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If You Have Game, No Pickup Line Needed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One by one, they arrive wearing Laker jerseys, Georgetown jerseys, white tank tops, cutoff T-shirts and sometimes no shirts at all. They’re tall and short, young and old, muscular and thin.

On weekdays, they show up when the sun begins to fade and a refreshing breeze takes hold. On weekends, they arrive early in the morning before the summer heat chases many inside.

It doesn’t matter if they come alone or with friends. The only question is, “Can they shoot the rock?”

Pickup basketball games in the region are as much a tradition as going to the beach. The real action is at park courts, because most high school gymnasiums stopped open play when money ran out for after-school programs in the 1980s.

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From teenagers looking for summer fun to the twentysomething or thirtysomething crowd hoping to work up a sweat and teach the youngsters a lesson or two, pickup basketball games are an intriguing part of the region’s social fabric. Women and teenage girls have joined the competition.

The games can be intense, especially when trash talking breaks out and too many arguments over fouls take place. But mostly, pickup games are a great way to keep playing basketball when a high school or college career is over. And amateurs can fit in, too.

Teams are usually chosen by making free throws. To hold the court, teams better play defense and pass the ball, too.

For amateurs, the secret is to show up before anyone else, then make the free throw when it counts to get on a team.

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Daniel Bobik, a former Newbury Park High player, played pickup games last summer in New York City.

“It was just go to the basket strong and not worry about getting fouled,” he said.

Locally, Bobik and his younger brothers, Brian and Aaron, show up and surprise people in games of three-on-three.

“OK dude, we’ll play you,” Daniel said. “Then we kick butt.”

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For the best pickup games outside the region, head for UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, where NBA players stay in shape by taking on college players in afternoon games that even bring out Magic Johnson.

Here’s a sampling of where to find local pickup games:

Reseda Park, Reseda Boulevard and Victory Boulevard, Reseda: Players start arriving on weekends just past 8 a.m. and games keep going at night under the lights. There are five baskets and two courts.

Balboa Park, Balboa Boulevard and Burbank Boulevard, Encino: College players looking for competition are known to show up on the four outside baskets. There’s also a gym at the park. Gianandrea Marcaccini, a Valley College player, said, “You learn debating skills. You learn if you want the ball, you have to argue for 10 minutes.”

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Valley College, Burbank Boulevard and Ethel Avenue, Van Nuys: This is the best place for high-caliber players, college or high school. The gym is open Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. It costs $1 to play. Two full-court games take place. Former UCLA players Trevor Wilson and Tracy Murray have been known to make appearances during the summer.

Moranda Park, Point Hueneme Drive and Surfside Drive, Hueneme: For Ventura County players, this court, a short walk from the Hueneme pier, is packed early in the evening. There are three baskets. As long as the wind isn’t howling, the games are competitive.

Woodland Hills Park, Shoup Street and Miranda Avenue, Woodland Hills: A new outside court with two hoops is under construction and should be available by Aug. 1. The old court was used by many ex-Taft and ex-El Camino Real players. The park has a gym, but it’s rarely open for free play because of leagues.

DeAnza Park, Lost Hills Road and Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas: It’s the most luxurious outside court this side of Beverly Hills. On the way to Zuma Beach, the park has six glass backboard baskets and lights. The only problem is sharing with roller hockey players, who get use of the court at specific times.

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Valley Plaza Recreation Center, Laurel Grove Avenue and Vanowen Street, North Hollywood: This is one of the favorite hangouts for Grant High All-City guard Gilbert Arenas. There’s a gym and four outside courts.

Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park, Hazeltine Avenue and Huston Street, Van Nuys: The four outside courts receive nonstop action on weekends. Take a dip in the adjacent park pool to cool off.

John Quimby Park, Hart Street and De Soto Avenue, Canoga Park: Only months old, this outdoor facility has four cement courts. It’s starting to attract a steady group of players. But bring along a gas mask to deal with car exhaust along busy De Soto.

Encino Park, Ventura Boulevard and Genesta Avenue, Encino: This is a favorite park for lawyers, so avoid verbal insults. There are only two baskets, but it’s in the middle of Encino’s restaurant row. Encino Hospital is less than a mile away.

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Knapp Ranch Park, Kittridge Street and Valley Circle Boulevard, West Hills: Hidden in an upscale housing development, there are four baskets and two full courts. It’s quiet, safe and well maintained. The courts start to fill up just past 6 p.m. on summer weekdays.


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