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If you happened to walk through Mantor hall in the past few weeks, you may have noticed something unusual... read more

They play for the love of the game
Jason Arens
Antelope Staff
Photo by Jason Arens
Senior Mitch Armor looks to take Lincoln native Ryan Pluta to the hole in the Health and Sports Center. Pluta is positioned to make a stop.
Photo by Jason Arens
Ben Klein, a junior from Plainview, skies for the jump shot while warming up before jumping in a pickup game in the Health and Sports Center.
Photo by Jason Arens
Ogallala natives Mitch Armor and James Smith exchange words after a made basket in the Health and Sports Center.
Photo by Jason Arens
Spencer Mason, a sophomore from Auburn, looks for the open man late in a pickup game at the Health and Sports Center.

The Health and Sports Center has a big gymnasium off to the north of the main court full of basketball hoops. The gray rubber-like floor, sketched with black lines for boundaries, turns blue only for the 200-meter track that surrounds the nine courts. Sometimes you go by and the gym is quiet, and the ceiling space seems to absorb most sound.

The first few weeks of school are hot, so show up in the cool of the evening around 6:30 to see the courts come alive with the many college students, hungry for the game of basketball.  Half the courts are filled with intense five-on-five basketball, while the others include friendly games of one-on-one and horse.

The sounds of chatter, laughter, stomping feet and bouncing balls give way  only to a post player yelling for the ball down low or the grunt of a point guard trying to finish a lay up after being fouled.

Windows near the roof on the west wall shine brightly orange, evidence of the sun setting on a campus full of students hoping for a great school year.  The sun gives off a yellow haze and the open gym echoes the sounds, like playing ball in a big shed. The players continue to work hard until they are visibly tired, and the games slowly dwindle down as more and more people leave, until only one pickup game remains.  The gym now carries the same hollow echo as three hours prior when the first game started.

Most of these students have been playing basketball their whole lives, so why continue to play a measly pickup game when there are so many other college experiences to behold? It’s because the game isn’t so measly to them.

For a lot of these students, basketball has been a way of life growing up.  Rural Nebraska doesn’t offer a vast amount of extracurricular activities, so sports seemed to be the route to go.  But what happens when high school is over and there’s no scholarship to continue play at the next level?

That’s what makes these pickup games so great, because it’s more than “shooting around ‘cause there’s nothing else to do.”

Obviously, some take it more seriously than others, but everyone seems to enjoy it.  “Everyone is here for their own reasons,” says Ben Klein, a junior from Plainview. “It’s cool to be able to connect with other athletes.”

Klein is not the only student, rather athlete, with an opinion on playing pick-up games. “It’s a good workout and a great way to meet new people,” Omaha native Mick Krupksi said.  
Sophomore Craig Hall had a similar answer, adding that basketball is “just something fun to do.”

A lot of these athletes make playing ball a top priority, even when there are no materialistic benefits.  In many ways, pickup ball at UNK can be considered a club.  The college funds provide basketballs and a gym, and you can always expect the regulars to be there to start the games off.  You get what you want out of it, and for most, it’s the challenge.

Marcus Smith, a freshman from Detroit, said, “It’s great because there’s good competition. Everyone’s working hard because they care about it.  It will get you in shape in no time.”

It’s plain to see that those college students are out there for the love of the game, the thrill of the game, and most importantly, the connection they have with the game.  If you don’t believe that, just talk to junior David Bollish, who had a one line answer explaining the depth of intensity he feels about pickup basketball games.  “Talent will only get you so far, but heart, heart will get you further.”

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