Before they test themselves against opponents from around the nation in front of Division I college coaches at different venues on the road this weekend, northeastern Pennsylvania’s top two AAU basketball programs will challenge each other locally.
JB Hoops and Valley Thunder will get together Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for boys-girls doubleheaders at Wilkes University’s Marts Center.
“It’s really important,” JB Hoops director John Bucci said. “There’s two really good AAU programs in northeastern Pennsylvania, us and the Thunder.
“It’s important that we play each other. Local fans can see us both and we’ve invited local college coaches to see our players.”
Howie Walker, who has run the Valley Thunder program out of the Wilkes-Barre area for the past four years, said he will combine his Blue and White teams into one 17U squad for tournament play in Pittsburgh in this weekend’s Blue Chip Preseason Challenge, presented by Under Armour.
“I’ve actually mixed them so that I’m bringing in my best 10 players,” Walker said.
That squad will take on the 17U boys’ teams that Bucci said are his program’s best in terms of grade and talent.
Boys games will open the doubleheaders each night at 6:15.
JB Hoops Reagan will play Valley Thunder Tuesday. JB Hoops Callahan will play Wednesday.
Valley Thunder has one high school level girls team, which competes on the 16U level.
“They’re up-and-coming, some of the players that played varsity basketball,” Walker said. “We want to get them some exposure.”
Valley Thunder’s 16U team will take on a pair of JB Hoops teams that compete on the 17U level, but are largely made up of underaged players.
JB Hoops Plisko takes on Valley Thunder at 7:15 Tuesday and JB Hoops Valvano plays Valley Thunder at 7:15 Wednesday in the girls’ games.
“The girls only have three juniors in the entire program,” Bucci said. “The teams are ninth- to 11th-graders with one seventh-grader.”
The JB Hoops Reagan and Callahan boys’ teams are headed to the Big Shots DC Spring Live tournament in Washington this weekend. The JB Hoops Plisko and Valvano teams are headed to the Blue Chip Challenge at Spooky Nook in Lancaster.
The Valley Thunder girls are off for the weekend before heading to the East Coast Championships at Spooky Nook May 6-7.
Bucci said the local doubleheaders come at an important time for the AAU programs, heading into the last weekend of the live recruiting period for Division I programs nationally. After the weekend, National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I coaches will not be able to view players in person until July.
“It will be a good workout for both teams before the last live weekend of the early session,” Bucci said. “Each (JB Hoops boys’) team will practice the day before the scrimmage to work on some things that we noticed were happening at Manheim over the weekend in the Hoop Group event.
“This should give us a chance to work on them at practice and then go see how they do in a game situation Tuesday and Wednesdayat Wilkes University.”
Walker said the Valley Thunder boys’ team that the JB Hoops squad will go against includes the leaders of the Holy Redeemer and GAR teams. Holy Redeemer won Wyoming Valley Conference Division 3 and District 2 Class 3A titles and, like GAR, advanced to the second round of the state tournament.
JB Hoops Callahan includes players from championship Abington Heights and Scranton Prep teams, state quarterfinalist Nanticoke and others.
The JB Hoops Reagan team includes players who were part of championships at Hazleton Area, Meyers, Abington Heights and Scranton Prep teams that won titles as well as from other local high schools.
JB Hoops teams are the top-level teams in the Backcourt Hoops program based out of Riverfront Sports in Scranton.
Both the Scranton-based JB Hoops and Wilkes-Barre-based Valley Thunder teams draw players from all over District 2.
Admission for each doubleheader is $2.