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Shea: Pickup basketball at Springfield College has changed my life

Braedan Shea

For as long as I can remember, basketball has always been there for me.

Through the good days, the bad days, and the really bad days, I could always count on hoops to help me work through what I needed to. Whether I am trying to get my mind off of an ever-stressful life, or simply just fill up some free time, it’s really a safe space for me – a healthy coping mechanism, if you will.

And without it, I have no idea where I would be today. I do know, however, that a basketball-less me would be a lot more depressed, lonely and bored. Let me explain.

For those of you that don’t know who I am, first off, hello! But secondly, I am a very anxious person. It takes a lot out of me to enter foreign situations, especially when I have no idea what the outcome of said situation will be. I get this terrible, uneasy fear that brews in the deepest part of my soul, and pushing past that is not an easy task.

So as you could imagine, my first “real day” on campus, the one after all the orientation had ended, was scary. I didn’t know what to do, but knew that I wasn’t going to spend the entire day alone in my dorm. So I went to do the one thing that felt most comfortable: hoop.

I grabbed my ball and shoes, and made the walk over to the field house. I intended on just shooting around by myself, but as I made my way down the tunnel, just short of the field house entrance, I heard a sound that got my stomach churning – other people playing pickup.

I peered inside one of the windows on the entrance doors, and saw not one, but two full courts of five-on-five action. I just stared for a minute, heavily contemplating what I should do. My mind was telling me to go in, but everything else about me disagreed. And although it took longer than it should have, I did eventually gather enough confidence to enter.

Little did I know, it was the best decision I had ever made.

Shortly after walking toward the sideline of the second court, someone asked me if I wanted to join them; playing in the next game. I hesitated for a second, but did accept the offer.

As the prior game ended, my new teammates and I made our way to the court. Immediately, I was met with a couple of people who introduced themselves, and asked who I was – something that I had never experienced, at least before a game had started.

Throughout the pickup run, I got into a groove, and was becoming more comfortable with those around me. And as time progressed, with game after game going by, that comfort only grew. We were joking around and having fun, but still staying competitive – again, something that I hadn’t really experienced – that line between competitiveness and humor is very fine.

Once the runs had winded down, as most people made their way out of the gym, I decided to follow along. But as I sat next to my bag, taking my shoes off, I was approached by another player. I assumed he was just saying goodbye, which wasn’t fully wrong, but not really why he came over.

Instead, he asked me if I wanted to join a Snapchat group chat, comically named WannaBHoopers. It was full of almost 70 people who were just like me – people who loved basketball. After accepting, my life at Springfield got so much better.

Almost every weekday, at either 4 or 6 p.m., I got an opportunity to do the thing I love most. And what I came to learn was really just how important this was, and still is, to me. Not only was I getting away from the reality of life some days, but I also grew closer with the members of the group chat over time.

These guys are some of the funniest, nicest, most caring individuals I have ever come across, and I am beyond grateful to be able to call them my friends. Without them, I know for sure that I wouldn’t be nearly the same person that I am today; and I am not the only person that feels this way.

Kenny Bui, a Springfield alumnus who came all the way from Vietnam, explained to me in an interview earlier this year how important pickup basketball was for him.

“Basketball just helped me trade off relationships and friendships,” Bui said. “I actually didn’t know anyone until I played (pickup) basketball at Springfield – it was the first way that I found my friends there.”

Those relationships he built from playing basketball not only helped him become integrated into the campus community, but also allowed him to live a higher quality of life.

Because he was so far from home, he was unable to travel back and forth during holidays and campus breaks. So instead of staying isolated in his dorm room, he had the opportunity to stay with his new friends, at their houses.

While the impact of pickup isn’t quite as dramatic in my case, that same basic principle remains one and the same.

Another student who shares Bui’s and my experience is sophomore Dominic Velazquez. Velazquez, a commuter from Springfield, expressed just how important pickup was to him as well.

“They’re really important to me, because socially, it’s an outlet for me to get away — at least from school especially — since I don’t play a sport,” Velazquez said. “It’s also another way for me to make friends.”

I think it is quite clear just how important pickup basketball is to not only me, but the many others who play as well. Although we all have different stories and backgrounds, there is one wonderful thing that unites us.

For anyone who has come to play pickup here at Springfield, even if you just played once, I want to send the most sincere thank you. You have played a part in helping me, and many others, get through our day, allowing us to be who we want to be.

And to those of you who are regulars in the groupchat, thank you so much for being there for me, even if you didn’t know you were. I am truly appreciative of all of you, and hope that you all have the same experience as I have.

You are the ones that make me proud to call myself a WannaBHooper.

Photo by Garrett Cote/The Student

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