If you're looking to win your office March Madness pool, put your money on the Jews. Representing the West Coast in this year's dance are Cal forward/center Amit Tamir and Stanford University guard/forward Dan Grunfeld.
Grunfeld has been a reliable force off the bench this season, averaging 11 minutes per game. Speaking with The Journal after Stanford's disappointing first-round loss to USC in last week's Pac-10 Conference Tournament, the freshman said his team's best play is yet to come.
"We rose to the challenge during the regular season, finishing second in the Pac 10," said the 6-6, 210-pound Grunfeld. "We weren't able to capitalize on that today, but we've got a lot of great basketball in front of us."
The son of Milwaukee Bucks general manager and former NBA star Ernie Grunfeld is keyed up for his first NCAA tournament. "We really need to focus and get our game together," said Grunfeld, whose fourth-seed Stanford Cardinals meet UC San Diego in the first round. "But I'm looking forward to it," said Grunfeld, who smiled and recalled how he often missed Hebrew school for basketball practice.
Grunfeld, who was bar mitzvahed, encourages other young Jewish hoop stars to stick with it. "They should just keep working hard. I've wanted to go to Stanford since I was really young. I just applied myself in the classroom and on the court and it paid off," he said.
Tamir, a 6-11, 260-pound starter brings experience to this year's NCAA tournament. Now in his second year of play in the United States, the Jerusalem native said he has a good grasp on the post-season environment.
"Last year I learned that the game changes during the tournament. You get fewer opportunities for fast breaks," said the Cal sophomore, fresh from a Pac 10 Tournament victory over Oregon State. "You have to pound it inside more if you want to win these games."
Tamir, who celebrates holidays with his Jewish coach, Ben Braun, often thinks of his family and friends back in Israel. But even as tensions mount in the Middle East, Tamir leaves his fears in the locker room.
"I'm not bringing it to the court. There's always going to be something happening over there, but when I'm playing, my mind is on the game," said Tamir, who averages 15.7 points per game, received all-Pac 10 honors and leads his team in rebounding (6.5 rpg), assists (3.1 apg) and three-pointers (59). The eighth-seeded Cal Golden Bears, who lost to USC in the second round of the Pac 10 Tournament, finished the regular season ranked third in the Pac 10 conference. They face North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. -- Carin Davis, Contributing Writer