“I tried to assemble a team at the draft that would focus on defense, would not be ballhogs and would be reliable,” says Elkaffas, who has participated in UH leagues since 2011. “My big thing is reliability and good teammates, hard workers on defense.”
It’s no surprise, then, than Elkaffas picked Seth Jonker with his first-round pick, No. 2 overall. Jonker was an all-conference pick at Carleton College, a highly-respected institution in Northfield, Minn. Since coming to the Twin Cities and building a career in finance, Jonker has played in Ultimate Hoops leagues and Life Time Fitness pick-up ball for years.
Not only does he have size, strength and a smooth post game, Jonker is someone who Elkaffas knew he could trust.
“I knew Seth on a personal level, I had played with him before,” Elkaffas said. “I know he’s reliable; he’s a gamer. If I wasn’t at games then Seth could coach and set things up. He’s passionate about basketball, and I knew I could count on him on the court and when I’m not there. He fits my unselfish, smart player mold.”
Elkaffas nailed his first-round pick, as Jonker leads the Dream League in points per game (22) and is seventh in rebounds per game (8.1). Jonker contributes an average of almost one-third of his team’s points per game (Pilots are second in the league with 66.6 PPG).
The Pilots went on to draft well through the rest of the draft, picking a well-rounded group that has gone on to lead the Pilots to a 14-4 record. They are now up 2-1 in the Dream League Championship Best-of-5 Series after defeating the Knights on Tuesday night. The Pilots and Elkaffas are now one win away from the winning the inaugural Dream League Championship.
“[All our Pilots players] are important,” Elkaffas said of his players. “Jon Christenson is one of the most indispensable people on the team. He and Seth are guys who I’ll never get rid of; Jon is probably the defensive player in the year for the Dream League. He shuts down the top scorers every week. Dewan (Grant), I traded for him mid-season. (Joe) Drapcho has been on an absolute tear the last month in a half. He’s our secondary stopper, he takes the bigger guys.”
Elkaffas is also proud of finding Troy Martin with his last pick. A 5-foot-8 guard with solid game but a quiet demeanor, Elkaffas thinks he landed Martin since most general managers didn’t know who he was. He is the Pilots’ fourth-leading scorer with 7.4 PPG.
“I just knew he played a season in rec and he only played three games,” Elkaffas said of Martin. “He’s a quiet guy, doesn’t do much talking. Really coachable, he’s a guy where you can get in his grill and he will take it in stride and make adjustments. He passes the ball well, he can shoot it."
Elkaffas believes Martin was passed up because of his $10 million skill salary and being undersized, even for a guard.
"I think [the other GMs] picked up the guys they were buddies with, and they didn’t know anything about Troy. I had the cap space at the end and picked him, and I got fortunate.”
And Martin’s unselfishness has fit right in with the Pilots.
“My role is general,” Martin said. “I’m a creator on the floor, making stuff happen. Getting my teammates the ball, driving to the cup, getting to the line, I’m more focused on creating for my teammates easily.”
Drapcho echoed Troy’s sentiments about the Pilots’ team concept.
“We work well because we have a combination of strengths, and everyone knows how to play to their strengths and fill their roles,” Drapcho said. “We also all have each other's back. No one really cares too much about their stats.”
An advantage of being around Ultimate Hoops as long as Elkaffas has is that he knows most of the players in the league. With several years of UH play under his belt, he has a pretty good scouting report on the Knights, the winningest team in the Dream League with a 17-1 overall record.
“I know a lot about them, I’ve played with all of the players in rec,” Elkaffas said. “Travis (Johnson) is their engine, a great two-way player, he rebounds the ball and can shoot. He’s a ‘do-it-all’ guy. Jake (Gave) is their best player and has the most unstoppable game on their team. He does a couple of things really well and doesn’t deviate from that. What he does well, he sticks with. He’s got phenomenal touch, if he gets in the lane he finishes every time. Gifted around the hoop, for sure.
“Aaron (Lukitch) is the best shooter in the Dream League. He’s a knock-down shooter... if he’s open it’s probably going in. Antoine (Lynch), who they got in the 5th round, he was probably the steal in the draft. People were afraid he’d be a cancer and be expensive, but I think the Knights had a good enough salary situation where they could take him in the fifth round. He’s virtually unstoppable in the post, but he’s not a very good defender.”
When long-time UH veterans play against Elkaffas and the Pilots, there’s extra motivation on the line. Elkaffas, with 454 career league games, ranking #7 all-time, has built a reputation of being ultra-competitive over the years, including a controversial tripping incident, captured on video, which took Elkaffas infamous reputation to a whole new level.
“[Izzy] has a polarizing personality,” says Jonker. “You love him when he is on your side, and you can’t stand him when he is against you. Sometimes I wish he didn’t talk so much trash, because some players trash-talking gets them going.”
With his passion for UH, Elkaffas was an easy choice for Ultimate Hoops National Manager of Leagues Reid Nelson to bring on as a co-host to the long-running and highly popular This Week in REC YouTube show, centered on the Minnesota Recreational Division League.
“Izzy’s impact on UH has been enormous,” Nelson said. “His time on This Week in REC showed how much he knew about each player and their tendencies. Best of all, he would always speak his mind, regardless of who he was talking about. In the end, this turned out to be exactly what people wanted to hear…the truth.”