New York - Yeshiva University's Head Basketball Coach
New York - ‘If you really want to learn how to coach, lose.”
So says Jonathan Halpert, who should know.
Halpert was just named the Skyline Conference’s 2009-2010 Coach of the Year and is currently finishing his 38th season as Yeshiva University’s head basketball coach - the longest serving coach in the metro area.
The NCAA Division III Maccabees finished the season with a 12-14 record.
Nothing takes the sting out of a loss, Halpert said, but what’s more important is what you do afterward.
“Losing forces you to learn how to really teach, how to motivate, organize, and prioritize,” he said. “It teaches you how to run a practice.”
Halpert has spent his entire basketball career at Yeshiva, from high school to now. He played for the late, legendary coach Bernard (Red) Sarachek, a major influence in his career.
“Red stressed the fundamentals: move without the ball, cut, move,” said Halpert. “That was where I learned my basketball and how I still teach.
“I’m always yelling, ‘Stop at the foul line, stop at the foul line! You never run a fast break without stopping at the foul line and looking to hand the ball off for the layup.
“I’ll take a player out of the game if they don’t stop at the foul line,” he said. “That’s what I was taught, that’s fundamentals, that’s basic basketball.
“Kids come here the first year and they don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. A new kid gets on the court, he dribbles, he kicks it down the court, he shoots a three.
“I say to the new kid, ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing? If you can’t make four passes before you shoot the ball you can go home.”
It’s an unconventional philosophy in the age of in your face, one-on-one basketball, and Halpert’s coaching techniques are in the same vein.
For instance, the team practices four times a week, two hours each time, and that’s just fine with the coach.
“We can’t practice Friday night, the Sabbath, God took care of that,” he said. “I don’t know how popular I would be if I started Saturday night practices. They do have a social life.
“With the academic work load here, you could not go more than four a week if you wanted to,” Halpert said. “These guys take a double program, with Hebrew studies in the morning and secular studies in the afternoon.
“Frankly, at this level, I don’t think you should be practicing more than four times a week. After four nights of practice, I’m tired of the kids and I’m sure they are tired of me yelling at them.”
Halpert was 27 when he was named coach of Yeshiva’s varsity team. He was still in high school - and playing for the Yeshiva team - when he started coaching the Yeshiva junior varsity team in the early 1960s.
Halpert enrolled at Yeshiva Elementary school shortly after the family moved to the school’s Washington Heights neighborhood from the Bronx when he was in fifth grade.
The family has its own legacy with the school. Halpert’s father, Max, started there as a personal secretary to the school’s then-president Bernard Revel.
“He learned to type Hebrew in Israel, and when he immigrated here his father got him the job as the president’s personal secretary,” Halpert said. “There has been a Halpert at Yeshiva University since 1939.”
Max Halpert went on to be a major fund-raiser for the university.
Halpert and his brother Daniel were both athletic, though Daniel had a childhood bout of osteomyelitis which limited his aspirations.
Halpert fell in love with basketball, listening to Knicks games at night and practicing with rolled up socks and a hoop on his bedroom wall.
A graduate of Yeshiva schools straight through college, Halpert was named a Daily News City All Star in 1965.
He was captain of the university team when he was offered the junior varsity head coaching position, which he took in 1967, winning two JV championships over his five years as coach.
He was named varsity coach in 1972.
The father of five (Tzippora, Ariella, Tzofit, Yuhuda and Rafi) and grandfather of 17 met his wife, Aviva, on a camp basketball court and married while still in college.
They live in Flushing.
Halpert may also be one of the smartest coaches in the country, holding a master’s degree in Special Education from New York University and a doctorate in Special Education from Yeshiva’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1978.
He’s amazed and appreciative to have stayed on the job all these years - longer than friend Lou Carnesecca of St. John’s University.
“It just means I’m more stubborn than he is,” Halpert said.
Halpert also longs for the one thing missing from his resume - a conference championship.
“I want it, badly,” he said.
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