Back in his high school days, Dani Katz helped the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School basketball team get into two conference championship games. Now a starter for the men’s basketball team at Yeshiva University in New York, Katz helped the Maccabees to their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history.
Katz is a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward who started all season and played a role in the fourth-seeded Yeshiva’s upset victory in the Skyline Conference men’s tournament last weekend. That championship earned the school an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament and a trip to York, Pa., where the Maccabees will play York College on March 2 at 1 p.m.
The York game was originally planned for Friday night, but was moved because of Shabbat. If Yeshiva wins and advances, the Maccabees would play on Saturday at 8:30 p.m., also at York.
Katz started 27 out of 28 games this year for Yeshiva and averaged 7.8 points per game, plus a team high 3.4 assists. He said beating the top two teams in the conference in the final two rounds — including an 87-81 victory over Purchase College in New York on the road in the championship game — was an amazing experience.
“We just came together, and we just pushed and got the first NCAA tournament berth for the school,” Katz said. “We’re still processing it in everyone’s mind. We’re still a little shocked by it, but as a team we’re happy.”
Katz said the media has taken notice at Yeshiva. He said there was a TV crew filming a 7 a.m. practice earlier this week, covering a team that’s making its first tournament appearance since beginning play in the 1933-34 season.
Coach Elliot Steinmetz told his team to ignore the cameras and all of the commotion this week and simply focus on beating York this Friday. “The first practice [this week] was hard, but [Tuesday] we got back to the defensive plans for York,” Katz said. “We got back and focused on what we needed to do.”
Still, he said the players on the team will never forget the experience of making the tournament. Katz said they watched the NCAA Selection Show for Division III on TV in the school vice-president’s office.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Katz said. “The whole school has been [involved].”
Katz’s old friends in Baltimore also added some support in recent days. Beth Tfiloh basketball coach Ari Braun made the 3½-hour drive up to see the championship game on Sunday. The experience delighted Katz’s former coach.
“It’s not that I’ve had many guys play college basketball with a chance to go to the NCAA tournament,” Braun said. “I believe he’s the first, and not only that, I coached his three older brothers and for his dad. I go way back with the family, so it was something different. It was even more special.”
Katz, whose family belongs to Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Synagogue in Upper Park Heights, said he received 15-20 offers from Division II and Division III colleges to play for them while at Beth Tfiloh. However, Katz said he wanted to go to a Jewish school and a religious institution to continue his observance of Judaism while playing basketball.
He did well with that at Beth Tfiloh as the school went to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference title game twice, but lost each time.
Katz has already helped Yeshiva make some history. He said he’d like to do it again this weekend.
“From the beginning, we had all the chemistry,” Katz said. “It’s just a good group of guys that know they can play with each other. If we play our game – on offense and defense – we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Jeff Seidel is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.