Despite three recent losses on the road, the University of Maryland men’s basketball team is riding high.
Prior to the team’s game against Northwestern University on Jan. 25, which the Terps won, 68-67, in a heart-pounding finish, guard Jacob Susskind sat down for a question-and-answer session.
The 6-foot-4 senior hails from West Orange, N.J., where he graduated from the Golda Och Academy, formerly a Solomon Schechter Day School, and attended Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston, N.J.
He is the only Jewish member of the team, a fact he trumpeted to the world when he entered Midnight Madness this year to the tune of “Hava Negilla” — his mother’s request.
“She’d been bugging me for years, so finally, for senior year, I said OK,” he said.
You were being looked at by the Ivy League and Patriot League and yet you came to Maryland as a walk-on. What led up to that?
In my senior year of high school I tore my ACL, so after that, pretty much all the recruiting stopped because I wasn’t playing. After that, Division III schools were still looking at me, but I wanted to go to a big school. I applied to Maryland and got in, and then my brother gave me the idea to try and walk on for the team. He said, ‘You got nothing to lose.’ I contacted the coaches — I wasn’t even fully healed when I met them — and then I came in at the beginning of the school year, and [after] a couple individual workouts, they kept asking me back.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to say, ‘You know what? I could be on a Division I team?’ Where does that confidence come from?
Probably from both my parents. My dad played basketball at Muhlenberg, which is Division III. He also played tennis there, so he’s really into sports. He’s a winner at heart; he always wants to win. The last time we were playing one-on-one full court — I think I was 14 — I was winning, and I had a lay-up to win the game. But he grabs my jersey — this is my own dad — and throws me to the ground so I wouldn’t score. And he ended up beating me. My mom is an ovarian cancer survivor, and just the drive she’s shown over the past nine years raising over $1 million for ovarian cancer research through a 5K run she put together [is] probably where I get all my motivation, my drive.
How have you been involved with your mother’s fundraising efforts?
I gave all of my teammates “Suss & Us” shirts, which is our cancer team’s name, and we took pictures. And social media kind of blew up and helped raise a lot of money. Maryland basketball [also got] involved, which is nice because it’s such a big name. People started seeing it and started to understand the different things that might happen with ovarian cancer.
You made it through all the tryouts, you’re on the team. How do you mesh with your teammates?
My freshman year definitely started off tough. I think a lot of the players thought I didn’t belong — I was dragging my knee around because I couldn’t really move. But finally I got healthy. This is probably the best year it’s been with a group of guys who respect each other and want to win and who like each other on and off the court.
Last spring, there were a lot of changes. Maryland was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, and then a bunch of your teammates transferred. What was the feeling in the locker room?
The locker room was fine. We don’t like to talk about what happened last year. We just kept moving forward, and we knew that we were going to be fine. We knew that we had great freshmen coming in and we had transfers coming in who were going to help us. And from the way we’ve been playing this season, [they have] helped a lot.
Before the season started, several reporters who cover the Big Ten picked Maryland to finish 10th.
Tenth, and now they’re saying we’re going to win it, so it’s awesome.
What is it like to play at home in the Xfinity Center when it’s full?
It’s awesome. It’s loud. We played Duke there two years ago and we beat them, and I remember that the sound system in the building actually started to fail because it was so loud. It was just awesome to hear people screaming. It gives me the chills.
Do you plan to be involved with sports after college?
Definitely. I see myself playing basketball — or any sport — as long as my body holds up.
Any big games coming up?
Honestly, we just play it game by game, so our next game is our biggest game.
Melissa Apter is a staff reporter with WJW’s sister publication, the Baltimore Jewish Times.