My All-Time Childhood Pickup Basketball team

No, this is not the scene of where we held our Pickup games, Newton Park doesn’t have the Golden Gate bridge as a backdrop.

After four weeks of extensive research of my four-part Association preview, I decided that my next post would be lighter on the stats, YouTube clips and my opinions on the Bulls this coming season.

A recent Grantland post by Shea Serrano on trash talk during a pickup basketball game spurred some old memories between my buddies and myself on Facebook of our own pickup games, which in turn made me come up with my all-time pickup basketball squad.

You may know some of the guys listed here, all of whom I have either played pickup or organized basketball with, in most cases both. But first a little background of my basketball career before we get into the starting five.

My career in organized ball was short-lived, sadly by choice. I played all the way up until the summer of my freshman year in high school, when I decided that between football and baseball, basketball would be too much. Now a freshman in college, I completely regret it. I was the kid on every organized team that came off the bench, sat in the corner and hit 15 footers from the corner all day. I sometimes played defense, mainly when I saw the opening to block a shot. My ball handling was iffy and I was never a shot-creator.

Fortunately, my pickup career will never end, until I physically cannot run my body up the floor, then it’s onto my 65 and older wheelchair league debut.

In pickup ball, I based my game off of shots in traffic and Dirk-like post moves that always ended in low percentage fall away jumpers.

Pickup basketball in college has made me realize how much better playing back home was. I have no background information to use to get into the random kid’s head from Kansas City that is guarding me as opposed to my bud Michael Wood, when I could trash talk him for days about his sister (first shot has been fired) and he could do the same to me about my mother.

Talk is nonexistent, ball movement is even more rare and defense is an afterthought, well defense is always an afterthought in any pickup game.

The criteria for making the starting five (and the first two off the bench) goes as follows: (I will not include myself)

  • Must have had played multiple pickup games in my life, not just organized ball (Sorry Hayden, Greeno, Garwood)
  • Basketball at Churchill Elementary School was a religion at recess, if there is ten plus years worth of pickup game/knockout experience, starting lineup spot guaranteed.
  • Significant moment in pickup game: They had a defining moment in their pickup game when I played with them, David Ortega owns this category.
  • Trash Talk level: it matters, it’s pickup basketball after all.
  • Overall game: self-explanatory.

The Starters:

Point Guard: Colin Murphy

Colin is the go-to-guy whenever I, or anyone else is feeling like getting a game or two together. He’ll organize it around everyone’s schedule, be the first one at the gym, wear a headband and bring the game ball. That’s everything you want in a PG already. Interesting fact: I don’t think I’ve seen C-Murph every attempt a shot. The kid doesn’t shoot, he worries about feeding his teammates the ball at all costs. He has ball-handle skills like Pete Maravich and will cross you up, just don’t expect him to take the wide-open shot. Regardless, I would want my point guard to be the most unselfish on the court, and Murph is more than willing to make the extra pass.

Significant moment: Funny enough, I’ve only played against Colin, and one game out of hundreds, he managed to cross me up and stuff me in the same game. That will be the last time he will ever get the best of me.

Trash Talk Level: He doesn’t shut-up during the game. Whether it’s calling out fake plays, narrating the game or yelling expletives, the trash talk is strong with this one.

Shooting Guard/Point Guard: Max Montgomery

A native of the Churchill playgrounds, Max was actually the one who played all the way through high school and started for Glenbard West. Max and I would use to play all the time, whether it was at school or his house on his hoop and his chain linked net, we always played. We were the “Bench Mob” on both our middle school and club team for grades 6th,7th and 8th. And when I stopped, he kept playing and naturally became 100x better than any of us ever were. Knock down shooter, great on-ball defender and underrated rebounder for a guard, he’s taking the last shot on this team.

Significant moment: Back at Chruchill during the cold winters, Max wore a Fighting Irish winter hat when we played at recess and would eventually name our lockdown defense after it. “Irish” was basically called when Max and I needed a turnover, so our entire team would recklessly charge after the kid with the ball in hopes of creating havoc and ultimately, a turnover. Needless to say, it worked then and still does now.

Trash Talk Level: His game did all the talking.

Small Forward: Leo Gastel

The Pippen to my Jordan. The Chewbacca to my Han Solo. My right hand man in all things basketball, I’m pretty sure “B” was there when I first picked up the orange ball. From the Churchill courts to playing H-O-R-S-E in the driveway in his backyard, Leo and I would develop an impeccable pickup game chemistry that was half fundamental, half flash. A scrappy player by all accounts, great defender and offensive rebounder, as well as a clutch shooter. But most of all, ridiculous passer. Leo dropped enough dimes to take me out to lunch after games, whether it was no-look, behind-the-back or between-the-legs, his game is/was the perfect blend of flash and fundamental.

Significant moment: During a club game, Leo and I usually never got the chance to show off and do some fun things we would do during pickup games. In 7th grade, during an otherwise meaningless Saturday night club game, our team was trailing by eight in the fourth. We were on offense when a shot bounced oddly off the rim and was heading out-of-bounds on the baseline. I reacted quickly and jumped to save it but threw straight up in the air, somehow Leo came out of nowhere, caught the ball and threw it off a defender without looking, all in midair. A hustle play turned flashy, it changed the whole game around and we ended up winning. Classic B.

Trash Talk Level: Was never Leo’s style, but every now and then he would attempt the “Off the heezy” move to get in your head, or at least give you a concussion.

Power Forward: Eric “Farles Barkley” Farley

A true gamer. Farley never stopped being a big man even when he stopped growing. Extremely undersized for this position, he still is the best rebounder by far (The Farles Barkley nickname works well here). He has no problem playing down low with the bigs and doing the dirty work, getting the majority of his points off putbacks, but he can also drift out behind the arc and knock down 3’s. Also a graduate of the Churchill grounds, Farles was apart of the original “Irish” squad with Max, Leo and me.

Significant moment: Unlike the majority of high school kids, we got really into gym pickup basketball games. Our junior year we played the Seniors who had us beat in numbers (They had a legit full-time rotation to our five) and most of all, height (They had two 6’5″ kids to our one 6’4″ kid, who you will learn, doesn’t play down low.) Didn’t matter to Farles, he took them both on every time and grabbed nearly every board. The kid simply balled.

Trash Talk Level: Every now and then you’ll hear a word or two from Rick, but he is definitely the team chemist, always clapping, positivity oozes out of him.

Center: Connor Schrauth

It’s too bad Connor gave up on basketball, because after he hit puberty, he became a beast of an athlete. As I mentioned before though, he didn’t like playing in the post. That’s right, our tallest player is also a three-point specialist, or at least he thinks he is. But since it’s pickup basketball, “CWebb” usually gets away with launching shots from next area code. He thrives in an offense ran by Colin Murphy, usually the very predictable pick and roll offense the Murph gang always ran against us Churchill kids, still effective. He could run the floor, play defense when need be and hit the occasional three, an ideal pickup ball center.

Significant moment: None.

Trash Talk Level: Usually towards his own players, and when you play with Murph, I can’t blame him.

The Bench:

6th man, Forward: David Ortega

While he decided to focus on his talents as a soccer player, Ortega was the chosen one of pickup basketball out of Churchill (of course) right from the get-go. From 1st to 7th grade Ortega had unlimited range, in all seriousness. He would go out of his way to drain a half-court shot for the hell of it, shot them like free throws.

As pickup games became more competitive as we grew older, David became a lockdown defender, savvy rebounder, great finisher around the rim and an unreliable jump shooter. His high arching shot sometimes hits 20 feet in the air and miraculously always finds the bottom of the net, the kid is magic. He, along with Leo are the two best passers I’ve ever played with, playing with them is like that scene from Hoosiers when Coach Norman Dale demands five passes from his team before a shot can be taken, Leo and David are the same way.

Significant moment: Everyone has their own David Ortega story, here is the one that I’ve heard the most throughout the years: Park District Basketball, 2nd grade, 1st quarter winding with 3 ticks on the clock. Ball is inbounded, David grabs the ball at three-quarters court and baseball throws it towards the hoop and nails the buzzer beater. One of those “had to be there moments” to believe a 2nd grader could pull that off.

My own story: After playing basketball all of recess (I wanna say in 4th grade) everyone begins to walk back inside for the rest of school. Ortega and I are at mid court when while looking right at me, swished a half courter. For good measure, he did it again, this time backwards over his head. Top-5 moment of my childhood.

Trash Talk Level: For the most part David doesn’t talk much, well he mumbles. And sometimes he yells in Spanish and no one understands. But when you guard him and he shoots one of those 30 foot high shots right in your face, it’s completely demoralizing.

3-point Specialist, Guard: Elliot Murphy

Unrelated to Colin Murphy, E-Murph is a student of the game. He knows it, breathes it, lives for it and I have plenty of respect for that. While not the greatest athlete, Elliot is a living microwave, a true dead-eye sniper. He doesn’t take any two’s, the man is strictly business from downtown. He’ll sit in the corner, wait for the kick out and will shoot threes like that “Pop Shot” basketball game at Dave & Busters.

Significant moment: During a heated pickup game between my friend group and the Murph gang a few years back, Elliot checked in and his first touch of the ball was a three from the corner, bang. Next possession, Elliot from the corner again, bang. He starts heating up, next time down the court, three guys run after him in the corner, didn’t matter, bang. Even we went nuts, we stopped the game to watch E-Murph celebrate as if he just won the Finals.

Trash Talk Level: Much like Colin, Elliot won’t shut up either. The kid can really talk up a storm. Whether it be how underrated Memphis basketball is, or how great Tyreke Evans is, Elliot is going to make sure you know, while dropping a few treys in your face in the meantime. Most of all, he is the perennial “Kobe!” yeller when he shoots.

Honorable Mention: Drew Vogg, William Reedy, Sam Knapke, Chandler Shepard, Brian Setzke, Brad Fawcett, Don Fawcett (Brad’s Dad, trust me we had some epic 2 on 1 games)

Sorry to Michael Wood who did not receive any votes, except for Trash Talk, everyone knows you’re in the Hall of Fame for that.


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