A Game of Timing

One of my coaches, back in the day, always used to say that basketball was a game of quickness. Usually when he had just stolen the ball from somebody thirty years younger than him.

It's true, quickness is a big asset in basketball. But it's also a game of timing-- knowing when to shoot, when to pass, when to cut to the basket, and when to step into the passing lane and steal the ball to secure Cleveland State's first NCAA bid since 1986.

And, if you're talking pick-up basketball, there's also the important question of when to show up at the gym.

Arrival time is a major issue in places where you're likely to have more guys wanting to play than there are spots in the game. If you're in a "winners stay" game, getting on the right team is crucial, because if you end up on a bad team, you'll find yourself sitting out as much as you play.

Back home, I used to play in the "Sunday Morning All-Stars" games, when the JV coach would open the gym on Sunday mornings for a random assortment of current and former basketball players to come in and play, to help stave off cabin fever during the long dreary winters. (This actually started with my father and a bunch of other teachers, back when I was a little kid. I'm not sure if they still play-- they did as of a couple of years ago-- but it's got to be thirty years now since they started.)

The Sunday morning games would usually draw 20-30 guys, and involve two games on parallel courts, with some guys sitting. Losing a game meant shooting free throws for the right to stay on the court, and there were a couple of guys who were terrible players but great free-throw shooters, so you really didn't want to be on a losing team.

When I first started going, the trick was to get there as early as possible-- the gym was opened at 10:00, nominally, but I used to duck out of Mass at 9:40 or so to get there early enough to be in the first game. The guys who showed up early tended to be better than the later arrivals, so you had better odds of winning if you were there right at the start.

Of course, everyone eventually figured that out, so then a bunch of guys turned to showing up at 10:15 or 10:30, all together. That way, they would most likely end up being on the same team (occasionally faking a need to stretch out to avoid going on the court with the losers). That was harder to work, and I still usually went for showing up early, figuring that I could get one or two games in before they even showed up.

These days, we've been consistently getting 15-20 players at our lunchtime pick-up games, which is really inconvenient. The worst possible number is 17, because that means there's more than a full team sitting, so somebody has to sit out two games in a row. But there aren't enough to run 4-on-4 on the other court, and nobody will play 3-on-3 full court, so you end up with half-assed 3-on-3 games while waiting to get back in a full-court game. 3-on-3 has its good points, but it's not really a good substitute for full-court 5-on-5.

Happily, several of the guys who come don't show up until 12:10 or so, which means that getting there early is a good strategy. This also works well for me, because I have to teach right after the common lunch hour, so I can only play until 12:40 at the latest, if I want to eat lunch and stop sweating before class. I've been heading over to the gym at about 11:30 this term, and getting in a game or so before the numbers get too large.

Next term's going to be a problem, though, as I teach until 11:35 or so. That means I'll be showing up late, which is risky. Maybe I'll take to giving pop quizzes at the end of class, and having the students hand them in to the secretary, while I head to the gym...

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A game that ends with triple digit scores summd two points at a time is silly. More so if played by multi-millionaires who cannot piece together a grammatical sentence. A college sports coach earns no more than a Nobel Laureate, but he does it every year.

Any sport that doesn't approximate basketball, is not a sport, but a game. Like golf, darts, soccer or hockey. I'm just about certain Uncle Al couldn't go to his left if you pointed a gun at his head. Too bad.

I play pickup at a high school gym with a bunch of other geezers, and the best way to ensure nobody's sitting for too long when you have a larger than optimal amount of players, is that no team can play more than two games in a row, then they have to sit one. Although this concept doesn't fly with a younger, more competitive crowd (read: more skills); I also play through the summer at an outside court, and the "two and you're off for one game", would never take hold.

Agree with you on halfcourt; you play enough of it, and you start to think you're really much, much better than you actually are. Full court is the great leveler of talent, at least at the sub-sub-sub-semipro level. I think you'll find that, as time and arthritis rolls on, getting to the court insanely early and stretching yourself silly first is going to trump any other scheme for playing pickup.

Any sport where there isn't a chance of being killed is not a real sport.

By mrcreosote (not verified) on 11 Mar 2009 #permalink

Uncle Al is right, as always. All games should be played until the first team scores one point.

Oh, and all the players have to be able to speak at least as logically as Uncle Al's blog posts. Oh wait, they already do.

I know, I know, don't feed the troll... sorry, couldn't resist.