My fantasy basketball league’s annual Milwaukee weekend is coming up in two weeks. One of the highlights of the weekend is a pickup basketball game. Our talent level ranges from former high school players who still have some game to people who have very little game at all but still like to play, and that generally makes for a pretty fun time for all.
I enjoy basketball and have played a fair amount of pickup ball since college. In all my life, the best people I’ve ever played with or against were guys who played at NAIA schools, places like Emporia State in Kansas or Southwest State in Minnesota. The talent level of these guys compared to the other people on the court in our pickup games was noticeable, almost to the point of breaking the games by being unstoppable, and these weren’t guys who were stars on those NAIA teams, either. They were just guys on the team.
So, that puts things into a kind of perspective. Like, those scrubs you see sitting on the bench of a bad Big 10 team? Put them on the same court with the usual people I’m playing with and suddenly they don’t seem like scrubs anymore. They seem like they’re big and fast and extremely skilled. Now, take a guy who starts for a Big 10 team and put him on the court, and the perspective shift becomes even more pronounced. Not that I would know firsthand, having never been on a court with anybody that good. But it doesn’t take a genius to know that if the non-descript former NAIA player is kicking everyone’s ass in a game, the Big 10 player is going to take it to another level altogether.
I knew a guy named Caleb Feeler. I only mention his name because his name was Caleb Feeler. Caleb was a walking treasure trove of stories and implied danger, and one of his great stories invovled when he was a student at Odessa College in Texas. Odessa is where Larry Johnson spent his first two years of “college” before going to UNLV and later fame with the Charlotte Hornets, Knicks, and well-paid chiropractors. While at Odessa Caleb somehow found himself in a game with Larry Johnson. Caleb says the gameplan was very simple: Give the ball to Larry and get out of his way.
It’s actually got to be kind of scary to be on the court with someone who’s 6’6″, 250 lbs, and massively talented and strong. My greatest fear would be doing something that would get them injured. But other than that, it’s got to be a complete jaw-dropper just to see how big and fast people like that can be; time and space would certainly change on that court.
The reason I mention any of this is that one of the guys in our leage was going to bring a friend for the weekend, including the pickup game. I won’t mention his name because he’d probably find it strange to see that he was being discussed on some random blog, but he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Nets in 1991. Look it up if you feel the need.
Second-round talent isn’t Larry Johnson territory, but it’s light years better than anybody I’ve ever played against. I guess the guy dropped 50 against Illinois his senior year. I’m not sure I’ve scored 50 points in my entire pickup game career. Sure, the guy graduated 16 years ago and has probably gone to seed a bit, but that’s all true for me too and I sure as hell wasn’t drafted by the Nets. They didn’t even scout me.
But as it turns out, the guy’s not going to make it to Milwaukee. I’m disappointed; it would have been a great chance to see what a big-time player is like up close, even if a few years past his prime.