January on the Cape: the temperature cold, the days short, and the options for physical exercise limited. Getting outside is tough at this time of year and one of the few gyms that exist on the Outer Cape is closed.
There is, however, an option that flies under the radar for many people. It’s five-on-five pick-up basketball. There’s a regular group of people who come out to the local elementary schools on weeknights to play in an informal circuit.
Pick-up is held one night a week at the Wellfleet Elementary School, the Eastham Elementary School, and the Eddy Elementary School in Brewster. I believe there is pick-up at the Provincetown School as well, but for me (I live in Brewster) it’s a bit of a hike to make it there on a weeknight. Wellfleet is as far as I’ll go to get my fix.
It’s surprising to learn how many people are involved in the basketball circuit. I’m part of a Facebook group with 342 members, where posts are exchanged on where and when pick-up basketball is being held on the Lower and Outer Cape alone. Some members have moved off Cape but pay attention to posts when they return home.
There are more sessions held in other parts of the Cape as well.
I first attended pick-up in Wellfleet in 2009 or 2010. I was a freshman in high school. A decade later it’s still in session. Some of the guys that were there when I first showed up still go. It’s a good place to make friends. The Thursday night sessions aren’t advertised much, but those who are interested find out about it.
Every basketball court is unique. Wellfleet’s court is small, with the walls bordering the sidelines. A corner three-pointer is almost impossible to make without stepping out of bounds. But it’s a great size for pick-up. The court forces you to make do with the little space you have.
Over the years that court hasn’t been maintained as well as it could be. I’m not sure it gets waxed each year. The floor has become so dusty it’s like you’re ice skating.
Pick-up basketball sessions began at Eastham Elementary on Wednesday nights last year. The court is similar in size to Wellfleet’s, but with better traction.
I recently began playing at Eddy Elementary in Brewster on Thursday nights and have discovered that it might be the best pick-up on this side of the Cape right now. Though it’s an elementary school, Eddy has a bigger court. The nets are shorter than in Eastham and Wellfleet, which is somehow especially appealing.
The game is played differently in Brewster than in Eastham or Wellfleet. Traditional pick-up is played in games that end when one team scores at least 11 points. Shots inside the three-point line are worth one point; shots outside the three-point line are worth two. A team must win by two points for the game to end. Players match up in man-to-man defense.
In Brewster, instead of man-to-man, players use a 2-3 zone defense. This means two players cover the area near the three-point line and three players cover the area closer to the basket. Instead of playing one-pointers and two-pointers, every shot is worth one point no matter where you hit it from.
The rules are different and sort of untraditional. But they force you to find different ways to score than if you’re playing straight up man-to-man.
I’ve gone to Brewster instead of Wellfleet for the last two weeks and I’m adjusting to the new rules. I think the competition is better and my feet can grip the floor.
These elementary school sessions are popular throughout the winter, and they continue right to the end of the school year. Once it gets warm enough to play outside many flock to the Mayo Beach court in Wellfleet or the Field of Dreams court in Eastham.
I’m writing this story with some reluctance: I like the fact that pick-up isn’t too well known. That way you don’t have a flood of people showing up. My hope is that in the future there is a regular place for adults to play every night of the week. Maybe if the proposed high school renovation goes through, or if Willy’s Gym is able to be salvaged, it would provide a court available to the community. There are surely enough people who would use it.