BY MELODY BIRKETT
A new gym that just opened in Chandler offers a fitness program like none other in the East Valley.
“This is the first basketball-focused fitness center,” said Jay Bhakta, the Gilbert man who owns PickUp USA at 221 E. Willis Road.
While many gyms provide basketball courts, PickUp USA offers organized, scored and officiated games by trained referees.
“It allows you to play on a team during timed 10-minute games,” said Bhakta. “We’re the first franchisee here in Arizona.
We’re expanding all over the U.S. right now.”
“We run officiated games six days a week,” Bhakta said. “We have two trained officials at all times on the court, rotated out. So they’re fresh referees. It’s highly organized.”
Members simply put their name on a list and are rotated into games.
“You get a real game experience,” Bhakta added. “You get the buzzer beaters, the shot clocks, the fouls. There are 10-minute games so the winner stays in, and you reset the clock and the next game comes in — 10 minutes, 10 minutes, back-to-back.”
PickUp USA doesn’t have “all the nuances of a regular pickup game like at a park — the foul calls, the hacking, the argument and who’s next,” he added. “All of that stuff is all organized by us.”
Pickup games are for anyone 15 and older but anyone as young as 5 can become a member and have access to the courts.
“We have the group-training sessions available to them,” said Bhakta. “It’s basketball focused, hour long boot camps. So, they work on different parts of the game for that hour: shooting, dribbling, passing.”
Gustine Crispin is already a member along with her sons.
“First of all, I love basketball,” Crispin said. “I’ve been playing basketball for over 40 years. And now I have kids. My boys are 13 and 11. And this is a great place for them…This is a basketball heaven.”
Her older son Jamison, who goes by Jam, has been playing basketball four years and likes the idea of getting a workout and fine-tuning his skills at a gym.
“I like it,” Jam said. “Plus, I usually don’t sweat when I go somewhere, but now I’m sweating a lot.”
He just wishes there were pickup games for his age group because he has a goal of making it big: “I will be an NBA player.”
PickUp USA general manager Steven Lancaster played professional basketball in Europe for six years after college. “Basketball in itself has been a huge part of my life,” Lancaster said. “It has helped me get a scholarship for school so no student debt, so that’s a big thing. It helped me travel, not just the country, but in the world, as well, as far as playing in different tournaments and playing basketball overseas.”
He also played basketball with NBA All-Star LeBron James in high school. “In high school, we were on the same Amateur Athletic Union team. In Arizona, it’s called ‘club.’ We were teammates when we were 15 all the way to seniors in high school.”
Lancaster has been playing basketball since he was 5, but tried other sports such as football, baseball and martial arts. As a freshman in high school, he was 5-foot-3 But he had a growth spurt and grew to his current 6-foot-3 by his sophomore year.
“Once I started to dunk a basketball, then basketball took my heart,” said Lancaster, who grew up in Ohio. “From there, I went to hone in on my skills and my craft and that turned into being an All-State performer, being rated one of the top players in the state. That translated to scholarship offers. From there, that translated into being a professional.”
After voluntarily leaving professional basketball, Lancaster became a trainer.
“So when this opportunity came about, I told myself, what better way to continue my love of basketball into something to give back to other people?” he said.
“These young athletes who come here, they are entrusting us with the most important part of their life which is their sport. Granted, they all go to school but for most athletes, the thing they love most is their sport.”
He not only holds himself to high standards, but the staff as well.
“Everybody who trains with me or anybody at PickUp USA, I challenge them to challenge our trainers. If they can’t give you an answer, then they shouldn’t be here and that’s me included.”