Mitchell hoops turns retro with gyms and parks closed during pandemic

Aiden Myers shoots over Charlie McCardle as Caden Hinker (far left) and Easton Neuendorf (right) look on during a pickup basketball game on Wednesday in Mitchell. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

Listen close enough and the faint sound of a basketball smacking the pavement can be heard in Mitchell around dusk.

Rims have been taken off hoops in city parks and gymnasiums have been locked for nearly two months, but kids are still seeking an injection of their basketball fix. It was not too long ago that the antidote was obvious.

When warm weather arrived, neighborhoods were filled with incessant chatter and screams from kids competing in daily games until their parents pulled them off the streets for dinner. Outdoor pickup games have slowly faded, though, with more accessibility to gyms and summer basketball teams.

With few options available during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mitchell basketball players are returning to their driveway hoops, whether it is individual shooting or reviving neighborhood pickup games.

“You drive around town and I’ve seen a number of kids playing basketball outside,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “That was a thing that was going away. You didn’t see a lot of hoops on houses or in driveways and you’re seeing those come back. It’s kind of a neat thing to see. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a bad situation bring that out.”


For Mitchell’s two-time leading scorer Caden Hinker, turning his driveway into his personal version of the Corn Palace was a no-brainer. It is a rare occurrence to not see Hinker in the MHS gym or the Mitchell Recreation Center on a daily basis.

At the beginning of the quarantine, cold weather, wind and snow relegated him to the garage to work on his dribbling skills. With the weather becoming more cooperative, Hinker is a mainstay in his driveway, working on his jump shot over and over.

“You have to adjust and figure out a way to get it in so you aren’t sitting at home all day,” Hinker said. “You always want to try to do something or you feel like you’re losing it.”

Teammate Zane Alm is also taking his game outdoors, but he is not confined solely to the cement in his driveway. He has acquired the services of former Gary Munsen assistant Phil Collins and the pair have been attempting to find any hoop available.

The 6-foot-8 Alm has traveled to a variety of different outdoor courts at schools or playgrounds, just so Collins can help improve his game following a breakout season last winter.

Mitchell's Zane Alm (left) battles with Caden Hinker for a ball on the rim during a pickup basketball game on Wednesday in Mitchell. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

“We don’t really care about the wind,” Alm said. “We’re just working on getting the motion down. When I get into a real gym, I’ll have the form and everything locked in.”


For most, however, rekindling a passion for outdoor hoops centers more on recreation than improving skills. In-person contact has become scarce, so a few hours shooting or playing pickup basketball in a driveway provides a logical excuse to be with friends.

“We just meet up and play basketball for a couple hours,” Mitchell freshman Charlie McCardle said, “go home and eat and come right back.”

Neuendorf happens to reside in close proximity to several other Mitchell basketball players, providing his son Easton -- an eighth-grader-to-be -- the chance to play pickup games with Kernels McCardle, Aiden Myers and Gavyn Degen.

“It’s a lot more fun than shooting by yourself,” Easton Neuendorf said. “You get more people, it makes it more fun. My friends can come by and we can play around.”

Like most, they are feeling the itch to simply leave the house after being in seclusion for an elongated period of time. There are only so many hours of video games to be played, homework to do or television to watch and getting outside is a welcomed change.

Myers said, “It’s just nice to come out, play basketball and get out of the house.”

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