn’t had a losing season since he took over.