Basketball practice begins Monday, but not for Woodbridge point guard Andre Bratton. Or Gar-Field forwards Dee Howard and Greg Tekampe. Or Manassas Park guard Price Ward. Or Brentsville forward Sam Huff. Or any other number of prominent Prince William area players who are still involved with football.
Basketball coaches at football powers such as Hylton are accustomed to their players reporting to the gym well after the starting practice date. But with this football season being extended by a week because of the sniper attacks, each area basketball team will have to go without the shoulder pad-wearing set for at least the first week of practice and, in some cases, beyond.
Hylton, Osbourn Park, Gar-Field, Manassas Park and Brentsville all are likely bound for the football playoffs, so the soonest players on those teams would trickle into practice would be Nov. 25. The state football championship games are Dec. 14 -- in some cases more than a week later than some basketball teams are set to play their season openers.
Hylton and Manassas Park, each of which has potentially three basketball starters involved in football, are considering postponing their early season games. Gar-Field, another team missing key contributors, plans to play as scheduled, regardless of how far its football team advances.
"We're going to be looking at a lot of practices without them, and if we keep winning [in football], then the beginning of the season schedule will have to be adjusted," said second-year Hylton coach Kevin Brown, who has eight or so potential basketball players on the Bulldogs' fourth-ranked football team, including his backcourt of Deon Butler, Endor Cooper and Jerome Quinata. "The worst-case scenario is if we go to the final game December 14, we'll need practice time after that and be looking at the Christmas tournament as being our first game."
It was a banner season last winter for the Bulldogs (14-8), who beat eventual Virginia AAA state semifinalist Potomac for the first time, ended a nine-game losing streak against Gar-Field and made their first Northwestern Region tournament appearance since 1993-94. They were eager to pick up where they left off, and after graduating four starters, they could use the preparation time.
Another team that made strides under a first-year coach was Manassas Park, which despite dropping its last six games went 8-15 after going winless the year before. The Cougars, too, likely will get off to a slow start this winter with eight or so basketball players involved in football, including Ward (10.8 ppg last season), J.J. Dufour (6.9 ppg), A.C. Fitchett (4.8 ppg) and Ivan Fitchett (3.0 ppg).
"I think it's going to take some time for us to jell with football season going so long," said Manassas Park Coach Bob Schaul, who got to see his full contingent of players at two camps this summer. "It's always a concern that their basketball legs won't be with them right away and [a concern with them] getting back into basketball sync."
Gar-Field Coach Andy Gray said he might be without five players, among them Howard (9.0 ppg) and Tekampe (10.4 ppg).
"You want those [football] kids to win, and when they have some success in another sport then that can only help in getting their minds right to have success in our sport," Gray said. "From a positive side, you've got to figure that a lot of kids are going to get a lot of practice experience they might not otherwise get."
In some cases, actual game experience. While others are considering postponing their initial games, the Indians intend to play their opener Dec. 5, as planned.
"If you schedule them, you should play them," Gray said. "We've had several instances where teams we schedule get in that bind and not play and ultimately you cancel the game. I always said if we were in the same predicament that we'd play the game."
Because its football team last season competed in the state semifinals Dec. 1, Hylton did not play its first basketball game until Dec. 18, postponing four dates. Two against Culpeper wound up not being played at all. The Bulldogs started 0-3, then won 14 of their next 17.
"You don't want to compete without a full squad, but when you move those games to January and February you're playing three or four times a week," Brown said. "But I'd rather do that than go at less than full strength."