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Basketball: In the Playgrounds
By Samuel Goldman
Red Auerbach, the famed former coach of the Boston Celtics, insists that most of today's best basketball players first learned the game in the playgrounds of America's large cities. Jim McMillian, who averaged 25 points a game for Columbia's Cub eagers last winter, is an example of Auerbach's axiom. McMillian first started playing basketball in the playgrounds of Brooklyn, and even now he still finds that he learns a good deal in "pick up" playground games. One might think that he would have trouble finding strong enough competition at a neighborhood park, but actually McMillian can find all the competition he can handle. At Jacob Riis Park on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens probably the greatest "pick up" games in the world take place. On a typical Sunday afternoon last summer one might find a game going on involving Lew Alcindor, Willis Reed, Dave Stallworth, Sonny Dove, Em Bryant and McMillian. Many other professional and college stars come down every weekend for these "pick up" games. McMillian does not know how these games got started or why Riis Park was chosen for them. "This thing has been going on since way before my time." he said. "The games are strictly informal. I just go down and play," he added. The Rockaways have been a hotbed of basketball competition since the days when Dick and AlMcGuire were in their teens and lived in the neighborhood of Riis Park. Both went on to play for St. John's and the N.B.A. Dick now coaches the New York Knickerbockers, and A1 is the head coach at Marquette University. In addition to the games at Riis Park, many former Knicks get together for weekend games in nearby Long Beach. McMillian says that he "holds
his own" in this type of competition. " After you reach a certain level you should be able to play with anybody," he said. "You just have to try so much harder against guys like Reed and Stallworth. You've got to box out much further from the basket, and get up much higher for rebounds against those guys." "Playing against Alcindor requires a lot of adjustments. Usually I am a big man on the court. Against him I'm just a little man."
McMillian first began playing basketball five years ago when he moved to New York from North Carolina. He had played football and baseball in the South, but never basketball. But in the East New York section of Brooklyn basketball is the major sport. "I'm staying in New York this summer so I can get in a lot of time playing basketball. I want to really work on my game so that I'll be ready next year." he said.