There is a lot of talk about the big Jewish kid in Evanston Illinois, Aaron Liberman playing for Northwestern. But before we get all wrapped up in one Orthodox Jew from California, we better pay attention to the East Coast where another former California Orthodox High Schooler is making waves at Cornell. Meet JoJo Fallas, former Red Sarachek MVP and Shalhevet legend. JoJo is working under the tutelage of former Cornell (Jewish) legend Jon Jaques and he just might be the one we are talking about for the next few years.
1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I’m JoJo Fallas, an 18-year-old freshman on Cornell’s basketball team. I am from Los Angeles and went to Shalhevet High School, an orthodox Jewish institution. I am majoring in Applied Economics and Management.
2) When did you start playing basketball and when did you realize playing at the next level was a reality?
I’ve been playing basketball for as long as I can remember. My first organized basketball experience was in the first grade, but basketball has always been a major part of my life. It has always been a dream of mine to play basketball at the Division 1 level, but I don’t think it was until the summer between my junior and senior years of high school that I really viewed it as a reality.
3) There have been an influx of athletes who graduated Jewish High Schools moving on to play college sports; do you take pride in this?
I take a lot of pride in it. I think for a long time there was an untrue belief that players from Jewish High Schools were either not talented enough to play at the next level or did not receive enough exposure to ever have a real possibility of taking that next step. To me, it’s all about young athletes believing that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to, and more and more athletes from Jewish High Schools are proving just that.
4) Was it harder to get noticed at a Jewish High School?
It was more difficult to get noticed at a Jewish High School. Shalhevet has a total of 200 students, which means that the division that we played in was composed of other small schools, limiting us to very little exposure. However, AAU and summer camps are becoming ever more competitive, and coaches are using these avenues to recruit more, so it was not as hard as it might seem.
5) What was the Red Sarachek tournament experience like?
I attended the Red Saracheck tournament 3 times in my high school career, and it was an amazing experience each and every time. The tournament does an outstanding job of shrinking the country and connecting Jewish students who would otherwise have very little contact. Winning the tournament in my last high school game was a rewarding and fulfilling conclusion, and one that meant a lot to the school as a whole.
6) What adjustments have you had to make in your game so far at Cornell?
There are a lot of adjustments I have had to make at Cornell, from becoming accustomed to the speed and strength of the game to understanding how to make more complex and advanced reads about what is happening on the floor. But I think the biggest adjustment is mental; the season is longer, there is more travel and harder and longer practices than many players have experienced at the high school level. It takes a lot of adjustment to stay mentally engaged and focused throughout all that is happening, which is why so many freshmen seem to hit a wall towards the end of the season.
7) Have you been able to learn from Coach Jon Jaques (former TGR Interviewee and Cornell standout)?
I have been able to learn a lot from Coach Jaques. From light lessons like how to adjust to the weather coming from LA, to just hearing about his experience as a player going to the sweet 16, he has played a major role in my transition to Cornell and my development as a player.
8) Can Cornell get back to the tournament?
Cornell can definitely get back to the tournament. We have had a tough start to the season, but we are a young, talented team and just need to put a few things together. I feel like we have all the pieces necessary to win the Ivy League, and it is just about getting better every day in order to make that a reality.
9) What are you future goals moving forward?
One of my goals is definitely to win the Ivy League and get back to the tournament. Individually though, I am just trying to become a player that people enjoy watching and playing with. I would also love to play professionally in Israel after college.
Thank you to JoJo for the interview. Lets get Cornell back on track. We will be watching.
And Let Us Say…Amen.
– Jeremy Fine