By Max Hopkins, The Bro Journey Foreign Correspondent
Hello bros and other bros (let’s be honest, no girls read this, otherwise Max and Matt’s love lives would be totally unmanageable due to overbooking, am I right?)! Max’s post about living a healthy lifestyle (if only for a weekend) has inspired me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: tell you why Sunday night basketball at St. Mary’s may just be the greatest experience of all time. There are many things that I enjoy, such as spending time with my fiancée Brooke, work (I know, shocker), reading books (I too read The Hunger Games in one day, it is a very compelling read), the post-workout feeling, and ice cream, but one thing that I enjoy which bears some elaboration here is Sunday nights at St. Mary’s. This, friends, warrants some back-story, so hang in there.
Let me, if I may, take you on a little journey back in time. I was a bit of a jock in high school (pre-Senior year) and basketball was my sh*t. I was lanky, athletic, and a solid mid-range/long-range scorer. My high school teams were awful. Dreadfully coached, lacking depth (eligibility was a surprisingly hard requirement for some of my Walnut Hills teammates to meet), and, by tenth grade, loaded with leftovers of the class ahead who weren’t good enough to make varsity.
Allow me to make a point here: the purpose of JV, in my humble opinion, is not necessarily to win now, but rather to set up the varsity to be successful in the future. Our coach, falling victim to the futility of our program, not only kept too many kids for whom there would be no room the following season (if they weren’t good enough for varsity in their junior year, they weren’t going to be the next year either, especially given the level and depth of talent in the class ahead of me), but started them in some vain attempt to be the only winning team in our program (he actually called my Dad with the idea of having juniors who started varsity play a quarter each in the JV games in order to try to win – the guy just did not get it). This is not the goal of a JV team, the goal is to play the freshmen, sophomores, and maybe a junior or two who could use the court time to develop into assets for the program down the line, and have those players gel in that particular high school’s system. If you have a son/daughter some day, and that son/daughter plays sports, spend some time at not only the varsity games of high schools you are considering, but also the freshmen and JV games, to try to get a feel for how the program is run.
Anyway, long story short, I stopped playing after my sophomore year and found different ways to spend my time (among other things, I picked up tennis, a sport I have also come to thoroughly enjoy, especially when pooping on Max at it, but I digress (frequently)). (Editor’s Note: During the Summer of 2011, Max & Max faced each other no fewer than 15 times on the tennis court, with Max Hopkins coming up short all but once. The Editor rests his case.) I had a great time in high school, and while I do lament some of my life choices, I wouldn’t change anything because they led me to where I am today, and I like where I am today.
Some of those decisions led me directly to prep school, where I straightened out, strengthened my relationship with my future fiancée, met some of my best friends, and played a season of post-graduate basketball. We were a pretty solid team, took some early losses due to a lack of familiarity amongst ourselves, won against teams we should beat, lost to loaded teams in New Jersey at a Holiday tournament in New Jersey (the highlight of which, for me, was watching a kid from Exeter Academy dunk on our team from the free throw line in an actual game (side note, I’m watching Sports Center and they literally just showed the guy as their lead-in to the recap of the NIT semifinal, how serendipitous)) and it was a merry experience. We traveled the country to play teams that were stacked, awful, and otherwise, but we had great coaching, and some serious ballers, and at one point we were ranked in the national top 25 by maxprep.com (take that with a grain of salt though). My favorite part of the season was going into our rival’s gym at the end of the year on their senior night and beating them, and the vibe from the crowd that was one part angst, two parts loathing, and all parts awesome.
Although I lived through some frustrating losing seasons (read every season I played from 3rd-10thgrades), I still love the game. The team aspect, the movements of offense and defense, the discipline required to be good at so many different things, and the conditioning that is required to be effective at all of those facets (or those of any sport) are all things that have driven me to be better. In college I stayed in touch with the game by officiating, both local high school and intramural, which acquainted me with a whole new perspective on the sport, and also by playing intramurals and some pickup.
Since college I have been taking my fitness more seriously by actually getting through an entire round of p90x (sans the diet), running some (did my first 5k last week), and Sunday Nights at St Mary’s (if you stuck with me this far, thanks, and here’s the payoff – we finally reach the subject of the post).
For those of you who don’t know, pickup basketball is a whole different animal from the organized variety. When you practice every day, there are some consequences, such as cohesion, common purpose, and conditioning. Once-weekly pickup with a group of what can only be described as “dudes” has a different feel to it. Guys (read: I) just throw up shots, make cuts at random, and talk a lot of trash to each other, only about 5% of which can be backed up. I started coming to this little tradition by having a friend with the keys to the gym and other friends who were also interested in playing some lazy basketball once a week – there is a grab bag of talent levels, but that only adds to the appeal. The venue is perfect: it’s a very well built and maintained court in a beautiful gym with one key asset- it’s an elementary school, with an elementary sized court. This keeps the running to a minimum and allows 4-on-4 (a very achievable number of bodies once a week) to be the ideal format of play. The basketball itself is magical.
This summer I dove into Sunday Night, only skipping one time when we had enough people, and I have to cite the worst hangover I’ve had in like three years as the reason for that. It’s such a great experience. It’s a relaxed environment and there is no pressure to play hard. You can play as intense or as lazy as you want. The other bros there put no pressure on you to play hard, as chances are they themselves are only trying on about 50% of the possessions. The guys are all great dudes, and are willing to chat on possessions where you/re both taking the play off, or to man up and play some defense when you take them to the hole twice in a row. The texture of it is great, and while there are some constants, there is a cast of characters that changes from week to week, adding their own flavor. Full disclosure here: I am way too selfish and throw up threes like I’m being paid for each one.
Simply put, Sunday Night hoops is a great escape from what’s going on outside of that little gym. It’s a release, as all athletics are, and doing it makes you feel better about the fact that the night before you drank like you were 19 and ate 19 cheese coneys, destroying any semblance of the healthy diet you have convinced yourself you can maintain. However, the idea that there is no expectation from anyone else there makes it great because it is really the only place in my world to experience that. I love living with my best friend, and it makes me a better person to do so, but she also expects me to take out the trash, clean up after dinner, and make the bed, all reasonable expectations for a 24-year-old man, but expectations none-the-less. There are expectations at work, from my parents, and from myself to actually work out.
There are no expectations at St. Mary’s. Show up, try some of the time, don’t be a dick about foul calls, and pass once in a while. Even those are optional, and that’s a great thing. It also gives me an opportunity to stay connected to what was a huge part of my life for so many years. If you are not involved in some activity like this, be it bowling, scrabble, or soccer in the park (I recommend sports for the physical benefits of it (as the great Matt Jared once put it, “when you’re running as long as you’re moving forward you’re winning,” such is not the case in sports)) you are seriously missing out. Do not underestimate the no-pressure aspect of it, leagues with your coworkers are great, but there are expectations there as well. If you can find a way to get together with a group and goof off once a week doing something you genuinely love, I sincerely recommend it.
The best part, of course, was watching Matt Jared perform athletically. Now that he’s abandoned me for the promise of ATX and SXSW and EMB and a bunch of other acronyms that I don’t even know about, I am missing a very entertaining part of Sunday nights. Not only is the man a shot blocking machine, and very fundamentally sound (he did grow up in bufu Indiana, so I guess that’s really not too surprising), but the kid is also a trash-talking animal. The back and forth is going to be sorely missed, Big Cougar.