It didn’t immediately sink in for Angelina Barokas that she would be representing the United States at the European Maccabi Games in Budapest, Hungary until her first practice with her new team.
The coach closed out practice with a chant. “USA on three, 1,2,3, USA.”
That’s when Barokas began to realize how lucky she was to play in an international tournament.
Barokas, a 2019 Mercer Island High School graduate and former Islanders girls basketball player, was selected to the Maccabi USA Junior women’s basketball team. The competition brought together more than 3,000 Jewish athletes from 42 countries to compete. Barokas said the competition is like the Jewish Olympics.
The USA Junior women’s team won the gold medal, but Barokas said the experience of spending 14 days in Hungary was more important than the games.
“Seeing the world is a big part of maturing,” Barokas said.
Before traveling to Hungary, Barokas attended team practices in New York. This was her first time meeting her new teammates who came from across the country. Despite never playing together before, Barokas said they were passing the ball well and there was an instant chemistry on and off the court.
“It felt like I knew them for a really long time,” Barokas said.
Along with winning the gold medal, the highlight of her trip was visiting the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. Barokas said it was moving to see everyone come together with their shared faith. For Barokas, community plays a big role in her religious beliefs.
“I learned a lot about the suffering that has brought people together,” Barokas said.
During the competition, the U.S. cruised to the gold medal with an undefeated record. They advanced through group play by defeating their four opponents by a combined score of 284-89. In the gold medal game, they knocked off one of the two Israeli teams, 84-32, with Barokas scoring 14 points.
Barokas wore the number 42 on her jersey during the competition, the same number her father, Charlie Barokas, used when he played for the Mercer Island basketball team.
“It was a reminder for all the things he has done,” Barokas said. “I wanted to wear it because he came to every game”
The end of the tournament also most likely spelled the end for her basketball career. In the fall, Barokas will be attending the University of Washington.
“It’s crazy to flip to a new chapter,” Barokas said.