Orthodox NBA prospect Ryan Turell returns to New York for a game on Purim


(New York Jewish Week) — The Jewish month of Adar has, in recent years, been a time of excitement for fans of Yeshiva University’s basketball team, when its supporters fill the bleachers and sing a traditional Jewish song at the tops of their lungs.

In addition to being the month of Purim, the Jewish festival that concluded yesterday, Adar usually coincides with March and the NCAA basketball tournament. And until this past year, Y.U. fans enjoyed an added treat for what they called “Adar Madness”: Watching their standout small forward, Ryan Turell, dominate the court. 

This year, Turell, 24, is out of college and playing professionally, and on Tuesday, his New York-area fans once again had an opportunity to watch him play during Adar — though relatively few Orthodox Jewish fans made it to the game. 

Instead of starting for the Yeshiva Maccabees at their athletic complex in Washington Heights, Turell is a reserve player for the Motor City Cruise, a Detroit team in the NBA’s minor league, the G League. The Cruise, who sit in the bottom half of their conference, faced the powerhouse Long Island Nets at a stadium in Uniondale, New York.

Ryan Turell on the court

Ryan Turell played 16 minutes of the game on Tuesday, where his kippah could be seen on the court at all times. (Jacob Henry)

The stands at the 11 a.m. game were filled with screaming kids, but the 5,000 or so attendees were mostly not wearing kippahs. Speaking to the New York Jewish Week after Turell’s first game in Uniondale about a month ago, his father had hoped that there would be a sizeable Jewish turnout and said the timing of the Purim game showed that “Hashem was looking down upon this situation.”

Instead, the seats were largely populated by local students who arrived on dozens of school buses for the Long Island Nets’ “Education Day.” During a break in the game, the spectators answered a few trivia questions from the loudspeaker in the style of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

Turell did draw his share of fans, including a gaggle of about a dozen friends and family who sat courtside. “My friends and family, and the Jewish community as a whole, have been amazing,” he told the New York Jewish Week. 

Turell played 16 minutes, mostly in the second half, ending with four points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal. The score was tight between the two teams for most of the game, with the Cruise trailing by three at the half, but the Nets pulled away in the fourth quarter, winning the game 114 to 102. 

“It’s nerve-racking because you want Ryan to do great,” said Turell’s father, Brad. “I think he’s proven that he can play at this level, and he’ll do even better next year, with more playing time and more experience.” 

The fans who traveled to Uniondale also included Turell’s former Y.U. coach, Elliot Steinmetz, who said that “it’s awesome” watching Turell play in an NBA G League jersey. 

“He increased his game dramatically,” Steinmetz said. “It was really on his own. We’re getting to see it at the next level.” 

Ben Hamer, one of Turell’s friends from Valley Torah High School in Los Angeles, told the New York Jewish Week that “it’s definitely a good feeling to see someone who put in so much effort as a kid.”

“He still has a way to go, but to see the milestones every year is very cool from the perspective of someone who’s been there from the beginning,” Hamer said.

One kippah that remained prominently visible throughout the game was Turell’s red one, pinned onto his shaggy curls. Turell’s father sees the head covering as a statement and a source of pride. 

“He’s willing to wear a yarmulke and say: ‘I’m proudly Jewish,’” Brad Turell said. “Here’s a kid who doesn’t have to do this. There’s a lot of antisemitism and a lot of bad things going on, but he’s inspiring a lot of people. The symbol is the kippah and that makes a huge difference.” 

Turell said wearing his kippah also makes the game more meaningful for him. 

“It’s amazing to be able to inspire people through the game that I love, and show people it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Turell said. “What you believe in, you can succeed, as long as you put in the work.” 

After the game, he said, he was headed to a Purim celebration — but not before taking some time to sign autographs for the handful of admirers who came out to see him.

“New York is his second home,” said Brad Turell, who is from Los Angeles. “It’s always wonderful to come back.”