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Plum league helps basketball players stay sharp, make their mark

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 3:14 p.m.
Gary Bills | For The Plum Advance Leader
Plum returning starter James Edwards, at right, battles during a summer league game on June 11, 2014.
Michael Love | The Times Express
Gateway rising senior Morgan Hainsey looks for room to drive the ball during a league game at McKeesport on June 12, 2014.

In a sweltering auxiliary gym Monday night at Plum High School, players from the Gateway and Valley varsity boys basketball teams battled for 40 minutes.

There was everything one would expect in a summer league game — scrambles for loose balls, strong moves to the basket, sharp-shooting 3-pointers and a fair amount of turnovers and other miscues.

Coaches in summer league games, such as the one hosted by Plum the past couple of weeks, are looking for the right mix as their teams try to improve and bridge the gap between seasons.

“With the summer league, it's not about winning or losing,” Plum head coach Ron Richards said. “It's about player development.”

Gateway held on for an eight-point victory over Valley, and it was a two-point game with about a minute to go.

The close score allowed both teams to work on end-of-game scenarios. But Gators head coach Mitch Adams echoed the sentiment of his veteran Plum colleague that the final score wasn't all that important.

“Each game is a good learning experience for the kids,” Adams said.

“They are learning to handle pressure situations. We have a couple younger kids who are getting used to what we want to do. Not everyone is here for each game because of other commitments, but we work in the ones who are here. It's an opportunity to step up.”

Gateway, which suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Kiski Area at Plum in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs in February, is working towards finding new players for the varsity lineup after several key components — including Delvon Randall, Shomari Thomas and Tommy Kromka — moved on because of graduation.

“There are a bunch of good teams (in the Plum league), and we need this kind of stuff to test ourselves and see what we need to work on,” Adams said.

Plum also made the playoffs in 2014, and the Mustangs were eliminated by Kiski Area in the first round at Penn Hills High School.

Richards had to say goodbye to two seniors in starters Austin Dedert and Nick Stotler, but, he said, he likes the way the returning players such as James Edwards, Mike McGuire, Will Fuhrer and Taylor Vivino are working to lay the foundation for the 2014-15 squad.

“We like the progress of our kids,” Richards said.

“The ones who have put in the time are getting better. We're playing a lot and are doing what we do at this time every year.”

Plum had hosted a summer league in the past, and this is the first summer for the league in Plum since Richards returned in 2010 for his second stint as head coach of the Mustangs.

The games will continue through next Wednesday, and there will be no playoffs.

“We have a nice mix of schools from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties,” Richards said.

“It's a really good group of teams we were able to assemble. The competition is great. All the teams have different situations. Some have a lot of players and starters back, and others are replacing a lot lost to graduation. They are all trying to get better and have kids who are trying to make their mark with their teams.”

The Mustangs host Franklin Regional and Penn Hills on Monday at 6 and 8 p.m., respectively, while the Gators play Fox Chapel on Monday at 6.

Plum and Gateway were slated to meet on June 9, but the Gators were unable to make it to Plum that evening, and the game was cancelled.

The Gators and Mustangs are set to face each other Wednesday at 6 p.m., and then Plum will battle Fox Chapel at 8.

There is a June 30 makeup date set if teams who weren't able to play their scheduled games want to meet.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825, at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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