Summer programs are practically a prerequisite to a successful high school program, especially in basketball.
“You almost have to have summer basketball programs to keep up with all the other distractions,” Sparks interim boys basketball coach Mike Jones said. “You’ll always have a few gym rats, kids that always want to get in the gym, but there are so many kids just out for something else to do. You need summer basketball so they don’t forget about you.”
All three local high schools — Sparks, Reed and Spanish Springs — have summer basketball programs for their student athletes. At Spanish Springs, boys basketball coach Kyle Penney said the summer is a time to focus on fundamental work.
“Our workouts are about skill development,” Penney said. “Some of the stuff we do, the kids may think is boring, but we do a lot of basic fundamental basketball. We try to get a lot of reps in. We’re about creating habits.”
In addition to offseason practices two or three times a week, most local programs get in games with modified summer rules, ie. running clock and fewer free throws.
“We played in the local league in April and May,” Reed boys coach Dustin Hall said. “Then we played in a few tournaments in June … The summer is a good chance to build individual skills and it’s a good chance to build chemistry, have the guys get comfortable with each other.”
At Sparks, Jones said his squad has taken part in a few midweek scrimmages against other local schools and a few California clubs. Penney estimated that between the spring league at the boys and girls club and a few summer tournaments, that his Cougars players get in about 30 offseason games.
“The games give us a chance to progress our younger kids, like the JV and freshman players who are potential varsity guys,” Penney said. “They get to see the faster-paced action and the importance of doing the little things correctly. They see it sooner rather than the first league game out of the gate in the winter. They’re getting varsity experience when it doesn’t really matter.”
Local boys aren’t the only hoopsters busy in the summer months. High school girls programs are active as well. Most local teams play in a five-week, 10-game summer league at McQueen High and then also compete in a few weekend tournaments throughout the summer.
Reed is among the group of schools that plays in the McQueen league.
Spanish Springs does not play in the league but still gets in its fair share of summer game action. Spanish Springs is the lone girls program in northern Nevada to host a summer tournament. The Cougars girls host two summer jamborees, one the last weekend in June, the other this third weekend in July.
“It’s hard to play in the summer league, play on the weekends and still try to practice a couple times a week,” Spanish Springs coach Christine Eckles said. “So we practice during the week and play in tournaments on the weekends. If you do all three you don’t get any time off and it’s still the summer. We shouldn’t be going seven days a week.
“But now, to stay competitive, you need to play in the summer. It’s like getting an extra half season or so in and that’s crucial, especially for your kids who are making the jump up a level.”
Eckles admits she’s a little more low-key in the summer months. That seems to be true for many coaches as they focus more on teaching than disciplining, but Penney said he doesn’t work that way.
“I try to be different, but once I get in the gym something overcomes me,” Penney said. “I’m as intense in the summer time as the winter. I want the kids to do the right things. I expect that. It’s my job to hold them accountable or what we’re teaching does not become a habit. If I’m lax, they’re kids. If you give them a little, they take a lot.”
This week marked the end of the girls summer league at McQueen. At Damonte Ranch, the Mustangs boys program is hosting a big summer tournament that traditionally marks the end of the local summer boys season.
“We are finishing up this weekend and then we’ll give the kids some time off,” Eckles said. “It’s important they get better, but it’s important kids and coaches get a summer break too.”
Penney echoed those sentiments, but said there’s more players can do.
“We’re done now. There are kids going into fall sports and we coaches need a break too,” he said. “I think sometimes we as programs play too many games. Kids think they need to play games to get better or think they need a gym to do a workout. That’s not true. What it amounts to is what will the kids do to get better when the coach isn’t looking. That’s when basketball players are made.”