Common Pick-Up Basketball Players…and Who to Avoid

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Playing a game of pick-up basketball is a right of passage for many young athletes who want to test their skills against others when it may not be basketball season or  they aren’t on an official team and just want to play. This review proves, that not many sports lend themselves to a pick-up game like basketball does and if you know where to look, you can find a game just about anywhere.  I’ve played pick-up games of all varieties in many places, including some great games in China, and there’s something inherently great about meeting up with friends and strangers to play a game where you set your own rules, police yourself, and aren’t restrained by coaches and other pressures that come with organized games.  There’s a freedom to it and connecting almost telepathically with a teammate that you have never played with before is a thing of beauty.

That being said, pick-up games do have their down sides.  The most common problem is undeniably who you are playing with or against.  Part of what makes the game great – little if no time spent sitting on the bench – is also its enemy.  You can’t bench a teammate who is jacking up wild 3’s left and right.  In the countless pick-up games I’ve participated in, I’ve seen a wide variety of players, both good and insanely annoying.  In this article I plan on breaking down some of the player types that you will likely come across at a pick-up game.  I’ll give some of the common characteristics, techniques on how to shoot a basketball, as well as ratings on how easy, or hard, it is to have that type of player on your team.


Average Joe

By far the most common person you will find at a pick up game is your run-of-the-mill Average Joe.  He won’t wow you with his skills, but he won’t make you wish you could vote him off the team either.  Average Joe most likely played some high school hoops, but was just average there too.  He’ll take his fair share of shots, but he will readily distribute the ball as well.  Because he has some athletic ability as well as above average basketball knowledge, you can spot the Average Joe doing things like sitting off ball screens and using V cuts to separate from his defender.  These moves will be more likely out of habit than need, as the defense found in a typical pick-up game is similar to that of a early regular season NBA game; virtually nonexistent.  If you are in a game where you are the captain and taking turns picking players, grab as many Average Joe’s as you can.  Trust me.

– Teammate rating: 8 out of 10: solid all-around play and low levels of annoyance.

Not Quite College

The next pick-up baller I’ll cover is one who I will call the Not Quite College player.  Not Quite College was the star of his team at the medium sized high school he went too.  For a variety of reasons, such as being big enough to play power forward in high school but undersized for college, this guy never quite made it to the next level, but you’d never know it judging by the amount of trash he talks and the way he tries to put on a show.  Not Quite College will likely drop references to past accomplishments during the game such as “that’s how I hit ’em back at City High!” hoping to bait an unsuspecting sucker to ask about his former playing days.  Do not engage this person in any extra basketball conversation as he will be quick to try to convince you that he should have gone on to play some Division III ball at some no name school that he thinks you should have heard of before.  If Not Quite College is a big man, he won’t feel the least bit bad posting up a defender who is six inches shorter than him…and still act like his supreme skills are allowing him to drop points.

– Teammate rating: 7 out of 10: higher level skills come with the added baggage of arrogance.

Middle Age Fat Guy

Cape Optional

Cape Optional

At first glance you would think the Middle Age Fat Guy poses as much threat on the  court as a troupe of legless midgets but be warned, this guy is here for a reason.  He  doesn’t show up to be embarrassed on the defensive end because he is out of shape    just to run to the offensive end to be equally horrible.  Middle Age Fat Guy has one go-to move that is nearly impossible to stop.  More often than not this “move” is an      unexplainable ability to drain 3’s.  An even rarer ability you may come across is a  Middle Age Fat Guy having a great sky hook or a perfect jumper from the elbow.  Even the best defender on the other team will have fits trying to stop this guy’s one  move.  That being said, he might as well not even attempt to get back on defense  because even if he can manage to do so, the only thing he’ll be stopping is his own  heart from trying to play a full court game.  He’ll make some shots but be prepared  to watch 3 after 3 go sailing over your head regardless of if you’re open or not.

– Teammate rating: 3 out of 10: one skill area can’t compensate for a lack of skills in every other area.

I’m Good Because I’m Black

Stereotypes are, for all intensive purposes, a bad way of thinking and something that should be avoided.  The I’m Good Because I’m Black player does a little bit of self-stereotyping and assumes that because African Americans make up the vast majority of professional and college basketball, he must be good as well based on skin color alone.  There’s a good chance you will have no idea if you are playing with this guy until a few minutes into the game as he isn’t as easy to spot as the aforementioned Middle Age Fat Guy.  I’m Good Because I’m Black will likely avoid passing to players on his team who he feels are beneath his skill level…even if he’s actually the worst one on the court.  A major problem is that other players may feed into this players ego by picking him first because they are making the same assumptions.  Having this guy on your team is a crap shoot depending on how good he thinks he is and how much he’s going to try to prove it with awkward fade away jumpers and passes he has no business attempting.

– Teammate rating: 5 out of 10: trying to read his true skill level can be a challenge.

I’m White But Think I’m Black So Therefore I Think I’m Good Because Being Black Makes Me Good

Gangsta gangsta

Bling bling

Far and away the pick-up player that annoys me the most is I’m White But Think I’m Black So Therefore I Think I’m Good Because Being Black Makes Me Good (aka “I’m White” from here on out).  The one good thing about this player is that he can be spotted from the moment you step in the gym.  If it’s hot and trendy in the hip hop world, I’m White will be donning it whether that be ultra baggy shorts, over-sized white T’s, or excessively large cubic zirconia earrings.  Whether he has any real talent or not is irrelevant because you will spend the entire game figuring out how you can justify punching your own teammate repeatedly.  While his crossover may be “sick” (according to only him), he’ll be too busy trying to pose as a gangster to actually do much with the ball.

– Teammate rating: 1 out of 10: regardless of skill, too annoying to put up with.

Mr. 360

Don’t let the name fool you into thinking that Mr. 360 got the name because his game covers all or because he runs circles around the competition.  No, no my friend.  Mr. 360 earned this moniker by his signature move, the fast break 360 layup.  Mr. 360 has a passion for turning a routine, easy play into something out of an And1 Mixtape Tour.  I mean, why the hell make a simple bounce pass into the post when you can go behind your back and between the defenders legs first.  Makes sense right?  This guy may luck out on a few twisting fade away jumpers to make him think he should keep attempting them, frustrating teammates to no end.  Don’t be surprised to see Mr. 360 set individual game records for most times dribbled between the legs and he will undoubtedly lead the league in ridiculous shots per game (RSPG for you stat junkies).

– Teammate rating: 1 out of 10: if you get stuck with Mr. 360 and I’m White, just go home.

The Dynamic Duo

Gary Ace

Gary & Ace

The Dynamic Duo joins the game as a collective unit and will do all they can to make sure that they are on the same team each and every game.  You know you are in trouble if they come in wearing  team jerseys from some rec league or intramural team or have any matching accessories (headbands, shoes, half heart necklaces).  If you are on the same side as The Dynamic Duo be ready for a heavy dose of the pick and roll as these guys believe they are the second coming of Stockton and Malone.  Another tell-tale sign that you are dealing with The Dynamic Duo is the dreaded play calling.  Not only is play calling pretty unnecessary in a pick-up game, calling plays that only two people on the team know about is just asinine and insanely irritating.

– Teammate rating: 6 out of 10: they are OK teammates for each other, just hope it translates to you as well.

I Can (Almost) Dunk

Now here’s a fun one to play with!  I Can (Almost) Dunk centers his game around just that…almost dunking.  While he’s never actually dunked a ball, at every opportunity he’ll take off to throw down and then get blocked by the rim.  You will be able to tell I Can (Almost) Dunk apart from other players as he will frequently slap the backboard or grab and hang from the rim when following up on a teammates made layup just to show you that he can get up there.  I Can (Almost) Dunk will call for alley-oops frequently despite the fact that not being able to dunk normally makes the chance of completing an alley-oop basically zero.  The one positive feature that I Can (Almost) Dunk brings to the table is that he will block some shots since he relishes any opportunity to show off his jumping abilities.  He won’t think twice about swatting the shot from someone’s five foot tall kid brother who is playing because you needed one more guy; so if you’re cool with that, it’s an option.

– Teammate rating: 5 out of 10: his ability to block some shots helps his case.

The Prefontaine

dukie

Does what it takes…

The Prefontaine will set himself apart from others by his seemingly endless ability to sprint up and down the court, chase after loose balls, and actually play consistent defense.  This guy will be the first man back on defense and takes fast break points for the opposition like a personal slap to his work ethic.  Unfortunately, The Prefontaine typically lacks any semblance of offensive skills and each layup can be an adventure.  The good thing is The Prefontaine is happy with just a few shots each game and likes to fill his personal stat sheet with things that won’t show up in the box score such as screens set, charges taken, and loose balls recovered.  There are some visual cues to help you spot The Prefontaine: excessive amounts of sweatbands, knee supports, running shoes (not basketball shoes), and if you are lucky enough, rec specs.  If you think you have enough offensive firepower to make up for this lack of shooting touch, don’t forget about The Prefontaine.

– Teammate rating: 7 out of 10: defense and hustle are a lost art.

The Ringer

I saved this guy for last, and his name really says it all.  The Ringer is the guy you must have on your team.  He has extensive basketball experience and knowledge and coupled with his athletic ability, he does what he wants when he wants on the court.  The Ringer can be modest by nature and will go out of his way to make his teammates look good and set them up.  He’s a joy to play with as you will get to take your fair share of shots while having the safety net of giving The Ringer the ball when the game is on the line.  He’s an irreplaceable asset if you are playing games where the winning team stays, because your odds of losing with The Ringer on your side are slim.  It should be noted, however, that you should be on your toes when playing with The Ringer because he will know when you are open whether you realize it or not and the ball might be headed your way at any given time.  I’m okay with that, and you should be too.

– Teammate rating: 100 out of 10: get on his team ASAP.


So there you have it and while this list isn’t comprehensive, it definitely covers the basic cast of characters you will come across when you step on the court to lace ’em up for some pick-up hoops.  If you come across some other common players that you feel I may have missed, drop me a line in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter @patlussenhop!

Pat Lussenhop - Pat was born and raised in rural Minnesota and is currently living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He graduated from St. John's University (MN) with a degree in psychology and went on to get his masters in school psychology at the University of Northern Iowa. He's a lifetime sports fan and follows basketball and football the most. His favorite teams include any team that has "Minnesota" in it's name and he enjoys sports statistics and any good sporting debates. - Follow him on Twitter here

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  • seowebmaster

    Playing a game of pick-up basketball is a right of passage for many young athletes who want to test their skills against others when it may not be basketball season or they aren’t on an official team and just want to play. Not many sports lend themselves to a pick-up game like basketball does and if you know where to look, you can find a game just about anywhere. I’ve played pick-up games of all varieties in many places, including some great games in China, and there’s something inherently great about meeting up with friends and strangers to play a game where you set your own rules, police yourself, and aren’t restrained by coaches and other pressures that come with organized games. There’s a freedom to it and connecting almost telepathically with a teammate that you have never played with before is a thing of beauty.

  • lathamtbelcher

    Can we add another category? It should be the Overly Intense Player. You know, the one who thinks he should bring Kevin Garnett Playoff Game 7 intensity to a pickup game. He's always beating his chest, giving taunting stares to the opponent, and DEMANDING the ball be put in his hands on the offensive end. On the flip side, he usually is a great rebounder and gets up and down the floor well. We should choose him, just to avoid the taunting stares and threats of being out-rebounded. I would give him a Teammate rating of 6 out of 10.

  • lathamtbelcher

    Can we add another category? It should be the Overly Intense Player. You know, the one who thinks he should bring Kevin Garnett Playoff Game 7 intensity to a pickup game. He's always beating his chest, giving taunting stares to the opponent, and DEMANDING the ball be put in his hands on the offensive end. On the flip side, he usually is a great rebounder and gets up and down the floor well. We should choose him, just to avoid the taunting stares and threats of being out-rebounded. I would give him a Teammate rating of 6 out of 10.

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  • johnbrown2

    we need one for a prefontaine with some scoring ability (naturally, because i identify with that type of player). you're right about the hustle and defense, but being willing to take the ball to the rim and make yr defender look slow is part of it as well.

  • johnbrown2

    we need one for a prefontaine with some scoring ability (naturally, because i identify with that type of player). you're right about the hustle and defense, but being willing to take the ball to the rim and make yr defender look slow is part of it as well.

  • akaye

    I’d also add “I Think I’m Reggie Miller” Guy, who constantly jacks up nothing but threes, no matter how many he’s previously missed.

  • lol, I love the description of “The Dynamic Duo”, you always end up seeing those in the games, so freaking annoying…

  • Patr

    lol the almost dunk guy also always points to the room while running the lane on a fast break

  • mrwonderful

    keep in mind that after taking a charge the Prefontaine will get up quickly and with his head down will clap to himself.

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