Whenever I go to the Ym-YWHA in Elizabeth, NJ, I always make an effort to look through the glass windows on the main floor hallway into the basketball gym one flight below. Very often Sandy Pyonin is holding court and coaching tons of kids. Initially, I didn’t understand what kind of operation he ran and I was curious as to why there were so many African-Americans playing basketball at a Jewish “Y”, but that didn’t bother me as I delighted in watching their full court games. One day, I decided that it was time to actually go down the flight of stairs and onto the basketball court to do some investigating. When I made my way through the hall on the bottom floor I was shocked and amazed to see the trophies, the list of Division I basketball players, as well as the names of former and current NBA players that have come through Sandy and the Jewish “Y”.
When I was there, I met with a few parents and grandparents who brought their children and grandchildren to be coached by him. They spoke highly of Sandy, noting his love for the kids and his great basketball knowledge. They told me he was the best kept secret in NJ. Naturally, I wanted to learn more about Sandy, but I never approached him. He was always so busy coaching and I wasn’t waiting around for him to finish.
My questions have finally been answered. Sports Illustrated just wrote a story about Sandy; for he is the coach who molded the potential #1 pick in tomorrow’s NBA draft, Kyrie Irving, into a great basketball player. The article notes his modest lifestyle and his aversion to glamour and fame. He doesn’t even desire to move up to a more lucrative coaching position. It seems almost backwards for a person living in our generation to simply be content.
It’s clear that Sandy is a man who embodies the rabbinic teaching, “Who is happy? One who is happy with what he has.” He is a true role model that we should all emulate. No wonder parents continue to send their kids to Sandy for training. What better mentor can a parent ask for?