Yo, You Trying to Hoop?


Mallika Pandey

Oberlin students playing pick-up basketball at Philips gym.

Oberlin can be suffocating at times. Downtown, there is only a handful of restaurants and spaces where you can actually feel that you’re off campus. You could be standing on Main Street but still see King Building or Bibbins Hall, or you could be chilling in The Feve and see a professor — they definitely don’t want to see you, either — and then be reminded of the paper you have due at the end of the week. Suffocating.

That’s been the case for me during my time at Oberlin. The College has a chokehold on students and, unless you have a car, it is incredibly difficult to get away from campus. However, the one place I’ve been able to get away from all the stresses of Oberlin has been Philips gym, where I can run some pick-up basketball.

I’m not a top-tier hooper by any means, but I’m not a mediocre one either. I think I’m above average when it comes to the people that play regular pick-up at Oberlin. Trust me — I can hit difficult shots and can use my off-hand pretty well. If Oberlin College was NBA 2K and the players on the varsity team were the 92–99 overalls, I would place myself in the 83–87 range. This is on a range from like 75–99. At least, that’s how I’m seeing it in my mind. Even if people are not around to play, I get my shots up on my own and have my own training routine, you know? Just to stay ready in case I grow 10 inches and decide to join a G-League team — I’m 5’8”, so that would put me at 6’6”.

Funny stuff aside, I have noticed a recent decline in the participation in pick-up and that saddens me because, as a fourth-year, I’m on my way out. I cannot stress enough how much playing pick-up at Oberlin has kept me grounded, simply because it is so different than what I was used to before. I’ve played basketball with a variety of people before, but Oberlin pick-up is different. I’ve played pick-up in various places, like Chicago, Miami, and Houston, but Oberlin players are generous. People are actually nice compared to other places that I’ve played.

I want to say this atmosphere exists because we’re not varsity players; we’re just trying to play. The hoopers here are pretty chill and I’ve never seen anything escalate in Philips. Then we typically share information, like our name and the next time we’ll be back. That’s how I’ve formed and been picked up for a number of intramural teams.

I really do want to shout-out noon-hour hoop sessions. I went to my first noon-hoops the fall semester of my first year, and ever since it has been one of my favorite campus groups that I’ve belonged to. It was Brian Cabral, OC ’18, that brought me. I was pretty shy at first. So much so, that I’m pretty sure I was garbage for a solid two weeks. It was different because there were staff and faculty playing, too — and they were so much better than what I would have thought. I was used to playing basketball with people my age and then leaving with my homies and not even talking to the other players.

In addition to the faculty, staff, and older students that I was able to connect with, people from the town also come through all the time — both high schoolers and adults. One of them, Jahlil Mitchell, was a key part of the intramural team that I put together last semester.

Last May, I twisted my ankle at noon-hoops. It was probably the worst physical injury I’ve ever had. People gathered around me and really took care of me — “damn, this is one hell of a community,” I thought. It’s pretty slept-on because we’re just a random collection of people, but we all come together to play some pick-up, and we have each other’s backs. Honestly I’m grateful that I’ve had a group of people to play basketball with and connect with through collectively running up and down a hardwood floor.

Anyways, everyone should come through on Tuesdays and Thursdays 12–1:30 p.m. for noon-hoops, or catch me on the court between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on any random weekday — see you there.