Sunday, June 16

Students aim for the win at Wooden

A line forms along the three basketball courts at the John Wooden Center Monday. Students drop in throughout the day to take part in pick-up games.

A line forms along the three basketball courts at the John Wooden Center Monday. Students drop in throughout the day to take part in pick-up games. Maya Sugarman

Maya Sugarman
First-year undeclared student Brett McCollum plays point guard in a pick-up game at the John Wooden Center Monday afternoon.

Twenty-six thousand undergraduates and just more than a dozen spots on the men’s basketball team.

Factor in another dozen or so for the women’s team, and you have yourself a one-in-a-thousand chance of playing serious basketball at UCLA.

Unless, of course, you’re among the hundreds of UCLA students, faculty and staff, as well as UCLA Recreation patrons, who play basketball at the John Wooden Center’s Collins Court. The competition varies throughout the day and by court, but students with varied levels of experience frequent the facility all the time for some hoops action.

With just an hour of lecture on Monday, I strolled down to the Wooden Center in the afternoon to record some of the experiences of what you might call UCLA’s unofficial junior varsity basketball team.

Visiting the gym in the early afternoon, I was surprised to see just a couple dozen people on the courts. I’ve been at Collins Court my fair share of times and have often been greeted with a few dozen guys running back and forth with another hundred or so waiting on the baseline.

Very rarely do I see women playing.

Taking some warm-up shots on the third court was fourth-year political science student Briana Harris.

“Guys won’t guard me because they’re afraid to touch me,” she said. “Once I score a couple times, they get really aggressive. I’ve been floored a couple of times.”

Harris said she has been playing since fifth grade and frequents Wooden about three to four times a week.

The three courts usually have differing levels of skill. The closest to the entrance hosts the most skilled players, while the middle court is more of an intermediate court, and the third is even less competitive. Harris added that she prefers to play on the second court, not because she can’t keep up with the play on the first court but because she is treated differently.

“I like to stay on the second court because guys on the first court, depending on the time I come, can get too aggressive and think they have to play easier because I’m on the team,” she said.

She only plays on the first court if she has a really good team.

Confidence is a big part of playing in Wooden, but many students come to play a relaxed, fun game.

I found a handful of urban planning graduate students lounging on the bleachers behind the first court.

Rusty Whisman and Daniel Paredes watched as their friends ran a couple games on the first court. The two admitted they were not the most skilled or experienced basketball players, but Whisman and Paredes joined their friends for a visit to the courts.

Their friends, Garett Rosa, Daniel Kurz and Edgar Beltran, more experienced basketball players, had just finished running a few games in between class.

“It’s convenient to come here and hopefully play between class because we have a two-hour block,” Kurz said.

Rosa, playing in Wooden for his first time, added that they plan to come on a weekly basis.

“It’s a good balance. People are still trying, but it’s not like everyone is calling ridiculous fouls,” he said. “It’s good sportsmanship ““ everyone shakes hands after.”

“The first thing I wanted to do when I got on campus was scout out the basketball courts,” said Beltran, who is only in his second week of classes at UCLA.

He said there are varied levels of competition on the courts. Some people come just to shoot around, while others are very competitive. He often plays on the first court, forcing himself to get better.

A few hours later, third-year political science student Sasha Sadri catches his breath after playing on the first court.

“I’m too nice to play basketball,” Sadri said. “I’m not the trash-talking kind of guy, but that’s what happens on the (first) court all the time.”

His friend, Komail Abdeali, a third-year political science and English student, chimed in on Sadri’s analysis of his kindness on the court.

“He always wants to win, he gets on my case all day,” Abdeali said about Sardi’s competitive spirit.

Abdeli said he tries to come three or four times a week.

“You’ve got to try and come at the right time because it gets pretty packed,” he said. “We came at 2 o’clock ““ nobody here. It’s already 3:40 p.m. ““ probably a two-game wait.”

Abdeli, a first-court frequenter, is nothing less than highly competitive.

“You got to win,” he said. “It’s no fun if it’s not competitive because then it’s just playground basketball. Everyone here, we all want to win.”

Basketball in Wooden is highly competitive, I always thought, but after meeting a few students on a Monday afternoon, I saw a cross section of recreational basketball players.

Behind the squeaks of sneakers in the Wooden Center’s Collins Court are many students, each with a story to tell.

If you’ve schooled your chemistry professor in one-on-one, then e-mail Mashhood at [email protected]

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