Yeshiva League Pass interviewed Roni Heumann of the Frisch Cougars, who at 10-3 have locked up a top three spot in the Western Conference standings with one game left to play, against SAR.
YLP: Congrats on the success you’ve had so far. Not a lot of people saw this coming considering what you lost from last year!
RH: As much as everyone outside our team didn’t believe in us, we were really confident going in. My sophomore year we lost to MDY in the semifinals and we strongly believed we could win a championship that year, so now two years later, with the same class, just at a varsity level, the expectation was to win a championship.
YLP: What’s been the key to your success?
RH: Definitely our defense. The first practice of the season, Coach put us in a 2-3 and said “throw everything you know about a 2-3 out the door, I’m going to teach you a whole new style of 2-3”. What we do is unique. As coach says—and we believe in this style of play—he would rather us win a game 25-24 than 63-50. Our primary focus is on playing hard defense. A lot of times our defensive possessions will go on for a minute.
YLP: Can you speak to what it was like playing with a special talent like Alex Zakheim?
RH: There was a ton of build up before our championship game against North Shore last season. It was a huge achievement to have made it there in the first place as we had to persevere through some tough times, and we were able to come out stronger. It was a very long week full of sleepless nights and scenarios playing out in your head. In the game itself, albeit against a very special and excellent defensive team, a lot of us felt that we just didn’t put it all out there, which was the toughest thing about the loss. In the locker room after the game, before Coach came in, it was five minutes of the loudest silence I’ve ever felt in my life, everyone just sitting there and crying. Then there were some not nice words said, letting out our frustration. And then Alex got up, a major credit to him. He is not just a great player; he is a real leader. He definitely carried a lot of us throughout the season and in the game. He kind of just tried to channel everything towards Sarachek. He said “remember how we’re feeling right now, because we have one chance to change it forever.” That was a message which stuck with me. Also, we knew that when there was a packed crowd watching us, most people were just coming to see him, but he never made us feel that way. I learned a lot from him.
YLP: Who would you say is your biggest rival?
RH: I’d say SAR. I have a lot of friends who go to SAR, Englewood buddies who are always chirping at me, and I also think that Frisch and SAR is just a fun rivalry. For me, playing there is definitely more fun than playing at Frisch. Those fans are crazy, they’ve said some crazy things and they've done some crazy things at the free throw line. I personally love people yelling AT me rather than FOR me, that gets me going more. We opened up the season @ SAR and it was a packed crowd. That was a big statement game for us. I think it helped set up the success we’ve had.
I also think that last year’s Sarachek Quarterfinals loss to SAR added a lot of heat to the fire in our rivalry. We had beaten them twice in the regular season. I think that SAR team was very special, especially with that group of players. Those kids had been playing together their whole lives. How well they played together was known and respected throughout the league. Something which stuck out to me was how they just looked so comfortable and confident on the court. In layup lines, 20 minutes before tipoff, Akiva Schanzer walked into the gym in slides, and I remember turning to a teammate and saying that he looked like he just rolled out of bed, that they weren’t taking us seriously. And then, obviously, they got the better of us. Even though most guys on our current teams didn’t play in that game, there’s still a lot of talking going on. SAR talks a lot off the court, and I think that adds to the rivalry too.
YLP: You aren’t the most athletic player, but you are really crafty and have good footwork. How did that evolve and who do you model yourself after?
RH: I am a Nets fan. When I was growing up and very into basketball, DLo was running the team, and he was also somewhat slow and a lefty. In my old house I had a mini basketball court and I would go and try to replicate him. As childish as it sounds, I think how he plays reflects a lot of my game. As a lefty, I also love Harden–or at least, I liked him before he left the Nets. Both aren't so athletic but are crafty. Recognizing my weaknesses in quickness and athleticism helped me a lot.
YLP: Who is your biggest role model/influence as an athlete?
RH: My role model is my dad. Whenever I come home after a game, he always has a lot to say. He tells me to leave it all on the court, and to be confident and commanding and control the game, and to make sure that whatever I do I am not going to regret anything. That’s something I try to live up to. No matter what, in every game I try to leave it all out on the court, and I get that mindset from him.