If timing is everything, Jacob Susskind could not have picked a worse time to get hurt on the basketball court.
During a national tournament in Florida prior to his senior year at Golda Och Academy, the star hoopster tore ligaments in his back. Then, in the second game of his final season, he tore his ACL and was finished for the year, scaring off whatever college teams might have been interested in him.
Golda Och fielded a powerhouse team, enjoying successful campaigns during Susskind’s time there under the leadership of legendary coach Sandy Pyonin, who has worked with more than 300 players who eventually went on to NCAA Division I schools and another 30-plus to the NBA through the AAU program, including Kyrie Irving, the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year.
“I learned a lot,” said Susskind, who is carrying a double major in business and finance. “It really helped my skills develop. Always being the tallest one [on his team], I never was a guard-oriented player and he turned me into that kind of player so that I’d be able to play at the next level because everyone was so much bigger.”
Although he received a few offers from Division III schools (D-3 colleges do not offer athletic scholarships), Susskind resigned himself to attending the University of Maryland without sports being on the table.
It was his brother, Ben, who convinced him he had nothing to lose by trying out for the Terrapins as a walk-on. With nothing to lose, Susskind discussed the possibilities with then-coach Gary Williams, who put the freshman through a series of workouts until he was satisfied that Susskind could contribute.
“I was in shock. I really didn’t think that this was ever possible, especially after [the injuries],” said Susskind. “It was an unbelievable thing.” His parents, Jeff and Shari-Beth, “were in shock just as much as I was.”
Like many athletes who enjoyed stardom in high school, Susskind had to adjust to a smaller role; he appeared in 22 games in his four years. “My mother asked me when we were looking at schools, ‘would you want to play here but just be a walk-on and sit on the bench and not play in games,’ I said I would do that, 100 percent because it’s a great experience. Maybe in the first couple of months, it was a little tough just watching, but I’ve accepted my role and over the past four years I’ve helped my teammates prepare for the game and get better.”
The Terrapins beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 64-61 on Sunday, to complete one of their best seasons in school history. As of this writing, the team is ranked in eighth place in the Coaches Poll and will almost assuredly end up in the NCAA tournament when the selections are made on March 15. “It’s definitely very exciting, something we’re all looking forward to,” he said. “It’s a good way to go out.”
Susskind has been active in Hillel, Chabad, and a Jewish fraternity while attending UM. The recent anti-Jewish/anti-Israel sentiments which have been a scourge on many campuses in recent years has never been a problem, he said. “Maryland has a huge, huge Jewish population, so we don’t see a lot of that.”
He also appreciated the diversity of the basketball team. “A lot of them ask me questions about [Judaism], what you do during the holidays, why do you do this, why do you do that, and I also do the same thing, even though I grew up with a lot of people who are Christian.”
Susskind said he isn’t seriously pursuing a professional sports career after graduation. “I have been talking to a few people about it and what my next step would be if I were to go that route. I’m kind of playing it by ear. Once the season is over, I’ll send some game films to an agent and some Israeli teams , but I don’t know what will happen with that….”
Given how he beat the odds in making the Terrapins, you wouldn’t want to bet against him.