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SMC’s All-Conference Freshman Gottlieb Chosen for Maccabiah Games:

When Noah Gottlieb came to Santa Monica College from Venice High prior to the basketball season he brought lots of ambition but had some doubts about his future in the sport.

“There are so many players who want to succeed in Division 1 college basketball,” he said.

Gottlieb became an immediate starter, showed he could score from the point guard position by averaging 20 points for the Corsairs and was recently named to the all-Western State Conference team.

Last week he was selected to the United States Maccabiah Games team that will play in Rome this summer, and it seems likely he’ll realize his goal of moving on to the Division 1 level.

The word is circulating among college basketball people that Gottlieb has the skills, desire and work habits to play at that level. Recently he’s been watching practices at Loyola Marymount as he awaits the recruiting process.

I saw him distribute the ball effectively and score 28 points against LA Valley and was not surprised to learn later that he’s attracting Division 1 interest.

For Gottlieb, the realization that he has what it takes comes the same week he excelled in another game.

“We played Bakersfield College, which was rated No. 1 in the state,” he recalled. “I had a pretty good game [34 points] and then thought: ‘A lot of guys want to play at Division 1 and it could be me. It’s not far-fetched.’”

He’s 6-foot-2, a deft passer with the added dimension of being a good shooter, which allows him to play the shooting guard position too.

“I’ve played some shooting guard but believe I help a team the most when the ball is in my hands,” he said.

Unfortunately, SMC didn’t have a winning season, going 12-15. The Corsairs’ chances tumbled mightily when 6-foot-9 Shakir Johnson became ineligible, leaving the team without an outstanding center in a tough conference that included powerhouses Bakersfield and Citrus.

The challenges became too difficult. Johnson practiced with the team all season but without him in games the plan to get the ball inside first had difficulty succeeding. “Our fast break was better than our set offense,” said Gottlieb.

Nevertheless, Gottlieb made a lot of progress.

“I gained loads of experience playing against quality opposition,” he said. “It boosted my drive and I kept learning.

“I want to be so good. I used to work hard and believe I had hit my maximum, but now I know that was just the starting point.”

He’s awaiting word regarding details of the Maccabiah team’s plans. The Maccabiah Games are a worldwide event involving Jewish athletes and Gottlieb is likely to receive his best opportunity yet to be scouted.

He began his playing career on the freshman team at Santa Monica High before transferring to Venice, where the chance existed to play prominently right away.

Upon graduating from Venice, he received offers from Western Washington and Metro State, but not the Division 1 schools he coveted. He then enrolled in a strength program that has been helpful.

Community college athletes have two tiers of eligibility there, so Gottlieb could return to SMC next season. But many move on after one year and that seems the most likely path for him.

When I asked some college recruiters why Gottlieb hasn’t yet received a Division 1 scholarship, the answer I heard most was: “He slipped through the cracks in the system.”

But following his success at SMC, that isn’t likely to happen again.

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