Three men in basketball jerseys pose on the SJCC basketball court

SJCC Members Go for the Gold

Longtime members Al Moscatel and Charlie Barokas compete in 2022 Maccabi Games in Israel

Al Moscatel speaks with the confidence of a basketball legend. As he and fellow SJCC member Charlie Barokas prepared to head to Israel for the 2022 Maccabi Games—an international Olympics-style competition—Moscatel kept laser-focused on his team’s assets. “We’ve been fortunate to train together this year, so we know each other well and I think that’s the difference-maker that’ll put us over the top to win the gold medal,” he said.

Since scoring two of the 10 spots in Team USA’s Masters Basketball 45+ division, Moscatel and Barokas have been training three to four times a week on the J’s basketball court. The team is comprised of players from across the country, so it’s lucky to have a local teammate—and even luckier to have one you admire. “I grew up idolizing Al, and now I get to play with him,” Barokas said.

At age 58, Moscatel is the team veteran, and he speaks with admiration of his training partner. “It’s kind of like having a little brother that you couldn’t be prouder of,” he said. “He was already good, and he’s taken it to the next level. I’m excited for him to see all the benefits of his hard work in Israel.”

Both Moscatel and Barokas have been playing basketball at the J since they were kids. They tell similar stories of being 12 or 13 years old and trying to convince the men to let them join their pick-up games. “Sometimes they’d let me play, sometimes they’d kick me out,” Barokas said with a laugh.

It was Barokas’ dad, Larry, who first introduced him to basketball at the J. The elder Barokas began playing at the Mercer Island location when it opened in 1969 and was still playing consistently until the pandemic started a couple years ago. “He’s an absolute institution there,” Barokas said.

Having a long history with the J made it the logical place to train for the Maccabi Games. “It’s got a warm atmosphere, it’s convenient, and it’s where we were brought up,” Moscatel said. “I’ve always felt at home at the JCC,” Barokas added.

In addition to their individual training sessions, the entire team has attended training camps over the past 9 months, which Barokas said has helped them come together not only as a team, but as friends. “The basketball is great, but this is really about the relationships,” he said. “That’s what Maccabi is all about.”

Moscatel has been friends with some of his former Maccabi teammates for more than 30 years, which is a big part of why he loves participating. “It’s not only one of the best athletic events, but also some of the best friendships you’ll ever make.  I’ve played in high school state championships and NCAA tournaments, and there’s no closer bond or better feeling than being with fellow Maccabians working toward the goal of winning a gold medal,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable, life-changing experience.”

Moscatel, who’s competed in five Maccabi Games, said this will be his last, and he’s ready to leave everything on the court. “The worst thing to happen on a Sunday after the gold medal game is to say ‘I wish.’ And when you’re my age, you don’t want there to be any wishes. I want this to be the last one. It’ll be a great way to go out.”

And if the Maccabi Games adds a 55+ basketball team in future? “Half the guys think there’s going to be one, and I said ‘please don’t even call me, I don’t want to hear about it,’” Moscatel said with a laugh.

But if he somehow feels the pull of his favorite competition one more time, you can bet he’ll hit the court at the J to train with Barokas by his side.

 

Photo caption (left to right): Al Moscatel and Charlie Barokas with teammate Mark Small who was visiting from Los Angeles.

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