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The Ins and Outs of Pick-Up Basketball

One of the most popular activities at Iowa State’s recreation facilities is pick-up basketball. Maybe you’ve participated before, or maybe you’ve always wanted to but don’t know the ins and outs of pairing up and playing on public courts. Lied, State Gym and Beyer have dozens of courts that can fill up quickly during peak hours, so plan on having to wait if you go in the evening on weekdays.

If you’re not sure what the proper etiquette is for playing pick-up, I’ve got you covered.

The first thing to know (and the most important), is that you’re playing to have fun. Nobody wants to play with the person who takes things too seriously. You’re not playing for any reason other than to have a good time. Pick-up games can be filled with players of wildly different skill levels – don’t put down those who aren’t ‘as good’ as you. At the end of the day, it’s all just for fun.

Now that you understand why you’re playing, you need to know how to play. I don’t mean how to literally play the sport of basketball, I’m going to assume that you know this already if you are trying to play a pick-up game.

If you came alone or in a group of less than five, you need to pick up other players for your team before you ask another team to play. A good way to know who is available to play is to watch for smaller groups standing and watching a current game, or just shooting freely at an open hoop. Just walk up and ask them if they’d like to team up.

When you have five players you’re ready to find a team to play against. Sometimes they might be walking around looking for a game just like you. If that’s the case, great! Find an open court and get going. If not, you’ll have to find a current game and ‘get next’. Just let them know that your team is up next and will play the winner of the current game.

Always remember, the winner stays. Unless the team is done and leaving the gym, the winning team has the right to stay on the court.

If this is your first time playing pick-up, there are a few things you need to know about how the games work. I’ll list them in bullet points to make them easy to understand:

  • Score using 1’s and 2’s; one point for a shot that would be ‘2’ in a normal game, and two points for a ‘3’.
  • The first team to 21 wins and you have to win by two. If one team scores their 21st point while the other team has 20, you keep playing until one team goes up by at least two points.
  • Defense is optional. Again, you’re playing for fun. Playing hard defense isn’t always the most fun part of basketball, and it can tire you out quickly. Don’t try too hard on defense and don’t be offended if your team doesn’t.
  • 2 is worth more than 1. In general, people are going to shoot a lot of 2’s. Don’t be afraid to shoot if you’re open with the ball.
  • Call fouls only when there was a lot of contact. There are no refs in pick-up, so the players call their own fouls. Nobody likes to play with the person that calls fouls all the time, so only call them when it was obvious.
  • There are no free throws. If there’s a foul, everybody just resets and the team with the ball gets it up top and play resumes.
  • Slap hands after a game. When one team wins, whether it was your team or not, everybody slaps hands and says good game. Don’t skip that one person on the other team who made you mad-remind yourself that you’re here to have fun.

If you take these things into account, you should be pick-up game ready.

Have fun!

Please keep in mind that intramural basketball will always take priority over pick-up games. You can find a schedule of intramural games here and plan your trips accordingly.