It was a memorable inaugural season for the Detroit Shul Basketball League.

There couldn’t have been a more exciting finish to the first season of an improbable league.

Young Israel of Oak Park and a team headed by Dylan Bressler locked up in a close battle in the playoff championship game of the new Detroit Shul Basketball League last month at Farber Hebrew Day School in Southfield.

Down by eight points with about two minutes left, Young Israel of Oak Park called a timeout.

“We were nervous. We needed to do something,” said player Avi Katz.

What Young Israel of Oak Park did was go back to what made it a successful team all season long.

“Play good defense. Get good shots. Play unselfish basketball,” Katz said.

Ruslan Shamayev sank a layup with less than 10 seconds to go put Young Israel of Oak Park in front 70-69.

A Bressler player missed two free throws just before the buzzer, and Young Israel of Oak Park was the league champion.

Competition was a big part of the weekly league, of course. So was the camaraderie among the players on the five teams.

“It was a friendly league. There were no issues among the players,” Katz said. “It seemed like everyone in the league knew each other and it was fun to hang out together each week.”

Daniel Shamayev
Daniel Shamayev

The league was put together over a few frantic days in early July by 20-year-old basketball fan Daniel Shamayev, who used social media and other communication tools to get the word out about the league.

Mother Nature didn’t help much after the league schedule was set.

Opening night and a playoff night were canceled and had to be rescheduled because of power outages caused by storms.

About 40 men from Orthodox shuls played in the league. Many of them are Farber grads, like Daniel Shamayev. Referees were paid to officiate games, with the money coming from team fees.

“Daniel Shamayev did a great job organizing the league,” Katz said. “I was very impressed with his enthusiasm. It was so good to have something like this to do after COVID shut things down for such a long time.”

Katz and his brother Yoni Katz were joined on the Young Israel of Oak Park team by Ruslan Shamayev (no relation to Daniel Shamayev), Josh Sabes, Alex Gross, Yitsy Sternheim, Yossi Gottfried and Yosef Klein.

The players range in age from their 20s to about 40.

“Josh Sabes helped me put the team together. He’s a great guy,” Avi Katz said.

Avi Katz
Avi Katz

Ruslin Shamayev played basketball for Berkley High School. Gross played basketball for Farber and Berkley. The Katz brothers both were Farber basketball players.

“Even though we’d never been on the same basketball team together, we all know each other and a lot of us have played basketball together,” Avi Katz said.

“It was a group effort for us all season long. We all helped the team, from making sure we knew when our games were scheduled to making sure we stayed connected.”

Young Israel of Oak Park and Bressler’s team were dominant during the season, finishing 7-1 and 6-2, respectively, during the regular season and playoffs.

No other team had a better than .500 record.

Dovid Ben Nuchim-Aish Kodesh from Oak Park (3-4), Keter Torah Synagogue from West Bloomfield (2-5) and Young Israel of Southfield (1-6) were the other teams in the league.

Bressler was the league’s leading scorer with 124 points during the regular season and his team’s two playoff games. Katz was No. 2 on the league scoring list with 103 points, also in eight games.

Daniel Shamayev hoped to have an expanded league, called the Detroit Synagogue Basketball League, play this fall, but it didn’t happen because of COVID-19 concerns caused by the Delta variant.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a spring season,” he said. “I have eight teams confirmed and there may be a few more from Temple Israel.

“I’d like to have two venues for league play next spring, one in West Bloomfield and one in Southfield.”  

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