WEST ORANGE, NJ – In New Jersey basketball circles, Sandy Pyonin is best known for coaching a host of talented players in AAU competition.
That impressive list includes the likes of current Boston Celtic star and West Orange native Kyrie Irving, former Duke University standout Bobby Hurley, Luther Wright and Randy Foye.
But over a long and distinguished career, Pyonin has also produced some pretty good squads at Golda Och, a small religious school in West Orange.
This winter, the team’s record was only 8-8, but the team was in every game, save one. With a little luck, the record could have been 15-1.
“We had one poor outing against Newark Academy,” said Pyonin, who is a big basketball and baseball fan. “Heck, in the ECT, some questionable calls at the end of the contest cost us a probable overtime victory against Arts. It would have been nice for our kids to make a bit of a run in the county tourney.”
Pyonin, who ranks fourth on the all-time Garden State hoops list with 837 triumphs – St. Anthony legend Bob Hurley Sr. is No. 1 – gets good results because he stresses the basic fundamentals to his kids. The players who suit up for Golda Och know what it takes to win.
“I’m proud of the fact that previously we’ve won the state Prep B tournament,” said Pyonin. “But playing well against much larger schools means just as much. Our kids come here for religious reasons and to get a good education. But when they compete in sports, believe me, they want to be successful.”
For Golda Och in 2018-19, several youngsters put together fine seasons. A good nucleus will be back next winter, and the team could make some noise in Essex County.
Leading the way for the squad this winter was junior guard Assaf Arieh, who averaged around 20 points per game. The talented youngster was a fine ball handler and always showed a competitive drive on the hardwood.
Two other juniors who played well in the backcourt were Ethan Landau and Josh Berger. Landau, whose sister, Ally, excels for the girls’ team, averaged seven assists per game. Berger was good for around 10 points per tilt, and averaged over three steals to boot.
“Josh could do some real damage on the court,” praised the veteran coach. “He took a lot of pride in his defense.”
Up front, 6-3 senior Ian Rosen and 6-1 senior Aaron Levitsky were both effective. Rosen averaged double figures off the boards, while Levitsky, the team captain, always set the tone for his mates on the floor.
Two other key players for Golda Och were senior guard Jamie Gutterman and junior guard Jake Kroll. Both youngsters had the ability to hit the three-point shot.
“The three-point shot has really changed the sport,” expressed Pyonin, who is a graduate of Elizabeth High and Kean College where he played soccer and lacrosse.
Pyonin, who had great respect for Wilt Chamberlain in hoops and Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax in baseball, has vast coaching experience.
“I’ve coached the game in Israel, Mexico, China and Chile, besides here,” said Pyonin. “I think I have around 4,000 wins in the game, and I guess a few losses, too. I truly enjoy working with kids.”
COURT NOTES – Pyonin and former Seton Hall University star Anthony Avent have a clinic in Union. For more information, call 973-432-1115… Gold Och seniors go to Israel for a work/study program.