Summer league provides real-game feel for Gateway, Plum hoopers
The 2013-14 high school boys basketball season is still six months away, but that hasn't stopped the Gateway and Plum boys basketball programs from mixing it up on the hardwood this spring and summer.
The annual Pittsburgh Basketball Club's summer leagues provide area teams the chance to compete in an informal setting.
Two 20-minute halves with a running clock that only stops for called timeouts are featured, and scorebooks usually aren't kept.
It is a chance for coaches to try some new things with new combinations, as players have moved on because of graduation, returning players have advanced to new roles and new players are getting their feet wet in the system.
For Plum, the emphasis is not the outcome of a game — it suffered a loss to Greensburg Central Catholic in a summer-league contest last Thursday at Gateway High School — but how the players are developing and doing good things on the court.
“We've progressed all summer,” Mustangs head coach Ron Richards said.
“We've been going at it for about six or seven weeks, and it's only just the start. We're young and inexperienced, but they are having fun.”
Plum is focused on getting back to the WPIAL playoffs after missing the postseason in the 2012-13 season. The Mustangs finished tied with Franklin Regional for fifth place (6-8) in Section 2-AAAA.
Rising senior starters Austin Dedert and Nick Stotler will be back to lead a young team that lost five key seniors to graduation.
Also, rising junior Austen Carney started several games last year before missing the final few weeks of the season with an arm injury.
“This is really important because we have guys who have to step up into larger roles from last year,” Dedert said.
“It's a whole different look from last year. June is an important month for us, because there is a lot of skill stuff put into the work, and it's great to see next year's team come together.”
Individually, Dedert, a 6-foot-5 forward, knows that getting bigger and stronger for the battles in the paint under the basket will be important.
He also stressed the desire to become a more vocal leader for the younger kids.
“(The younger kids) base their work on how you work,” Dedert said. “We have to be at our best.”
Gateway finished the 2012-13 season 11-3 in Section 2-AAAA — second behind Pittsburgh Central Catholic — and made the WPIAL quarterfinals and PIAA playoffs.
It was eliminated from both playoff brackets by New Castle, the WPIAL champion and a PIAA semifinalist.
“The kids are working hard, putting in the time and getting better and better,” Gators head coach Mitch Adams said.
Several key players, including three-year starting point guard and two-time WPIAL champion D.J. Boyce, moved on because of graduation, but talent returns.
Starters in rising seniors Delvon Randall, Shomari Thomas and Tommy Kromka return to lead the team, and all three of them are part of a 15- to 20-player contingent involved in workouts and summer games the past several weeks.
“This helps us get our chemistry together,” Thomas said.
“There is a mix of returning and new players. That happens every year. These are important games to help bring everyone together.”
Adams said a key through the late spring and into the summer has been the incorporation of several members of last season's freshman team that won 16 games.
“They are facing Quad-A competition (in summer league games),” Adams said.
“Some of these kids have started in the games, and they have stepped up. I look forward to the next three years with these kids.”
Brenon Thrift, another rising senior, has verbally committed to play Division I football at Temple University, but this summer, he is mixing in football workouts with basketball workouts and games.
Adams likes the way he is physical all over the court, especially under the basket.
“Brenon is very strong, and he can do a lot of nice things,” Adams said.
The Pittsburgh Basketball Club states on its website that the summer league playoffs will be from Monday through June 27.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.