WEST ORANGE, NJ – In the game of basketball, one of the top thrills for Sandy Pyonin was coaching a super talented kid in AAU ball named Kyrie Irving.
Of course in 2016, the former West Orange resident helped Cleveland capture its first NBA championship. Irving is now starring for Boston, and is hoping to lead the Celtics back to their glory years.
But for Pyonin, who has also coached such Garden State hoops legends as Luther Wright, Bobby Hurley Jr. and Terry Dehere in the AAU ranks, his biggest joy on the hardwood is serving as the boys’ coach at Golda Och, a small religious school in West Orange.
“I think Golda Och is as good as any school in the state,” said Pyonin, who attended Elizabeth High School and Kean College. “Kids come to our school to get a good education. They do things to help people in the community, and then in their senior year, most of them go to Israel for a work/study program. Our students have gone on to great success in life.”
And in the area of sports, the youngsters at Golda Och have been competitive at the level they play. This winter, the boys’ team (11-6) held its own against East Orange in the Essex County Tournament. And the girls’ team is led by sophomore Ally Landau, one of the state’s most prolific scorers.
“The kid is so tough,” praised Pyonin, who had great respect for Lakers’ legend Jerry West. “If you knock her down, she’ll get right up and beat you with a big basket.”
Her twin brother Ethan is one of several talented players on the boys’ squad. On the Golda Och roster, most of the players can contribute in several ways.
“I want my kids to be mentally tough on the court,” said Pyonin, who has tremendous admiration for Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “That’s very important.”
Pyonin, like most successful coaches, stresses the fundamentals of the game to his players. He wants his kids to know things like how to box out and set screens.
“Hey, until the latter stages of the second half, we held our own against East Orange,” remarked the Golda Och mentor. “But they had so much height on us and that was a key for them down the stretch.”
Pyonin, who guided Golda Och to state Prep B titles in 2006 and 2007 led by the Marcus brothers, doesn’t really have a set starting lineup. Players such as Alex Moskowitz, Elijah Taitel, Aaron Lavitsky, Jamie Gutterman, Yoni Arieh, Matt Friedman and Ben Bargad have all made valuable contributions on the hardwood.
Moskowitz, a 5-10 senior guard, is one of the real leaders for the team. He’s particularly effective on defense. Taitel, a spunky 5-8 senior guard, frustrates opponents because of his great quickness on the floor.
One of the kids expected to have a big season, senior guard Aaron Pearlstein, was forced to the sidelines due to a ligament injury. Even so, the team was a very respectable 10-5 heading into its home county match against East Orange.
“The kids want to be successful,” said Pyonin, who played soccer and lacrosse at Kean. “If you show a good work ethic, you will succeed. That’s what always impressed me when I had Kyrie in AAU ball. Plus he had a real love for the game.”
COURT NOTES – Pyonin, a physical ed teacher at the school, feels that Wilt Chamberlain was the most dominant NBA player ever… Pyonin had great respect for former SHP coach Bob Farrell, Bob Lester of East Orange and Montclair, and Greg Tynes of Clifford Scott.