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Take Your Skills to the Street

  • Author:
    By Ryan Wood
  • Date:
    Mar 21, 2011

Like anything you're venturing into for the first time, showing up at a random basketball court to join a pickup game can be a little intimidating.

The questions swirl around in your head. Am I wanted here? Am I good enough? Are they too physical? What kind of rules are they playing by?

Streetball has its own unique set of guidelines that generally are passed on through experience. Once you play a couple of pickup games, you begin to understand the setup. Until then, you are basically trying to blend in.

Whether it's an inner city playground, a college recreation center or on a public court in suburban America, streetball is immensely popular for basketball players just wanting to play. Most of the time, desire is all you need to be welcomed.

But it's a good idea to get a general idea of how streetball is set up before you arrive. It can always vary depending on the playground and the players, but pickup basketball across the country generally follows these guidelines:

The Teams

If there are 10 or more players wanting to play, then 5-on-5 is the setup of choice, using the full court. 4-on-4 can still play full-court basketball, but anything less than that (like 3-on-3) generally sticks to a half-court game. If there is only a half-court available, then 4-on-4 is the max because 10 players playing half-court can get too crowded.

At many places, picking teams isn't given much thought. If a game is going on out on the court, someone waiting on the sideline can find out who's "got next," or who's next in line to play. Whoever is established as next in line (usually the one who was there first) can grab teammates from those waiting on the sidelines.

Those players go in, generally playing the winner of the previous game.

The Game

Once the game has begun, it's easy for any basketball player to fit in--just play ball. Pickup basketball is like organized ball, with the big guys banging around inside and the strong shooters camping out beyond the arc. There's more freedom for creativity, but not at the expense of playing well. And, while there's probably not any designed plays, simple basketball strategies like the pick-and-roll and setting screens are utilized to help get points.

There is one significant difference, however. Pickup games have no officials, so the calling of fouls is up to the victims.

This comes with some responsibility. One of the big things to remember at most courts is to not get cheap--make sure you are legitimately hacked if you're going to call a foul. Screaming "foul!" because someone brushed your leg with their arm isn't the way to make friends on the playground, where the game is usually more physical anyway. The old saying "No harm no foul" is preached in streetball. If you're going to call one, make sure it's a no doubter.

If a foul is called, two things happen:

  1. If it's called during a shot and the shot is good, the foul is ignored and play continues. If you're the trash talking type, you can declare "and one!" to let the world know you scored anyway.
  2. If it's called and the shot doesn't go in, the team that was fouled inbounds the ball at the top of the arc.

The Scoring

This can vary depending on how the players already there generally are playing. But a popular scoring method in pickup basketball is to play to 11 by one's and two's. That is, each bucket is worth one point, with buckets from behind the three-point line counting as two. First team to score 11 points wins.

Some games can go as high as 15, or even 21. But be courteous to those on the sidelines waiting to come in--a quick game to 11 allows for a nice rotation that allows everyone to play a good amount.

Now that you know how pickup basketball operates, enjoy it. Every single player is there to have fun playing basketball. Make sure you're no different.

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