The Long Reach boys' basketball team has some of its most important games this summer at High Point High School in front of a few passionate high school basketball fans and the players' parents.
Through The Rock Summer League, Long Reach players hope to form their initial bonds and learn to play as a unit so they will be prepared when real games begin this winter. The summer games are more like scrimmages consisting of two 20-minute halves. The clock runs except during foul shots and the final two minutes of each half.
Long Reach's players feel that competing against several of the area's best teams, including DeMatha, O'Connell and St. John's, is invaluable. The team entered the week 2-3, but its biggest games during its 10-game season are next week. That's because the Lightning will play in front of college coaches, who are allowed by NCAA rules to attend games July 6-15 so they can evaluate potential recruits.
"I must've had over 50 college coaches ask me to fax them the league's schedule," said league co-director Al Moraz, who coaches Long Reach's varsity. "There are so many great teams, and there are a lot of players that college coaches want to see."
"I want to be one of them, so that's why playing summer league is one of the most important parts of our season," Long Reach senior forward Darryl Webb said. "I want for us to improve as a team, and it's going to be really big for me to play in front of college coaches because I want to get recruited. I want to prove I can play at the next level."
For Webb, a 6-foot-6 forward who is one of the county's top players, the best way to accomplish that goal is by playing well in upcoming games against Bishop McNamara (July 12), Georgetown Prep (July 13) and Gonzaga (July 15).
"This is also going to get us ready for the regular season because the teams we're playing in this league are so good, and we won't see teams like this in our league," Long Reach senior guard Brent Stanford said. "This will get us ready to handle the pressure of playing in big games."
Unlike the high school regular season, a team's success during a summer season is not measured by wins and losses. Because Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association guidelines prohibit high school coaches, as well as members of their staff, from coaching their school's summer league team, they watch games carefully from the stands.
"I'd be ecstatic if we went .500," Moraz said. "We went 4-6 last year, and we beat St. John's in the [summer league playoffs], and that was big for us because it gave us a lot of confidence going into the regular season."
Though Long Reach is the only county team among the 22-team field competing in The Rock Summer League, the rest of the county is competing in smaller leagues. Glenelg is competing against Carroll and Frederick county teams in a league at Liberty High School, and River Hill and Reservoir are playing against Montgomery County teams in the Montgomery County Department of Recreation League.
Centennial, Howard, Wilde Lake, and Chapelgate Christian will participate along with Loyola of Baltimore and Cardinal Gibbons in the Centennial Boosters Summer League at Centennial, which starts today and concludes at the end of July. Mount Hebron Coach Mike Linsenmeyer said he didn't have enough interest among returning players to play in a summer league.
"Summer league is an excuse to keep playing basketball. I don't pay attention to statistics or know how many games we won last year," said Centennial Coach Jim Hill, whose team shared the summer league title last year with Pallotti. "The more time we play together, the better we get."
River Hill Coach Matt Graves feels the same way. River Hill is coming off the worst season in school history -- it won four games -- but players believe summer leagues enable them to help forget about a tough year.
"Winning in summer league is important because that means you played well, and we need to prepare ourselves to know how to win," said River Hill senior guard Tyler Davila, whose team entered the week 4-2. "I think there's a much different chemistry starting to form here than we had last season. Right now everyone believes that we can be one of the top teams in the league this winter."