USM’s basketball scene at the Sullivan Complex in Portland would have social scientists jumping on their feet. For several nights a week, students, faculty, alumni and other members in the community come together for a competitive game of basketball. From loud shuffling of the feet, to rhythmic smacks of basketballs echoing across the courts, players come here to be a part Portland’s best and most active pick up ball in town.
There is something harmonious about USM’s open gym that cannot go unnoticed. Out on the courts, players from various culture and background join forces to share one thing in common: the love of basketball.
Here, all of society’s stereotypes are dissolved and life off the court becomes irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professor, student, lawyer or doctor, what does matter is whether you can make the jump shot, but even that cannot be easily done. The aggression and drive is evidenced by wet tees, glossy hair, and dampened towels. On some cases, extra towels are called for to wipe excess sweat that drip all over the courts.
Skills aren’t the only necessity desired on the court. Respect is a requirement and negative attitudes and demeanor are not tolerated. USM’s basketball scene is a place where cultures from around the globe clash, and therefore becomes an opportunity for learning. Just ask Michael Hillard, an economics professor and basketball regular, who is now familiar with some Somali dialect, thanks to fellow players from the Somalian community.
“They’re just a completely different group of people I otherwise wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for basketball.”
While most players are in some way affiliated with USM, open gym has now attracted students from other Maine schools. Alex Scott, a current SMCC student, has been playing basketball at USM for almost two years.
“All my friends come here to play open gym, when we want to play this is where we come play ball.”
Games are always on a roll, especially on Tuesday and Thursday nights. On these nights, veteran players like Hillard, who has been playing basketball at USM for over 6 years, play alongside other veterens for a game that is not to be underestimated. With diverse groups comes diverse talent, and the veteren players are no exception.
“They’re all former basketball stars, and that’s a funny group because they have their own personality. Theyre business-like, you know, which has a lot of advantages.” Said Hillard.
Experience is what distinguishes the veterens, giving them an edge younger players cannot grasp. Many of these players have been loyal members of the USM gym for almost a decade. Their familiarity and knowledge of other veterans allow them to play unselfishly and make frequent passes as a team. But the veterans are not the only players to look out for.
A collective group of USM Law students also dominate the courts and even have their own custom jerseys to set them apart. This group plays in a fast-paced manner and are constantly hurdling themselves in pursuit for the big leather ball.
And that’s the beauty of pick-up basketball at USM. The diversity brings people of all shapes and sizes with different skill sets. It doesn’t matter how experienced or talented you are as long as you have a winning attitude and the drive to win. Whether you decide to challenge other players or not, open gym is a unified basketball utopia unlike the NBA.
Diversity can also have it’s repercussions. With such intensity on the court, tension and misunderstandings are inevitable due to conflicting beliefs and opinions. On the court, students, alumni and faculty are merely equals, but when conflicts arise, it is usually faculty or the veteren players that step in to facilitate.
“When people get at each other, the older guys or faculty take over and tell everybody off, they make sure things never go out of control.” Said Scott.
Despite the differences, USM’s open gym becomes country club-esque during it’s slow hours. Friends come to shoot around and hang out by an open hoop for fun.
Whatever the reason for coming, if you like basketball, the Sullivan gym in Portland is the spot. It is a chance for serious players to expand their skill set and work on their weak points. It’s a place where students can take a step out of their busy lives to focus on a single challenge — winning. Or if you wish you could play basketball, it is never too late to start here.