With summer in full swing, that leaves more time for one thing: pickup basketball. Cal students go to the RSF at all hours of the day, but we all meet the same types of players every time.
Without fail, you’ll always meet that one player who spends way too much time playing pickup basketball and takes it way too seriously. “Coach,” as I like to call him, is most likely a middle-aged man, but sometimes, he’s a student who thinks that he’s better than everyone because he tunes into ESPN from time to time and watches some LeBron highlights. He’ll shout orders at everyone, never missing the opportunity to flaunt his “basketball IQ”. If you’re unlucky enough to have him on your team, you’d better pray that you’re having a hot shooting night, or you’ll be hearing a lot from him the entire game. Worse yet, if you do happen to make a shot, he’ll point at you and say something like “there you go, let’s get it,” as if he did something to help you get that shot, even if he just stood in the corner and pointed at the ball and then a player in some nonsensical fashion.
On the subject of players you don’t want on your team, you’ll occasionally come across the guy who chucks every shot he gets the opportunity to take. It may be me, but I feel like these players are generally from SoCal who grew up watching Kobe Bryant play. Right after your team gets possession, he’ll shout at you to pass him the ball and will automatically proceed to take a 20-foot fadeaway jumper. Then, he’ll act surprised, even shocked, that he bricked it and not get back on defense. The worst part is, on the off-chance that he does make the shot, he’ll take it as a sign that he’s hot and shoot the next five times he touches the ball as if he has the microwave signature skill on 2K. On the rare occasion that he does pass, he won’t give up the opportunity to make it as fancy and flashy as possible, so he gets some credit for the bucket.
While there are players you’d hate to have on your team, you’ll run in to that one player from time to time whom you’d love to play with again. This player isn’t spectacular, but he definitely knows his way around the block, most likely because he played high school basketball. He actively tries to get the team involved, but if he notices that things are getting out of hand, he’ll shift his game into another gear and go off for two or three straight buckets. He’ll also give you some helpful pointers from time to time, but the difference between him and “coach” is that you can feel that he genuinely wants to help you get better. I’m lucky enough to play with a guy like this a couple times a week, and let me say, it’s made my pickup basketball experience at the RSF infinitely better. Just playing with a guy like this makes a trip to the RSF worth it, win or lose.
I go to the RSF at least twice a week to play pickup, and on one of those visits, I meet this middle-aged white guy we’ll call “Joe.” At times, Joe looks like he’s never competed in a sports game, let alone basketball. And Joe is never the first to be picked up on a team — in fact, most of the time he’s last — and he’s only picked up because he’s been waiting a couple games to get in. But the regulars who go to the RSF know what value he brings to the team. Take away the gambling problem, and Joe is essentially Woody Harrelson in “White Men Can’t Jump.” The dude can flat out shoot the ball. He has a slow release, slingshot type jumper that’s impossible to guard — all you can do is contest the shot. I’ve guarded him before, and it was basically the most frustrating game of pickup basketball I’ve ever played. Every play would essentially go like this — player dribbles up the court, Joe gets an off-ball screen, player passes to Joe, Joe drains the shot. Once he gets the ball at the left baseline 15 feet from the basket, it’s over. While he may be rare, there are guys like Joe you run into at the RSF, and if you recognize it quickly, you may be lucky enough to have him on your team.
While there are guys like Joe, you’re also bound to run into players I like to call “deadweight.” These players generally have no interest in playing basketball and are at the RSF usually because a friend invited them. It’s great to compete against these players since you’ll look like McBuckets out on the court. But if you get stuck with one on your team, get used to the idea of playing 4-on-5. Don’t get mad whenever “deadweight” loses his man on defense and concedes an easy basket because you’ll just look like the guy who takes the game too seriously. But if you want to win, you’re going to have score every time down the floor, because the other team will take advantage of the deadweight on your team.
Whether it be at the RSF or the park, pickup basketball is easily the best sport to play over summer. But unless you want to be “coach” or “shot-chucker,” keep in mind that it is a game and that you have teammates on your squad.
Winston Cho is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho