He may only be 11 years old, but Gindi Maimonides Academy Junior Division basketball champ Ami Kent wasn’t remotely fazed going head to head with Lonzo Ball — the 6-foot-6 anointed franchise savior of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The matchup took place on May 6 at Pan Pacific Park’s indoor gymnasium complex, as part of the third annual three-on-three Hoops4Hope charity basketball tournament. More than 750 people attended the event, which benefits Ateres Avigail, a local volunteer organization dedicated to assisting Jewish patients and their families facing medical crises.
“I told [Ball] to give me a discount on his shoes,” Kent said afterward. “Then I told him I was going to make him shoot it from outside, that he can’t make it from out there and that he needs to play better.”
Kent backed up the trash talk when he banked in a high-arching runner over Ball, which elicited some of the loudest cheers of the afternoon. He was just one of more than 190 players, many with yarmulkes clipped atop their heads, who ponied up registration fees that went to Ateres Avigail and battled it out for trophies and prizes.
While past Hoops4Hope tournaments featured only adults, this year’s event included three junior divisions: 10- and 11-year-olds; 12; and 13- and 14-year-olds.
“With just the adults playing, it’s not as communitywide,” said 33-year-old event volunteer Zack Procter. “This year, with the kids playing, it helps raise awareness for [Ateres Avigail] and the mission because it fosters more buy in and a more communal event. When the kids play, the parents, cousins, siblings, even grandparents come.”
“I told [Lonzo Ball] to give me a discount on his shoes.” — 11-year-old Ami Kent
In the adult division, it was an all Valley Torah final headlined by Ryan Turell, the Wolfpack’s star guard who was recently named CIF Division 4 State Player of the Year — the first yeshiva player ever to receive the honor. A Turell-led team bested a team comprising his school teammates to earn the first-place prize: courtside Lakers tickets valued at $7,000.
“This was so much fun,” Turell said, still dripping after the game. “I love basketball and I love charity so it’s really cool to combine the two here today.”
But the most coveted prize up for grabs wasn’t getting to watch the hometown Lakers play. It was a chance to play against them. Along with Ball, Lakers stars Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle played the junior division’s winning teams, which were coached by former Laker Metta World Peace.
When the Lakers hit the court, a frenzied U-shaped crowd of hundreds peppered with Lakers gear — mostly Lonzo Ball jerseys — huddled around and recorded with iPhones. Hordes of kids poached for selfies and autographs, while Kuzma, Randle and Ball laughed it up, swatted shots and slammed home a few dunks.
Throughout, it was hard to tell who was smiling wider — the Lakers trio or their opponents, some of whom barely came up to their waists.
The NBA stars came out to support Steve Rechnitz, president of Ateres Avigail, who sits courtside at many Lakers games and is close with a collection of past and present Lakers.
“I get to know them on a personal level and the younger ones, especially, have a very positive outlook on charity, on helping out for the common good. They grab it and they want to be a part of it,” Rechnitz said.
Rechnitz took the reins of the organization nearly five years ago after his wife, Avigail, the former president, died from cancer. The organization, which formerly was called Ladies Bikur Cholim, was renamed for Avigail after her death.
“For me, this tournament is about maintaining my wife’s memory,” Rechnitz said. “I feel it’s my obligation to continue this work in her memory.”
Avraham Hirschman, director of Ateres Avigail, declined to say how much money was raised, but deemed the day a success, saying, “Today a lot of good was done.”
Kent certainly agreed. “That was good,” he said, after facing Ball. “No, wait. That was amazing.”