By Tom Robinson
The JB Hoops program added two of the Wyoming Valley Conference’s top young, inside players to its National Girls roster this year in a move that proved beneficial for both the team and the individuals.
Lake-Lehman’s Clare Dougherty and Wyoming Valley West’s Trinity Johnson each said they got more than expected out of their spring and summer experience.
“It has definitely exceeded my expectations,” Dougherty said during a July tournament stop at Spooky Nook in Lancaster County. “I really, really like the coaching staff. I think I have learned so much over the past spring and summer.
“I love my teammates. I build off my teammates. They’re all so good and all so inspirational.”
Playing with the JB Hoops Rose team, generally the younger group of the two high school-aged teams the Scranton-based program enters into national-level events, Dougherty and Johnson added to the team’s inside presence and expanded their own skill sets. They were two of the key contributors throughout the season and helped lead the team to the championship of its pool at the season-ending USJN 17U Girls Nationals at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.
“It’s definitely been way more than I expected,” Johnson said. “Everyone there is just so helpful and all willing to improve your game and help you in any way possible.
“They’re all uplifting and never let you get down on yourself.”
The two 6-footers made a quick impact in high school basketball.
By a half-dozen games into the 2018-19 season as freshmen, both were settled into the starting lineup. They became important parts of teams that reached the District 2 finals and won games in the opening round of the state tournament.
Both came out of that successful start to high school basketball looking for more.
Each had played in other AAU programs previously. Dougherty made her way to Backcourt Hoops in Scranton a year earlier to play with the NEPA Flames, which maintains a regional AAU schedule.
For Johnson, it was the first time coming to Backcourt Hoops to practice with a new group of players in preparation for the tournament circuit.
“I kind of wanted to get out of the area and I had heard about JB Hoops and how strong the program was,” she said. “I just wanted to try it out.”
Both players used the experience to become part of a successful spring and summer in the program and to expand their own games.
Dougherty said she has always been one to think about rebounds. It might help that her father will box her out in the kitchen, if necessary, to demonstrate a point and remind her about being in position to hit the boards.
During the spring and summer, she worked on improving her left hand. As the AAU season wore on, she found herself being able to get off more left-handed shots in the lane during games.
The JB Hoops Rose and JB Hoops Bucci teams see a lot of each other in practice sessions and travel together as dual entries in many tournaments. Dougherty had plenty of time to work with John Bucci, who owns and operates the program.
“I really learned a lot from him,” she said. “He’s such a good coach.”
Johnson got to be part of JB Hoops Rose’s ability to mix outside and inside games into its offensive attack.
She hopes to bring some of that back to Wyoming Valley West, which had more of a perimeter-based offense a year ago.
“Definitely playing on the inside,” she said of her concentration this summer. “Hopefully, I can work that in and trying to be a team leader.”