MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Jacob Assaraf lost a bet, so he had to go through classes at Hebrew Academy on Wednesday wearing a suit instead of more casual attire.
Turns out, that wasn’t the most unusual part of his day.
Members of the boys and girls basketball teams at the small private school got quite a surprise — they got to be in the gym to watch No. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama, coach Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs having a gameday shootaround session on their court. Popovich even posed for pictures with the group and engaged the players in a question-and-answer session.
“It was amazing,” Assaraf said. “To hear from a legend like that … even if you don’t follow basketball like I do, you know Gregg Popovich. A legendary coach, and to hear him speak was just amazing.”
The encounter started taking shape a few weeks ago, when someone from the Spurs called the school and asked if its facility would be available for practice. The Spurs, in Miami to play the Heat on Wednesday night, were staying nearby and teams often have a morning on-court workout before a game in the evening.
Hebrew Academy didn’t hesitate before saying yes. Having the school’s basketball players in the gym was not part of the plan — that is, until Wednesday morning. Shootarounds, like most NBA practices, are typically closed to outsiders.
“I was prepared to not have them here,” school athletic director Adam Sargent said. “And then, as things go, Pop shows up and tells somebody to tell somebody to tell somebody who told me that if we wanted to bring our varsity teams in here, go ahead.”
Word got out — fast. Some students climbed on gates outside the gym to peer through the windows just for a look at Wembanyama. Inside the gym, the Spurs heard the commotion. Wembanyama acknowledged the kids more than once, and a few more were waiting for him as he left the gym for the short walk back to the Spurs’ team buses.
The school’s teams were assembled in the hallway outside the gym, told a few ground rules — then went in to watch about the last 20 minutes of the session.
“It was cool to have the students in here,” Spurs guard Tre Jones said. “Obviously, they’re really excited, taking pictures. They were cheering us on. Every made shot, they were cheering. It was really cool to be able to do this. We’re in a unique position to be able to come out and do this, have a shootaround here, it means a lot.”
Popovich told the kids to remember the basics: try not to foul, limit turnovers, move the ball briskly from side to side. They were many of the same rules that Hebrew Academy’s coaches try to instill as well — although hearing those words from a five-time NBA champion and the league’s all-time win leader seemed to carry a little more weight.
“I just talked to Gregg Popovich. My heart is shaking,” Hebrew Academy center Dov Shapiro said. “He looks much better in person.”
Shapiro left an AP calculus class when he heard the Spurs were in the gym. It was worth the risk of a teacher perhaps being a bit miffed, he said.
“I’ll miss 100 classes to see Wemby,” Shapiro said. “And to talk to Pop, come on. It’s life-changing.”
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