Valley, Kiski Area boys basketball teams use summer tournaments to gain needed experience
There's a word inside the Valley basketball locker room guaranteed to make the Vikings focus, to push harder in workouts and on the court.
Nothing provides offseason motivation quite like a double-digit playoff lead slipping away, which happened in Valley's WPIAL Class 4A first-round game against McGuffey in February. Instead of triumph, the Vikings' first postseason action since 2010 ended with an overtime loss.
“We need to get back at McGuffey,” rising junior Deonte Ross said Friday, providing a sense of Valley's psyche as the Vikings continued their offseason work with participation in the inaugural Westmoreland County Coaches Association boys basketball shootout at Hempfield.
“We were excited to make the playoffs, but we have a pretty deep bruise from our experience in the playoffs that's been a big motivator,” Valley coach Mark Faulx said. “Anytime things are getting tough, we just say that word — McGuffey — and it kind of refocuses us because we have such a sour taste about that experience. We felt it was right there, and we let it go.”
In addition to the open gym workouts typical for summer basketball, Valley played in a league at St. Joseph and at Penn-Trafford. The shootout, which brought together 13 schools from Westmoreland County, including Kiski Area and Valley, provided yet another opportunity for teams to get together and play.
“I feel good about it because it's bettering us and making us progress more toward the season,” Ross said. “We're trying to do big things this year. We're trying to go far in the playoffs this year. We don't have everyone here today, but we're making it work.”
Valley played three games Friday, losing to Jeannette, beating Freeport and falling to Latrobe on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the final game of the day.
Just another heartbreaker for Valley to learn from.
“The better summer you have, the better season you can have,” Faulx said. “There's no guarantees, but where we are, we can't expect to have a great season without a great summer.
“For so many of the last couple years, we've been fighting to get into the playoffs, but once we got there, we realized we need to do a better job of executing in situations. This summer allows us to be in those situations and talk about what to do and also how we feel, what we need to do to get through it more quickly.”
Valley lost four seniors from last season but returns five highly motivated contributors.
“We don't have to start over from the beginning,” Ross said. “We have some freshmen coming up and doing well. We're just teaching them how to fit in and do what they're supposed to do, fill their role.”
Kiski Area, meanwhile, finds itself in a different situation. The Cavaliers, also coming off a playoff season, are replacing eight seniors — including six who were heavy contributors — and return just a couple letterwinners.
That makes opportunities to get together and play even more important, coach Joey Tutchstone said.
“Sometimes at open gyms it's not as competitive because you're getting kids at different ages, you're not getting the commitment from all the kids,” he said. “So it's tough to imitate what live-game experience gives them the opportunity to work on things.”
The Cavaliers' young players were tested Friday by Derry, Belle Vernon and Southmoreland and acquitted themselves by winning two of the three games.
Never one to let a teaching opportunity slip by, the energetic Tutchstone spent the waning minutes of the game against Southmoreland on his feet, pacing and gesturing as Kiski Area ultimately came through with a victory.
Whether that ultimately helps the Cavaliers once the season starts in December remains to be seen, but Tutchstone is a believer in the value of offseason basketball.
“When you have younger guys, the more you can play with younger guys like that, the more beneficial it'll be going forward,” Tutchstone said. “I think it's everything: seeing how hard you have to work, (improving) skill-wise, (getting) repetition and continuity, learning how to play with each other. I'm not bringing back five or six starters that are used to playing with each other, so it's good to build that continuity between one another.”