Between Memorial Day and the end of July, the courts at Backcourt Hoops fill up with games in the PNC Bank Summer Team League on weekday evenings.
The largest of those leagues is the boys varsity league, which has 25 teams with Maine-Endwell, N.Y., from the Binghamton area joining schools from all around the Lackawanna League and Wyoming Valley Conference for games on Monday and Tuesday nights.
Each team plays eight games – usually one per week – in the league. No standings are kept and no championships are pursued while the teams work on preparing themselves for the future.
The summer leagues offer the first chances for the high school teams of the 2018-19 season to play together against outside competition.
Getting a new look is part of the experience.
With the wide range of teams in the league, there is a chance to face some different competition.
“We try to make sure they play teams that might not play during the season so they get different looks,” Joe Sheehan from Backcourt Hoops said.
Western Wayne coach Al Semenza said it is a good chance for players to make a first or different impression on their coaches who are thinking ahead to the next season and how their teams will reshape following graduation losses.
“I’m just looking for guys who are going to show up – I realize there are a lot of other commitments – and just be accountable,” Semenza said following an impressive Western Wayne victory over Dunmore June 11. “Coming down here is a great opportunity for everybody.
“I always tell my guys, ‘there’s a darkhorse out there’. Somebody that nobody knows about is going to emerge and become a big part of our team. This gives them the opportunity.”
Tunkhannock is one team that will have a new combination next season. The Tigers lost seniors from an improving team in 2017-18, but also got their first looks at some promising players who will be sophomores next season.
“When you lose some seniors, you want to bring back the underclassmen to start jelling a little bit more and playing together as much as possible,” said Tigers coach Spencer Lunger, who also said he liked the idea of seeing different opponents. “You’re seeing what you have for the upcoming years.”
Like many coaches, Lunger combines the summer league with open gyms at school and team camps to keep the program growing during the offseason.
“We’re going to be senior-led this year,” Lunger said before his team’s third game in the league. “We’ve had a bunch of our seniors here, but also the underclassmen.
“We seem to be getting better, which is good.”
Players often have more freedom in a summer league than during the school season.
“My approach during the summer is we’re going to play more wide-open,” Semenza said. “We want to see what abilities guys have and try to see where they can fit into our offensive scheme during the season when we’re more patterned and have certain guys shooting the ball.
“I think during the summer it gives everybody an opportunity to say, ‘look, I can help us offensively. Here’s what I can do’.”
Holy Redeemer’s Paul Guido agrees.
“Right now, we tell our guys, we’re looking for a lot of competitiveness, basketball IQ and who can sort of figure things out without having a lot of set plays run,” Guido said. “A lot of times during the season, we like to run a lot of sets in our man-to-man offense.
“Here now, we’re running very few sets. It’s more about trying to read and react and help your basketball hoops knowledge.”
Each of the coaches combines the summer league with time in their own gyms.
“We have a bunch of other shootouts and camps and one-day events that we will go to and we always go to team camp at St. Joe’s in early August, which is like the end of our summer program,” Guido said.
The weekly trips to Backcourt Hoops are the only ones Holy Redeemer players make for league play. Guido said he comes back to Backcourt Hoops each year because of the competition and what he has seen from owner John Bucci’s leagues in the past.
“We haven’t played any Wyoming Valley schools yet and we’ve played pretty much all bigger schools for us, which is what we’re all about, variety and good competition,” he said. “Coach Bucci does a great job for us. He knows we’re traveling, so he’ll schedule us later in the day to let (Interstate) 81’s traffic slow down a little bit.
“Games are on time for the most part. It’s always very well run, which is another thing that keeps us coming back.”
While the boys get in their work, there are 14 teams in the varsity girls leagues.
In some cases, entire programs are getting in their summer development in Scranton. There are JV and junior high leagues for boys and girls teams, also playing eight games each. There are also leagues for sixth-grade boys, fourth-and-fifth grade boys and fifth-and-sixth grade girls.
Backcourt Hoops also offers Individual Summer League where players can sign up and be placed on teams for the summer. Sheehan said 120 boys ninth grade or lower and 50 girls eighth grade or lower took advantage of this option. He said it has proven particularly helpful for ninth-grade boys who want to keep playing but may not have broken in yet to where they can join their school’s varsity players for the summer.