Soccer may be the beautiful game, but basketball has been pretty nice for Danny Hoffman. The Pittsburgh native and University of Maryland graduate is traveling to Santiago, Chile, to represent Maccabi USA Men’s Basketball Team at the 13th Pan American Maccabi Games. The internationally attended Games, held every four years in a country in the Americas, will occur between Dec. 26 and Jan. 5, and will include more than 3,000 Jewish athletes from North, Central and South America, Israel and other areas around the world.
Hoffman said that playing at the Games has been on his radar for about six years, and called the chance to finally compete a “dream.”
“I got an email from Maccabi this past April that I’d been accepted. I was totally surprised,” he said. “I thought that this would be a sweet type dream, but I never thought that this would happen.”
According to his father, Steve Hoffman, the younger Hoffman has been playing basketball “his whole life.”
More recently, between 2007 and 2011, Hoffman played varsity basketball for Winchester Thurston High School. During three of those years he was a starter and team captain. At the conclusion of his senior season, Hoffman graduated with much acclaim. He is the all-time leading scorer in Winchester Thurston’s history and the first male basketball player to eclipse 1,000 points in a career.
In 2011, Hoffman was named to the Leechburg High School Tournament All-Tournament Team and the Western Pennsylvania Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, where he received the Nathan H. Kaufmann Scholastic Athletic Award and Paul Bloom Memorial Scholarship.
Instead of playing college basketball at a smaller school, Hoffman elected to attend the University of Maryland.
“It was the Jewish thing. I wanted to go to a school that was Jewish,” he explained. “It has a massive Jewish population, that was part of the reason why.”
Although he did not play for Maryland’s Division 1 basketball team, Hoffman said that he still had a great basketball experience. Throughout his time in College Park, Hoffman played for the university’s club team, an opportunity he said enabled him to “play competitive intercollegiate sports without a big commitment.”
A club team, Hoffman explained, is the step between intramurals and Division 1.
“A lot of the guys were highly ranked and wanted to come to play,” he said.
As part of the club team, Hoffman competed against other talented athletes, both men and women. In 2012, Hoffman, a 5’10” guard, led the team to two championships, a runner-up finish at the Northeast Regional Tournament and a Final Four finish at James Madison University. In 2013, his team won first place in the National Hillel Basketball Tournament, which welcomes Jewish college students from more than 30 schools across the country for a weekend of sport and community building.
Back at Maryland, Hoffman also served as a scout for the university’s Division 1 women’s basketball team. In this capacity, he practiced several days a week, adopting the role of the women’s team’s upcoming opponents. Hoffman’s efforts paid off, as the women’s program reached the Final Four in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
For as long as many can remember, Hoffman has worked diligently to improve his skills. Alan Mallinger, Men’s Centerfit Platinum director at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, has known Hoffman for more than 10 years.
“Nobody works harder than Danny,” said Mallinger. “He works on his game, works on his basketball and his conditioning.”
Such is apparent from his preparatory work for Chile.
“I have been training with Pete Strobl and Milan Smiljanic at The Scoring Factory in Oakland to help get my game ready for Chile, and they have been a huge help to me,” Hoffman said by email. He also credited Adam Blumen, sports performance director at Strength, Fitness And Speed, Inc. in Monroeville.
“I love him, he’s one of the best guys ever,” Blumen said about Hoffman.
Blumen recalled one recent session when Hoffman arrived “white as a ghost.” Hoffman was sweating and thought that he might have eaten something bad; nonetheless, Hoffman wanted to continue with that day’s session. Blumen sent him home. Hoffman called later to share what the problem was. He ended up going to the hospital — he was passing a kidney stone.
“He is gritty,” said Blumen. “It’s a very unique quality in an athlete. It’s one you need to get to that next tier and he has it.”
The games in Chile are not Hoffman’s first stint with the Maccabi program. In 2009, he represented Pittsburgh when its basketball team traveled to Westchester, N.Y., for the Junior Maccabi Games.
Apart from competing in Chile, Hoffman and his teammates will experience more than basketball. Time will be spent volunteering and connecting to local communities.
“I’m expecting to make incredible international relationships in the Jewish community. [We’ll] be visiting hospitals and doing other volunteer opportunities. That stuff is really cool,” said Hoffman.
In terms of how the team performs at the Games, Hoffman said that Maccabi USA is projected to win.
“Our expectation and everyone else’s is that we are the top dogs,” he said. But, “if we lost every game, I think I’d still have the time of my life.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.