Unicycle Basketball Arrives at Santa Cruz

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    Unicycle Basketball team members pose after a rainy practice. The unofficial UCSC team was founded by Jason Andrews and Ally Bortolazzo. Photo by Devika Agarwal.
    Unicycle Basketball team members pose after a rainy practice. The unofficial UCSC team was founded by Jason Andrews and Ally Bortolazzo. Photo by Devika Agarwal.

    There’s a new sport on campus and it’s not curling, figure skating or anything inspired by the Winter Olympics.

    The game of unicycle basketball has found its way to UC Santa Cruz, thanks to founders Jason Andrews and Ally Bortolazzo.

    What started as a casual conversation between acquaintances has become the most innovative activity on campus. First-year Andrews first picked up his unicycling hobby as a teenager, and was introduced to the basketball aspect of it 12 months later.

    “I picked up unicycling from some friends in high school my junior year,” Andrews said, “although I didn’t really do anything with it for a while besides the occasional jaunt around the neighborhood or off-road. Then senior year I heard about unicycle basketball from my ex-girlfriend, whose uncle is on the Berkeley team that recently got second place at the world championships held in New Zealand.”

    Held in late 2009 and early 2010, Unicon XV, or the 15th Unicycle World Championships and Convention, saw unicycle basketball teams from all over the world converge in Wellington, New Zealand to compete. Teams such as the Puerto Rico All-Stars and Berkeley Revolution are well-established, but there are leagues forming everywhere.

    The idea to start a team at UCSC was not premeditated or planned by Andrews or Bortolazzo. Rather, it came to both of them by chance.

    “I don’t really know [how it started],” Andrews said. “I realized that there were lots of people around who unicycled, and I met Ally [Bortolazzo], who unicycles. We unicycled and one day, I remembered unicycle basketball, so we made fliers and put them everywhere while riding our unicycles. We met a few more people who do it, although I would not fully refer to us as a ‘team’ yet.”

    Unicycle basketball may be a hard sport to visualize, but the club members are working extremely hard to fix all kinks.

    “It’s basically whatever you can manage to do physically on a unicycle while staying within the bounds of a basketball court,” Bortolazzo said. “When we play, there is consistently an issue about what happens when the ball is on the ground, because you can’t really pick it up while staying on your unicycle. We aren’t sure about that one.”

    Despite the minor issues and slight problems that have arisen during practice, there is still much buzz about the sport. Even athletes from other sports have shown a keen interest in playing.

    “There is lots of interest from people I know, like basketball players who want to start playing a real game,” Andrews joked.

    Members of the team are more than passionate about unicycle basketball, and it shows in the way they speak of their sport.

    “I think the game’s really unique, fun and rewarding,” sophomore Elaina Wagenet said. “I played basketball, soccer and softball in high school, and I learned to ride the unicycle at a camp, and all of it converged.”

    Although the club is in its fledgling state, Andrews and Bortolazzo have much envisioned for UCSC’s unicycle basketball team.

    “We are still in the very humble part of our beginnings. The recruitment process continues, and we welcome all interested individuals regardless of skill level,” Bortolazzo said. “It is exciting though, because this is a sport that is still in its beginning phases. I think that Santa Cruz is a good place for the sport to grow, and eventually I could see us fielding a team to compete with Cal [Berkeley], perhaps part of a NorCal unicycle basketball league.”

    Even with their serious efforts to make this sport work, there’s still a lot of time to joke around.

    “If I didn’t [start this team],” Andrews said, “Shaq would smite me, for it is my destiny.”