Summer leagues give coaches a head start on next season


ASHWAUBENON — The high school basketball regular season is 22 games long with the season starting with practice in November and ending with the state tournament in March.

It’s the longest season in high school sports, but that doesn’t mean basketball players enjoy a long offseason.

In fact, it’s the opposite. Most schools have open gyms in the spring and in the summer teams reconvene for summer leagues, where coaches get their first real look at what their team may look like for the upcoming season.

While few coaches actually coach in summer league, they watch and talk to the team before and after games. Ashwaubenon boys basketball coach John Miron realizes kids are playing a lot of basketball nowadays, but the coaches need a glimpse at what their next team will look like.

"I think you have to have the leagues because I think you have to keep in contact with your players,” said Miron, who led Ashwaubenon to a share of the Fox River Classic Conference title last season. “One of the things I think good coaches do and good programs do is you have to have relationships with your players and they have to want to play for you."

Still, the basketball season is more than four months away. Can coaches really benefit from something in July when the season is so far off?

"You're bringing back a different group of kids every year and it gives that group of kids a chance to play together,” said De Pere boys basketball coach Brian Winchester, whose team tied Ashwaubenon for the FRCC title last season. “It also gives you a chance to see some of the new guys who may step up and play a role for you."

"Summer league is so important, just to get the team chemistry with your guys,” said Ashwaubenon senior Kyle Monroe. “Obviously, you lose sometimes half your team due to seniors leaving; get that whole group of JV kids coming up and get acclimated with how they kind of play the game, your style of play. You find a nice mesh before the year."

High school basketball appears to be almost a 12-month season. Miron said the open gyms are beneficial, too, and can open his eyes as to what to look for in the summer.

"There were kids that opened my eyes this spring,” Miron said. “So then what happens is summer comes, you're not playing against your own teammates, you're playing against other kids, so now you take a look, ‘OK this kid did well in the spring, alright, how's he going to do in the summer against players from other squads?’”

Another benefit of summer leagues is the best players, due to AAU, aren’t always in attendance and that allows other players a chance to play bigger roles. For example, at Ashwaubenon’s summer league Wednesday, Neenah’s Matt Heldt, De Pere’s Brevin Pritzl and Monroe were not playing.

Coaches relish the chance to see how their team plays without its star.

“I think summer leagues are extremely important to building your team, some of you chemistry,” Winchester said. “Everyone’s playing in summer time. Not everybody plays AAU so those kids need structure to continue to play and work on things they need to develop.”

Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay