In honor of March Madness, we’re taking a look at some of the top Jewish athletes in the world today. Whether it’s Jacob Steinmetz striking out Manny Machado at the World Baseball Classic or Abby Meyers leading the University of Maryland to the No. 2 spot in the NCAA tournament, each of these eight Jewish athletes is at the top of their game.
Here’s a bit of information to get to know each one, on and off the court/field.
1. Jacob Steinmetz
The first known Orthodox player drafted in Major League Baseball had difficulty in the minor leagues with a high E.R.A.
That made it all the more movie-like when Team Israel’s manager Ian Kinsler started him against the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and he struck out Padres star Manny Machado on a nasty slider away.
“That’s pretty impressive,” announcer Dave Fleming said on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast of a 19-year-old striking out one of the best hitters in the world.
He also got Padres great Juan Soto to make a surprised face after swinging and missing on a fastball.
The pitcher also struck out former Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena on a slider away and Twins catcher Gary Sanchez on a four-seam fastball at the knees that caught the bottom of the strike zone as the hitter left the bat on his shoulder.
At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the Woodmere, Long Island, native has the frame to be a star as well as the velocity and know-how. But let’s see him pitch consistently in the minors for an entire season.
This outing should give him great confidence going into the upcoming season. Taken in the third round of the 2021 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, at 77th overall, Steinmetz said that he hopes to get to the big leagues as fast as possible.
“The longer I can play baseball at a high level, the longer Jewish kids across America can see someone like them living the dream,” Steinmetz, who graduated from Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway High School, told Aish.com.
While he went winless in seven starts with an E.R.A of 8.25 last season, his numbers should be better this season.
2. Abby Meyers
Abby Meyers, a Jewish guard for the Maryland Terrapins, scored nine points and had two assists in a 77-64 victory over the Arizona Wildcats to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament, on March 19.
She averaged 14.5 points and 5.4 rebounds on the season. No. 2 Maryland will face No. 3 Notre Dame this Saturday. In the first round, Maryland beat Holy Cross 93-61 with Meyers scoring 16 points with four rebounds and two assists.
Meyers led Team USA to a gold medal in the Maccabiah Games in July 2022, with her notching 16 points and 11 rebounds in the final.
She told JTA that she has a large following of Jewish students who support her at Maryland, which has a population of about 6,000 students and they “love the fact I am Jewish.”
Maccabi USA women’s coach Sherry Levin said that she chose Meyers to be captain because “she checks every box.” Watch as she scored 24 points in one game against Penn State last month:
3. Ryan Turell
The 6-foot-7 shooting guard/small forward set numerous records at Yeshiva University, helping the team go on an unbeaten streak of 50 games that drew national headlines, and he led the team to a Skyline Conference championship.
He nearly helped the team make a dramatic comeback in a close loss to Johns Hopkins in the NCAA Division III tournament last season.
This season, with the Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, the Los Angeles native who is Orthodox and plays with a yarmulke on his head, hasn’t gotten so much playing time, but he scored 21 points on 8-10 shooting in 17 minutes in a December game where he nailed four of five 3-pointers.
He needs to get some more playing time and will naturally work to improve defensively. Many are looking to see if Turell, a high-percentage shooter who can provide instant offense, will get time to prove himself and to improve guarding players.
“Being the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA would mean the world to me, and a dream come true God willing,” Turell told ESPN. “But just as importantly, it would mean the world to others that never saw this as a possibility.”
4. Harry Sheezel
Australian football player Harry Sheezel is the first Jewish player to be drafted by the Australian Football League since 1999.
Not yet 20 years old, playing a sport similar to rugby, he plays for the North Melbourne Kangaroos, where he is signed until 2026.
Sheezel reportedly isn’t religious. Taken with the third pick in 2022, the medium forward graduated from Mount Scopus Memorial College, a Modern Orthodox school. Sheezel was recently named a Round 1 AFL Rising Star nominee.
He has switched positions to be a half-back and had 34 disposals, the most in in a debut in 39 years. A disposal refers to a player passing the ball legally, with a handball or kick.
“I was pretty shocked,” he said in a recent interview, adding that the performance shows he belongs. In the sport, two 18-player teams compete on an oval-shaped field and get points by kicking the ball through the goalposts.
Sheezel faced online antisemitism when he was drafted into the AFL. “I feel fine. I don’t let that stuff get to me,” he told the Australian Associated Press.
He has been vocal about his pride at being the first Jewish player on an AFL list since the early 2000s. “Hopefully I can be an example for these kids,” he said.
5. Deni Avdija
The Israeli forward who stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs 210 pounds is having his best year in the NBA, averaging 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds, shooting 42.3 percent from the field for the Washington Wizards.
He has scored at least 20 points on six occasions, with his high of 25 coming in a 127-106 win over the San Antonio Spurs on January 30. He had 20 rebounds in a 100-97 victory over the Chicago Bulls on January 11. Selected with the ninth overall pick in 2020, he is a solid passer as well.
He became the highest player drafted from Israel, as Omri Casspi was drafted 23rd by the Sacramento Kings in 2009. Avdija played two seasons on Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Avdija’s length gives him a presence on defense, and he has a high basketball IQ. He makes more than $5 million a year and the 22-year-old has shown durability.
The Israeli League MVP in 2020 has the game in his genes as his father, Zufer was a professional basketball player.
“It means a lot for me, Israel is a small country,” Avdija said in a draft night televised interview. “I love the support…I’m gonna work 100 percent.”
As can be seen in these highlights, he can drive to the basket, and also hit jumpers.
6. Hailey Kops
At 19, Hailey Kops became the first Orthodox woman to compete in the Olympics for Team Israel, finishing in 15th at the 2022 Beijing Olympics with Ukrainian-Israeli partner Evgeni Krasnopolski.
“I’m more comfortable on the ice than I am probably on the ground,” Kops said in 2021 on the “Surviving The Survivor” podcast.
She started competing at the age of six and the West Orange, New Jersey, native has benefitted from the coaching of her mother, who was a figure skater.
She qualified for the Olympics in a competition in Germany, despite only skating three months with her partner.
Watch Kops and Krasnopolski’s performance to Josh Groban’s cover of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha”:
7. Natan Levy
As far as tough Jews go, Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Natan Levy ranks near the top. Given a contract by UFC head Dana White, Levy is 8-1 in his MMA career and will face Pete Rodriguez on Saturday night, April 29. His kicks are highly impressive, and he can submit opponents on the ground as well.
Levy, 31, who is from Israel, drew headlines by calling out Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, when he made antisemitic remarks, saying, “come see me bro” if he had a problem.
The 155-pound lightweight most recently beat Andrew Glenn on December 3 in a unanimous decision.
8. Diego Schwartzman
Diego Schwartzman is one of the shortest players at about 5-foot-7 and has shown his comedic side, joking about height difference when playing such stars as American John Isner.
Schwartzman, who is from Argentina and currently ranks #38 in the world, uses speed and accuracy to make up for not having a booming serve.
With Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela retiring, Schwartzman is the Jewish player you are guaranteed to see if you go to the US Open in August.
In the French Open, he once had a 2-set-to-1 lead over Novak Djokovic, though he ultimately lost. He beat Dominic Thiem in the 2020 French Open quarterfinal and upset 6-foot-6 Martin Cilic in the third round of the 2017 US Open.
The grandson of Holocaust survivors was ranked as high as 8th and told the Jerusalem Post he enjoyed a trip to Israel.
He is able to generate great power on his forehand, despite not having a large frame. Watch as he hits a baseline winner past Djokovic at the 2022 French Open:
Originally Published Mar 23, 2023 05:02PM EDT