May 1, 2009

To handle the rock at Ratner, know the Code of the Court

You may have noticed it: every day a loose assemblage of students, retired police officers, and Hyde Park locals gathers on campus for hours of running, shooting, and bickering. Their dedication can be explained only by sheer love of what they do—hounding the hardwood during nightly pick-up basketball games at Ratner.Often times 20 or more players of assorted levels will gather in the main or auxiliary gym to engage in Barack Obama’s favorite pastime. The entire scene can be rather intimidating, so for those of you out there who have ever wanted to get into a game, I’ll gladly walk you through protocol. Get Yo’ Game RightThe level of play really varies in these games, encompassing men’s and women’s varsity basketball players, arthritic old-timers, hipster novices, and everything in-between. That being said, you’re really wasting everyone’s time if you don’t have a basic skill set. Do you know the rules of basketball? Can you dribble down the court without toppling over or drop-kicking the ball out of bounds? Can you make a layup? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then go to the next section. If not, stick to the couch, and watch Lebron systematically abuse the entire NBA during the playoffs. Take notes, practice over the summer, and try your hand at athletics next fall.Make Your EntranceNow that your skills are proper, you’ll need to get into a game and start dominating. Upon entering the gym, exercise your rights. New arrivals (provided there aren’t five more of you waiting) can always hop into the next game on court, either by standing around with the other loiterers, or by screaming “NEXT!”, if you tend towards a more obnoxious inclination. If you come in when a game is just forming, you may have to shoot 3-pointers for your spot. No worries, big men, when you air-ball from beyond the arc, you’ll still automatically be in the next game. Law of the LandOkay, so now that you’re in the game, you’ll need to learn the local rules: The contests are played up to 11 points, by one’s and two’s (except for the first game on a court, which is up to 15). You should match up on defense either against somebody your size, or the kid with goggles who you think you can exploit over the course of the game. To avoid getting yelled at by your teammates, make sure you call out picks, get back on defense, and “pass [them] the ball, man!” Since there are no referees, players call their own fouls, and almost every call is complained about, but ultimately honored. Expect games to last between 15 and 20 minutes, and be prepared for frequent stoppages of play for arguments about the game ball, traveling calls, or straight-up fisticuffs. Use Your ExperienceOnce you’ve come a few times for pick-up, you’ll notice that it’s basically the same core of players every day. Take mental notes on the guy who can’t go left, the dude who sweats too much, and the girl who regularly out-rebounds whoever’s guarding her. One person you will undoubtedly come to know is the de-facto prime minister of pick-up, the rex of Ratner roundball—Bob Green. A doctor and area resident, Green has been knocking down mid-range jumpers at Ratner since it opened in 2003. He’s seen tons of players come and go, but he says the best he’s ever seen was Derrick Brooms (A.B. ‘96), who also holds U of C football records in single-season scoring, kickoff return average, rushing touchdowns, and receiving touchdowns. As a veteran, Green’s got some advice for the newbies: “Find the good players on your team, support them, and they’ll find a way to get you involved,” Green said. Alright, that should be all you need to know to play pick-up ball at Ratner. See you out there—I look forward to dunking in your grill.