BROOKLINE – A year from now, Maimonides senior and Brookline native Daniella Bessler will be taking the court for the Yeshiva University Maccabees after her gap year in Israel.
A 5-foot-7 point guard, Bessler has elite ball handling skills along with a quick first step and a steady jumper that made her a threat on a 11-3 Maimonides team that on average outscored their opponents by 24.4 points her senior year. Her prowess on the basketball court drew attention from many college basketball programs, but her options were limited since she chooses to sit out on Friday nights and Saturdays for Shabbat.
Players with Bessler’s skills are rare in Division 4 high school girls’ basketball in the state. Maimonides head coach Garvey Salomon knew early on that Bessler was a different breed.
“She was aggressive and fearless … one of the few players I had that could set up her shot,” he said.
Bessler, along with backcourt mate Tova Gelb, settled into roles as primary scorers early in their high school careers and maintained those roles throughout, making Maimonides a highly competitive team. But it was during her senior year that she emerged as the true emotional leader for the M-Cats.
“She’s had a lot of virtuoso performances,” Salomon said. “Her speed and her ability to process and commit to something is unlike most, if not all, the players I’ve had in the past.
“Her competitive nature is her main superpower,” Salomon said. “Her standard for her play is really high, and if she doesn’t think she’s playing well she’s really tough on herself. In the past it was almost to a detriment. It wasn’t until last year or this year that she had to understand you’re not going get 30 points every game.”
Bessler, a five-year varsity player, had a storied career for the M-Cats, culminating with 1,000-point junior and senior years.
The college circuit, however, came with roadblocks as some of the schools that were originally looking at Bessler backed out because of her unwillingness to play on Shabbat.
“I have no hard feelings at all,” Bessler said. “I understand where they’re coming from. It’s unfortunate but I’m not angry at them.
“The way I looked at it, if I was with a Division 3 school, it might as well be a school that can accommodate for my religious beliefs and that’s Stern [Yeshiva’s women’s school],” she said. Yeshiva has worked with the NCAA and the Skyline Conference on all sports to adjust schedules that typically run on Shabbat. In addition, the NCAA has adjusted to accommodate Orthodox players who wish to cover their hair if they are married.
Sitting out on Shabbat was not her choice at first. “I didn’t always feel so connected to that decision, I just knew it was what my family did,” Bessler said regarding her perspective when she was younger. Her father Barry, a prosthodontist, and her mother Michal, the principal of Maimonides Elementary School, made it a family tradition when she was young.
As she got older, however, Bessler gained a better understanding and started to take pride in her religion. “Basketball isn’t my life,” she said. “Religion is going to be with me for my entire life. I want to look back and know that I made the right decision in the long run. It’s a moral code for me, it’s a path of life.”
As for what she does on Shabbat, in addition to spending time with family and going to shul, Bessler enjoys playing pick-up sports – including basketball – with friends.
Before attending college, Bessler is taking her gap year in Israel to study the Talmud in Jerusalem. She plans on playing a lot of basketball and training for the upcoming season.
Bessler was slated to play AAU basketball this spring, but the season was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also was planning on playing for an Israeli basketball team next year, but that season also was canceled by the coronavirus.