Club basketball fuels competitive spirit for its players

By Jamison White | March 20, 2019 2:12pm

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Freshmen Dylan de Jong goes up for a dunk at club basketball practice.
by Jeff Braccia / The Beacon

Sophomore Zach Sessa first got the idea for club basketball while walking down the aisles of the bustling club fair at the start of his freshman year. Sessa saw different competitive club sports offered, like lacrosse, soccer and volleyball. But the sport that was missing was basketball. 

“I went to the club fair and walked up and down the aisle seeing all these different sports,” Sessa said. “I knew there was a demand for basketball.”

Little did Sessa know, there was a like-minded soul on campus who shared not only his love for basketball but also a desire to play the sport in a competitive and focused setting. This person was junior Thomas Focht. 

The two guys went on to start a club basketball team in the fall of 2018. The club now has around 20 men playing, and although they don’t have a coach, they have a heart for their sport. This year a club basketball team is playing on University of Portland’s campus for the first time.

Sophomore Zach Sessa, one of the club team's founders, goes up for a layup.
by Jeff Braccia / The Beacon

The idea began when Sessa and Focht, who are both former high school basketball players, realized the pickup games in Beauchamp and the sporadic intramural games were just not enough competition. 

“The first day of the semester I walked up to Thomas,” Sessa said. “We joined forces and got to work.”

After the two met, the ball was quickly set in motion and the plans to become an official university club were planned. The first goal was to become an official recognized club with the university, which turned out to be one of the most painstaking and tedious parts of the process. With a deadline to have tryouts in the fall of 2018, the two co-creators were nervous the club wouldn’t be approved in time.

But finally, after months of waiting and with the fall semester club fair right around the corner, the confirmation came and the team was officially a club. The two co-creators set up shop at the club fair and collected email addresses and phone numbers of interested players.

A short while after, the day for tryouts began. Junior Henry Mitchell, a current member of the club team, joined because he had a passion for playing in a competitive environment, against talented players. 

“Pick up games are fun, but they don't always bring out the best in other players,” Mitchell said. “Playing on the club team brings in the best players around in one place and forces us to give it our all on the court and it makes for some fun competitive games.” 

With a group of around 20 players, the team leaders started looking for opponents to play, and hopefully a league to join.

While it was at first difficult to find teams to play, Sessa was tenacious, and called schools such as University of Oregon and Western Oregon University during the summer while the club was still in the process of being formed, frantically trying to set up exhibition games for the upcoming season.

Senior Jonathan McRobb-Bishop goes for a layup in a club basketball practice drill.
by Jeff Braccia / The Beacon

One of the early games Sessa set up was against the Oregon Ducks club basketball team. This was a special occasion for the squad as they got their first opportunity for a road game.

A travel roster of 13 players of the 20 on the team loaded into busses and traveled to Eugene in October. The team lost, but had finally played their first game and had finally seen the goal of creating a team come true. Since the team is without a head coach, the team decisions that would usually be made by a coach are delegated to Sessa and Focht.

The two club leaders use a strategy of keeping one of them on the bench during games to handle substitutions. This makes the game run smoother as well as gives one of the two a chance to see the game and make adjustments from the sideline.

The two players coach weekly Wednesday night practices too. However, even though either Sessa or Focht usually organize the drills, each player is expected and encouraged to speak up with ideas. 

“We emphasize at practice that everyone should speak up,” said Sessa. “It's not just two people. Everyone can offer advice, drills or new plays.”

One of the final hurdles was finding a league the team could play in. Originally, the team joined NIRSA, the same organization that runs the intramural leagues at UP, as well as at other schools. The league was compiled with multiple teams scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Unfortunately, NIRSA wanted the three teams from Oregon to travel to Spokane, Washington to ultimately play each other. This presented a problem for the Pilots, as well as the fellow Oregon schools. Due to a lack of responsiveness and organization mixed with an unwarranted trip to Spokane, Washington, the two co-founders searched for another option. 

University of Portland's Club Basketball team practices late at night on a court in the back of The Beauchamp Recreation & Wellness Center.
by Jeff Braccia / The Beacon

Like-mindedly, a few of the teams from the NIRSA league left to for a new league. The schools will take turns hosting a round robin jamboree before one will host the final. 

The schools will include Western Oregon, University of Oregon and Portland State University as well as the Pilots. 

The Pilots hosted their jamboree in a packed Beauchamp Recreational Center on Feb. 23. Portland played a total of four games in one day, including an overtime heartbreaking loss to University of Oregon. The club team still has time to figure it out with three more opportunities. 

On March 16, the team travelled to Eugene, OR for a round robin tournament against University of Oregon and Chico State. Two more jamborees hosted by Portland State University and Western Oregon University are yet to be scheduled. 

“I think the biggest thing I hope before I graduate,” said Focht. “Is that the team be playing in a solid league and a head coach.”

The club has come a long way in the first months of existence, having come into fruition and having started with just an idea from two competitive former athletes.

Jamison White is a sports reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at whitej20@up.edu.

Contact sports reporter Jamison White at whitej20@up.edu.
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