Jewish basketball star may not be the most familiar of headlines, but with 17-year-old Sophia Gerber, the appellation applies. Gerber, a senior at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, a member of Congregation Beth Israel and 6-foot-tall shooting guard, will be playing basketball next year for the University of Colorado Boulder, an NCAA Division I program, which means she’ll be in the big leagues of college ball.
Whether Gerber will have the chance to play in a March Madness game during her years at CU is unknown, but already she’s been able to take part in the 2020 festivities via a 3-point shooting contest. She advanced to the second round amid stiff competition, and even though she didn’t make the finals, she learned a few things about social media and playing on a big stage.
She started out following her older brother’s lead playing in the JCC Maccabi Games, and now she’s about to graduate and advance to a new level of competition all while focusing on a science major in preparation for a career in medicine. She’ll have a packed schedule for sure, but she’s already investigating some options to involve herself in the Jewish community on campus.
How did you get started with basketball and Maccabi?
I’ve been playing since I was 3 or 4. I started playing basketball because of my brother. We’ve been members of the Valley of the Sun JCC as long as I can remember. I think before I was born my parents were going there. My parents got introduced to Maccabi, so my older brother did it once before I did.
I competed in two of the U.S. Maccabi games in Alabama and St. Louis, and I just recently did the European Maccabi games in Budapest this past summer. It was a really fun time, probably one of the best experiences I’ve had basketball-wise. It was cool to meet other Jewish athletes from around the world especially because there were only two of us from the West. I don’t know a lot of Jewish basketball players, and to see them from all over the world and to meet them and talk to them and see how they live as young Jewish females on the other side of the world was an incredible experience.
Even though you didn’t get past the second round of your Final Four-related competition, it sounds like it was pretty intense.
The Final Four and American Family Insurance host a 3-point contest and slam-dunk contest every year wherever the Final Four is taking place. There are eight spots for each event, and they hold the eighth spot for what they consider an under the radar player. Everyone that was in the bracket with me was extremely talented at what they do. We have to be voted into it.
I knew from the get-go that I had to use social media as a platform, and social media is so important in today’s time. I feel that’s one of the best ways to get information out quickly. I figured if I was able to have this big social media campaign I would help get myself out there. The first round was close.
Basically, it was just social media, bothering all my friends and relatives, every single day. I know it was really annoying for them. I just know I have a strong support group behind me now, because I would see people posting on their Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, that I don’t really know that well or haven’t even talked to in a long time. It was cool to see that.
What was the recruiting process like for college ball?
The recruiting process for me was very different than most girls who go to a PAC 12 school. I started late in the process. I did not think I was going to play Division I or college basketball in general until midway through my junior year. I was playing with the Arizona Rebels for two years. It’s a competitive club team but not super competitive. We weren’t at the biggest showcases you could be at.
When I realized that I was good enough to go Division I, I switched club teams to 602 Lady Nation, and immediately I knew I was in the right spot. We were an undersized team for sure. I was one of the biggest girls on my team, and we played some of the best teams in the nation, big Nike teams, girls that end up at amazing Division I programs.
The goal was to get good exposure, and that’s when my recruiting started taking off. It started with some Division I schools in the West Coast Conference. At the very last tournament of my career, we were playing Las Vegas, and I was shooting the last shot, and Colorado contacted my coaches and said they loved me, and they contacted me shortly after.
I took my visit in December and I only took two schools, Colorado and Cornell. I just loved CU. I loved it there, and I knew it was perfect. That’s not a typical recruiting process to start that late, but it worked out in the end. I’m really grateful for that.
What’s the significance of your jersey number?
My older brother loved watching the Phoenix Suns and, in particular, Steve Nash. He wore No. 13, so when he started my brother wore No. 13. And I wanted to be just like my brother when I was younger, so when it was time to decide my jersey number, I wanted to be just like him but not make it obvious. So I flipped the numbers and I was No. 31. I’ve been #31 every year of middle school and high school up to this past year.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to wear that number in college. I’m going to wear No. 44. 31+13 is 44. At Colorado Nos. 31 and 13 were both taken and it’s by seniority, and I figured I wanted to keep the same idea so I put them together.
What will you be studying at CU?
Outside of basketball I will be studying what’s called integrated physiology on the pre-med track. I want to go to medical school once I’m done playing in Boulder so that’s why I chose it.
You’ll be a science nerd and a jock?
Yes. There’s not a lot of athletes that are in the sciences, and I like learning about the human body. I like STEM and took a lot of STEM classes in high school. I’ve been into that for a long time. I’ve known since fourth grade I wanted to go to medical school.
Do you think you’ll want to join any Jewish groups on campus once you get there?
I do. I was looking into Jewish organizations and clubs at CU. They have a pretty big Jewish population there which I think is great for someone like myself coming from out of state and not knowing anyone that’s going there except my basketball team. I’m going to look into it and try to join some Jewish clubs and maybe look into going to Hillel for some of the holidays since I’ll be pretty busy.
You said you’ll be the only Jewish player on your team. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s cool. Some people look at it as a negative, but I look at it as a positive. One, it makes me unique. It’s something that’s different about me. A lot of basketball players are the same, and it sets me apart from everyone else. I can represent the Jewish basketball community through the way I play and through what I do on the court. And I can hopefully inspire other Jewish female basketball players to pursue their dreams. JN