Yeshiva MBB History: Top Players of the '50s & '60s
Yeshiva University has a rich history of talented Jewish basketball players dating back to the early 1930s. While there is limited analytical data regarding the early years of the Yeshiva basketball team (first known as the Quinthooplets, then as the Mighty Mites), statistics and information regarding YU’s basketball teams have become somewhat available, beginning at around 1950.
The 1950s and 1960s saw numerous talented players help Yeshiva achieve their first extended period of success. Below are the most significant Mighty Mites of the ’50s and ’60s who helped put YU basketball on the map.
Note: Many years and specific statistics may be missing due to incomplete data from the early years of Yeshiva basketball. All statistics are compiled from yumacs.com, archived issues of the YU Commentator, Coach Jonathan Halpert’s book, and various internet pages.
Marvin Hershkowitz (1949-1953)
Marvin Hershkowitz was the first player for YU to reach 1000 points in his career (finishing with 1095). Hershkowitz set the points per game (PPG) and field goals (FG) record with 17.5 (1951) and 119 (1950) respectively, only to break his own records in 1952 with 20.2 and 121. Hershkowitz would always fill up the stat sheet, leading the team in rebounds at least one season with 10.5 rebounds per game (RPG), and was always among the team leaders in assists, free throw percentage, and FG%. Famed YU coach Bernard “Red” Sarachek once said “Marvin Hershkowitz is the greatest ballplayer that I have ever coached at Yeshiva,” and that “Marvin could have made any college varsity in the country.” As a reward for his success on the court, Hershkowitz was voted as a Small-College All-American in two different years with Yeshiva.
Fun Fact: Prior to Yeshiva, Hershkowitz played on the freshman team for City College of New York (CCNY), one of, if not the best college basketball team in the country at the time. CCNY’s varsity team won both the NIT and NCAA tournaments that season, and Hershkowitz would have been a part of the team had he not transferred to Yeshiva. Because of his transfer to YU, the JSS morning program was founded to support those students with a weaker Jewish background. Hershkowitz’s legacy is that of a pioneer on the basketball court and in the classroom.
Abe Sodden (1952-1956)
A teammate of Marvin Hershkowitz for one season, Abe “Bam” Sodden played a very large part in one of the greatest stretches of Yeshiva basketball. During his second year with the Mighty Mites, Sodden set multiple records, including the most points in one season (384), the most FG in a season (145), the highest PPG in a single season (20.21), and most rebounds in one season (319). Sodden retired as the all-time leading scorer in YU’s history with 1207 points and all-time leading rebounder with 1100 rebounds, becoming the first 1000-1000 player in school history. Sodden also became the second player in YU history to score over 20 PPG in a season, and seemingly the first to grab over 15 RPG (with a recorded high of 16.8 in 1954). In his four seasons playing for Yeshiva, Sodden led the team to a 49-30 record.
Fun Fact: In his final season with the Mighty Mites, Sodden averaged over 17 PPG and 14 RPG, culminating in him being named a 1956 Small-College All-American.
Norman Palefski (1954-1955)
Norman Palefski was expected to be a fantastic player for Yeshiva; however, due to his untimely death in the summer following his freshman season, Palefski never got the chance to blossom into the player he could have been. In his lone season for the Mighty Mites, Palefski was the team’s sixth man, averaging 6.2 PPG and 2.2 RPG while shooting a team-high 69.7% from the free-throw line. For years after his passing, Yeshiva basketball handed out the ceremonial “Norman Palefski Memorial Trophy” to Yeshiva’s MVP of each game and would start the season with a fundraiser in Palefski’s memory.
Fun Fact: As a senior for MTA, Palefski broke almost every Jewish High School League scoring record, including PPG (26.5), points in one game (51), and points in one season (530), culminating in being awarded as the Jewish High School League MVP award. Palefski was also the first Yeshiva League player to be named to the New York Post’s All-Prep team.
Irwin Blumenreich (1954-1957)
Even before playing ball at YU, Irwin “Red” Blumenreich was a known star, as he represented the US in the 1953 Maccabiah Games. Blumenreich was one of the best players in YU’s history, regardless of era. In his rookie season, he led the team in PPG (24.4) and assists per game (APG; 3.1) and finished second in RPG (13.7). Blumenreich only played three seasons for the Mighty Mites, but was able to set many records, as he became the all-time leading scorer (1360 points), and set the marks for most field goals in one season (211), most points in a season (513), highest PPG in one season (24.4 in 1955; then broke his own record with 24.77 in 1956), and most points in one game (44). As a result of Blumenreich’s three years of dominance and his overlap with stars such as Sodden, Palefski, and Irv Bader, the Mighty Mites went 41-17 during his time in Washington Heights. Blumenreich was named to second-team All-Met in 1956, and in his final season, he was awarded a spot on the Small-College All-American team.
Fun Fact: After graduation, Blumenreich was selected as a member of a collegiate All-Star team that traveled all around the US, playing in exhibition games against the Harlem Globetrotters.
Irv Bader (1956-1960)
Playing four seasons with the Mighty Mites, Irv Bader became the all-time leading scorer for YU with 1374 points in his career (surpassing former teammate Irwin Blumenreich’s three-year record). Bader played in all 78 possible games over the course of his career, scoring 17.6 PPG. Bader was a major part of the rise to prominence of the Yeshiva basketball team, as they went 46-32 with Bader leading the helm. In fact, Bader averaged over 17 points for three straight seasons (topping 20 PPG once) and six rebounds in at least two seasons for Yeshiva. Proving he was a star from the beginning, Bader was one of the top players in Yeshiva’s two exhibition games against the Israeli Olympic basketball team at the end of his freshman year. In Bader’s final season, he was named a Small-College All-American.
Fun Fact: Nowadays, Bader serves as the director of Camp Seneca Lake and the athletic director at Touro College.
Sam Grossman (1958-1962)
Sam Grossman retired as the fifth 1000-point scorer in school history (after Hershkowitz, Sodden, Blumenreich, and Bader), finishing with 1117 in 75 games (for a career mark of 14.89 PPG). Grossman improved drastically over the course of his career, as he went from averaging just 2.2 PPG in his first season to leading the team in scoring his last three seasons with 15.3, 21.3, and 21.1 PPG, respectively. In his junior season, Grossman averaged a team-leading 8.82 RPG, which, when combined with his scoring prowess, culminated in him being awarded a spot on the All-East Small College Conference Team and an All-Met team honorable mention. In his senior season, Grossman scored 422 points, becoming the second player in YU’s history to score 400+ points in a season.
Fun Fact: After his junior season, Grossman represented the US in the 1961 Maccabiah games.
Sheldon Rokach (1962-1966)
Sheldon (Shelly) Rokach was not a big man, standing at just 6”1, but he left his mark on the glass, placing second at the time in career rebounds with 1020, the most in a season with 411, the most in one game with 33, and the highest RPG in a season with 20.6, with the last two records still standing. Rokach was also a fantastic scorer, setting the record for most points in a game with 48 (a record which stood until Ryan Turell dropped 51 against Manhattanville on November 28th), and putting up 1223 points in his career, becoming the second 1000-1000 player in Yeshiva’s history. Similar to Sam Grossman, Rokach improved every season, watching his stats go in his freshman year from 2.9 PPG and 1.9 RPG to 23.5 and 20.6 as a junior and 22.65 and 20 as a senior. Thus, he became the first (and only) Yeshiva player to average 20 points and 20 rebounds in one season, doing so in two consecutive years.
Fun Fact: In 1955 and 1956, Rokach’s two 20 point-20 rebound seasons, he was named to the Knickerbocker Conference All-Star Team.
Richie Salit (1968-1970)
Richie Salit only played a season and a half for Yeshiva, but his scoring ability single-handedly warrants him a spot on this list. Salit was the second-leading scorer on the Mighty Mites in his freshman season, averaging 18.1 PPG, just one point short of Stu Poloner’s 19.1 mark. Salit’s 380 points in his first year were the third-most points for a freshman in Yeshiva’s history, right behind Poloner and Blumenreich. In his second season, Salit played in 11 of the team’s games before leaving Yeshiva, scoring at a record pace of 26.9 PPG. Had Salit stayed and finished his Macs career, he would likely still be near the top of the all-time scoring lists.
Fun Fact: Salit transferred from Yeshiva to DI LIU, playing there for two seasons.
Stu Poloner (1967-1969, 1970-1971)
One of the greatest scorers in Yeshiva history, Stu Poloner finished his career with the most points in YU’s history (1378), despite playing for only three years. Poloner set many other scoring records as well, namely the highest PPG in one season (28.1), most points in one season (534), most free throws in one season (172), and most points in a non-overtime game (47). Poloner scored over 35 points three separate times in his three-year career and holds one of the highest overall PPG numbers in YU’s history, with 22.6 PPG. A significant percentage of Poloner’s shots came far away from the basket, which, considering that there was no 3-point line in the NCAA until 1987, makes his scoring totals even more impressive. Furthermore, Poloner was a factor on the glass, averaging 6.3 RPG for his career. In his final season, Poloner was so successful for the Mighty Mites that he was named a Small-College All-American.
Fun Fact: Poloner led the Mighty Mites in PPG in each of his three seasons, averaging 21.1, 19.1, and 28.1 PPG in his years starring for Yeshiva.