TOWAMENCIN >> The positive impact was evident to Dock Mennonite boys basketball coach Mike Fergus.
Dock had arguably the best season in school history last winter, going 24-6, winning its first BAL title, finishing second in District 1-AA and winning the first state playoff game in program history. Certainly, an experienced lineup had a lot to do with that, but there was no doubt the team’s inaugural summer league in June and July also helped the Pioneers.
While the Pioneers were far from the only team to see positives from the summer league, the hosts are hoping year two has a similar payoff a few months from now.
“We’re trying to instill in them a defensive mentality,” Fergus said. “The first thing is instilling in our kids to be playing harder than the team we’re playing against. The second thing is just having guys learn how to play with each other, because it’s summer league you’re missing kids, and for us to compete without key pieces can be difficult.”
Dock loses two key starters in glue-guy grinder forward Caleb Pfleiger and Mr. Everything point guard Miz Nyagwegwe, who either led or sat right near the top of points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. Fergus, who is going into his fourth year coaching Dock, admits this group isn’t at the same spot last year’s was but that’s why the Pioneers are playing these summer games.
The players and coaches are there to win and the games are competitive, but at the end of the month, the 12 teams in the field won’t be concerned with how many wins or losses they racked up. Instead, the idea is to push players out of their comfort zone, to let them work and most importantly, to teach and correct.
“It’s going to be hard, but we know what we have to do and improve for the beginning of the season,” Dock rising junior center Darius Ellis said. “We play together as a team and work together. We’re building chemistry and getting ready for the season to start all over again.”
Ellis personally saw a lot of improvement last winter due in part to last year’s summer league. His conditioning is better, he’s more comfortable and polished shooting the ball and he’s not afraid to use his size to his advantage.
“I’m a big guy and I saw I had to assert myself and use my body a little more,” Ellis said. “I’m not always the biggest guy but I can make up for it with heart. It used to be, people see me and think ‘this big guy isn’t that good,’ but now when they see me score and use my strength, they think ‘man, we doubted him.’ That’s what I’m thinking about now, people doubted us as a team but we came out and proved them wrong.”
Rising seniors Nolan Bolton and Jackson Scialanca are the team’s other returning starters, both four-year starting players who will be looked upon to keep order on the court. Scialanca was away on vacation Monday while Bolton, a standout baseball player, missed the first two weeks due to Legion or travel ball games. Fergus knows what he’s getting from those guys though, and either one not being there has allowed other guys to step up.
Fergus noted Ralph St. Fleur as a young guard who’s embraced the bigger role given to him this summer but added everyone who’s played this summer has done well for the Pioneers.
“Some of these teams are bringing 10 to 12 guys and we don’t have that,” Fergus said. “We have young kids who are playing against 6A players, some very experienced, and it’s making them better. You always want to have your kids all there but when they’re not, the other guys get that chance to develop.”
The summer league, which also includes La Salle, Central Bucks West, Central Bucks East, Central Bucks South, Pennridge, Methacton, Jenkintown, Souderton, New Hope-Solebury, Lansdale Catholic and Haverford, offers a good mix of styles and philosophy. Teams play back-to-back games, which helps those teams with depth looking to get younger guys minutes and college coaches including some from DelVal, DeSales and Chestnut Hill, have been stopping by.
“We learn how to compete and play with each other and the other stuff, we can put that in later on,” Fergus said. “We’re not quite meshing as well as last year, but last year we were a little farther ahead and that’s fine, it’s why we’re playing these games. I think this helps everybody, I don’t think there’s anybody that plays in this league who doesn’t get better.”
Ellis made a point that all of last season’s success needs to stay in the past and this summer is building toward a brand-new season.
“We have to prove a little bit more,” Ellis said. “We won a league championship, but we didn’t win districts. We want to win districts, we’re trying to get back to states and we want to win it all.”
NEW LOOK LC
Lansdale Catholic coach Joe Corbett has a lot of new faces in the gym this summer.
It’s not a bad thing, especially with the Crusaders graduating five seniors off last year’s roster. There’s a lot of opportunity this coming winter and for LC, competition begins this summer.
“We view this as a chance to get our guys more reps playing together and we always say it’s not the outcome that’s most important,” Corbett said. “We brought a lot of new guys in, a couple transfers, a c few freshmen that could compete for spots, so we’re using this as a time to get everybody used to playing with each other.”
LC’s key returners include rising seniors Kyle Kane, Nick Romeo and Tim Cunane, all guys who bring the energy and hustle Corbett expects from all his players. While that’s the example he wants the newcomers to learn from and mimic, Corbett noted those guys are going to have to expand their roles as well.
The Crusaders were a game away from the postseason last year, losing to Conwell-Egan in a virtual play-in game for the Catholic League’s 4A state playoff spot.
“Whether it’s summer league, a nonleague game or in the Catholic League, there can be no question about the effort we’re giving every time out,” Corbett said. “We play in a tough league but the thing we have to give max effort in every second of every minute or you’re not going to play. That starts here and it starts with the older guys setting that tone.”
Corbett said success this winter will hinge on leadership and production from the seniors and filling out the rotation around them with younger guys who can bring the energy and effort the coaching staff is looking for. Jay Hicks, Matt Hart, Matt Dome and Pat Gillen played well on Monday in LC’s two games ad are among that group vying for minutes and roles this coming season.
“I don’t think since I’ve been here, we’ve had so many players capable of playing varsity minutes,” Corbett said. “We have a nice mix of younger guys, returners and upcoming guys but it’s about using this time to gel together and trying to find an open gym or two during the week to build on that.”