Players on Hillel Day School basketball teams hoop it up at halftime of a Detroit Pistons game

By Steve Stein, Contributing Writer

Hillel Day School students were on the court for the national anthem and played a scrimmage basketball game at halftime of a Detroit Pistons game last month at Little Caesars Arena.

It was the same day as a ticket deal offered by the Pistons and the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation, with 10 percent of ticket sales donated to the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

It also was “a total coincidence” that Hillel and the foundation had promotions on the same day, Dec. 9, according to Hillel athletic director Nicole Miller.

“We didn’t know about the (foundation’s) ticket offer until we were at the game,” she said.

“The Pistons gave us three possible dates in the fall to be involved in the national anthem and play in the halftime game, and we chose the Sunday afternoon one because we thought it would be best for our students and their families. We’re glad it worked out that it was the same day as the (foundation’s) ticket offer.”

It was a great Sunday afternoon for the Hillel students even though the Pistons lost 116-108 to the New Orleans Pelicans in front of a crowd of 14,705.

Twenty Hillel students were on the Stars & Stripes Squad. They stood on the court with the Pistons and Pelicans for the national anthem and each received a T-shirt.

Fifteen members of Hillel basketball teams played a six-minute running-time scrimmage game at halftime.

Hillel coaches Josh Cutler and Brad Freitag were the coaches of the co-ed halftime teams. The coaches’ most important task was substituting players in and out of the game — each team had five players on the court at one time — so everyone got as much playing time as possible.

The Hillel players were introduced by fabled Pistons public address announcer John Mason, who provided a running commentary during the game, and the action was televised on the huge overhead scoreboard.

Merrick Michaelson

Hillel eighth-grader Merrick Michaelson created a memory he’ll never forget when he drained a 3-pointer from just behind the arc that was worthy of a replay on the scoreboard.

“I’ve always wanted to play on an NBA court and make a three. It was exciting,” said the 13-year-old Farmington Hills resident, who gave credit to teammate Zach Elbinger for making the pass that set up his 3-pointer.

“I thought it was going in when I shot it,” Michaelson said. “The ball hit the rim a little, but it was a good shot. That was my first shot of the game. I missed my next two shots. I was nervous playing with all those people watching, but it was an amazing experience.”

Miller said there were about 75 people including family members in the Hillel entourage at the game. Being on the Stars & Stripes Squad and playing at halftime was part of a group ticket package.

This was the first Hillel promotion at a Pistons game at Little Caesars Arena. The Farmington Hills school was involved in a Jewish Heritage Night event at the Palace of Auburn Hills about five years ago, Miller said.

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