TOWAMENCIN >> Things have a way of coming full circle.
When Mike Fergus was coaching at North Penn 15 years ago, he decided to start up a summer league for area boys’ basketball teams. Eventually the league moved to Central Bucks South, then a few years at Upper Dublin before it stopped happening every summer.
Now heading into his fourth year as the head boys’ basketball coach at Dock Mennonite Academy, Fergus brought it back.
The first year of the Dock summer league wrapped up its six-week schedule on Monday night, drawing plenty of positive reviews from the other 11 teams that made up the field. Fergus as much as anybody understands basketball is a year-round game, so pitting area teams against each other could only benefit everyone involved.
“My college coach used to say that basketball players are made from April to October,” Fergus said. “Us coaches, we love to be in the gym, we love working with kids. Once you get into the season, it’s more team stuff but the players are made in the offseason.”
METHACTON MAKING STRIDES
The most used word in the summer is repetitions.
When high school teams play in a summer league, go to a college camp or anything like that, it’s with the purpose of getting as many repetitions as possible for its players. In Methacton’s case, it’s continuing to develop on-court chemistry for a young but promising core.
With a rising sophomore center in 6-foot-8 Jeff Woodward, the Warriors have one of the biggest players in the Pioneer Athletic Conference. Woodward, who sports a beard that masks his underclassman standing, is the power inside to rising junior David Duda Jr.’s sharpshooting on the outside.
“For the summer, we’re just trying to get a lot of reps and build some continuity playing together,” Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said. “We have a couple guys who have played at the varsity level but we have the opportunity to mix in some guys who were mostly JV players last year and get them some experience.”
Duda, a lefty who only need a sliver of space to get off a shot, has been working on diversifying his game this summer, adding off-ball movement and creativity off the bounce. Woodward, who stepped out and canned a 15-foot jumper against Wissahickon, will be asked to become more involved in the offense.
Derstine also noted the play of rising senior Noah Kitaw during the six-week league.
“He’s the lone senior with significant experience,” Derstine said. “He’s done a terrific job of anchoring our defense right now. He’s really communicating and showing great leadership.
“All of our guys are just trying to work and progress and they’re getting better as a group.”
Sean Yoder felt like he let his team down last year when a broken collarbone held him out of Pennridge’s first-round District 1 tournament loss.
While Yoder knew his teammates didn’t feel that way at all, not being on the floor for the biggest game of the season ate at the Rams rising junior all spring and even through the summer. It gave him more than enough motivation to work harder than ever on the AAU circuit and Yoder earned his first Division I offer from High Point University over the weekend.
Understanding that he will be looked to as the point guard and a three-year varsity player, Yoder is ready to take on a leadership role with the Rams.
“It’s a new team this summer and I’ve been getting used to the guys and playing with them,” Yoder said. “July was very successful for us as a team, we beat some very good, well-coached teams and made some noise. That’s what we’re looking for in anything we do.”
Yoder brings an even keel to the floor and has spent the summer trying to refine the skills he’ll need to fully take over as the point guard. Last season, a lot of his drives ended with a shot at the rim, which was fine because he made most of them. Monday, Yoder was aggressive going to the rim, but frequently passed the ball at the last second, setting up a teammate for an open look.
It wasn’t just Yoder. In the team’s final game against New Hope-Solebury, the Rams swung the ball plenty and it yielded a lot of wide open shots, either in the lane or outside the arc.
“If we can build that great team chemistry, we’ll be alright,” Rams coach Dean Behrens said.
Yoder’s had plenty of front row training on how to be a leader the last two seasons. Whether it was players like Ryan Cuthbert or his older brother Kyle last year or Dan Long and those seniors two seasons ago, Yoder has watched quite a few players who have led the Rams to a lot of wins.
Kyle encouraged his younger brother to take charge this summer and be the vocal presence on the team, something Sean was ready and willing to embrace.
“It’s going to be my job to be vocal and lead by example,” Yoder said. “These guys are going to hop on my back and it’s my job to get them where we want to go.”
FINDING THEIR WAY
This summer has brought stability to Souderton basketball.
When Tim Brown was hired in early August last year, he became the third head coach in three seasons for the Indians. The Indians weren’t able to fully maximize the prior two summers to get those precious repetitions and competition that benefit teams months later.
Ironically, Brown was there for all of it, serving as Souderton’s JV coach and an assistant varsity coach before taking the head spot last year.
Heading into his second season, Brown has taken advantage of a full summer with his team and in return, has given his guys a lot of flexibility to mold the team in their own image.
“It helps us a lot because the last couple of years, the transitions have been hard,” D.J. Landis said. “We had three completely different coaches. We went from a vocal coach to a non-vocal coach to now a vocal coach but at the right amount. It just takes so much pressure off our shoulders because we’re more in the flow of things than we were last year.”
Monday, Brown decided to present his guys a challenge by holding projected point guard Tommy Hanrahan out of the team’s two games. He wanted to see how his players responded and who wanted to step up and be a leader.
The Indians responded by splitting the wealth around, with numerous players bringing the ball up the floor, different guys getting shots and lineups finding a way to make things work. Landis, a rising senior forward, showed off some of the work he’s done this summer by hitting a handful of 3-pointers and acting as one of those ball-handlers.
“Most of us didn’t play much varsity last year so we’re pretty much a brand new team,” Landis said. “I feel like we’re one of few teams in the area than can confidently say we have five guys who can dribble the ball up without turning it over. We don’t have to look to outlet off a rebound; we can just push it up.”
Souderton will have another big senior class this season, and they’ve all come up with Brown as their coach, so there’s a tight bond between the whole group. Landis said the Indians want to be a playoff team this year and their family-like bond will play a big part in anything they accomplish in the winter.
“Knowing you can talk to him about anything, even a real life situation and he won’t get mad or blow it off is so helpful,” Landis said of his coach. “We know we can talk to him about anything and he always wants to help us.”
WISS WINGING IT
On a night when they were shorthanded, the Wissahickon Trojans responded by be adaptable.
Guard Max Rapoport did most of the ballhandling but wasn’t afraid to step out of the way and let a teammate bring the ball up in transition off a rebound against Methacton. Starting the game with just five players, though plenty more arrived by halftime, Wiss moved the ball and shot plenty of perimeter shots.
Rising senior Zach Reiner, a versatile inside-out forward, didn’t play due to an injury but plenty of the team’s guard showed their stuff on Monday.
Wissahickon qualified for the PIAA 5A tournament last year, but will have to retool after graduating players like Shane Ford and Zach Gelman.
HOSTS WITH THE MOST
Fergus has had three very different teams in his first three seasons at Dock, but as he heads into the fourth year, his team is taking after his style. The Pioneers have a lot of scrappy, energetic young players and many of them have plenty of potential.
Being able to match up with 6A and 5A programs over the last six weeks has been invaluable for Dock, which qualified for the state playoffs last year, but also graduated its leading scorer and two other key players.
“Our kids play really hard,” Fergus said. “One of the things we’re really proud of is how hard we play. Last year in our league, over the last half of the season we were the best defensive team in the league or at least one of them. We pride ourselves on playing hard and sometimes it’s hard in (the BAL) to sustain that.”
Fergus has been coaching a long time with a lot of stops to his name, but working at a small school like Dock has been special for him. He credited the school’s administration and staff for their support and his players for being coachable and hard workers.
Another philosophy Fergus believes in is that there are three offseasons in basketball. The first would be the spring, followed by the summer and finally the fall and if a player commits to playing two out of those three, that’s where they make the most improvement.
“That still allows a kid to play another sport or even a third sport,” Fergus said. “Basketball’s not just a game where you just show up and play at a high level. I saw this league as a chance for the kids to put to use the skills they’re working on in the offseason and use them in a game situation.”
Fergus and his staff worked hard to make the summer league a success and it was met by plenty of positive feedback. His next step is to start up a fall league and he said a number of the coaches in the summer league are already interested in getting involved.
“They’re good programs and all good coaches,” Fergus said. “All the coaches in this league are gym rats, I see the same teams at tournaments and camps, so it’s a good group and for us as an AA school, it’s making us better.”
Methactons Jeff Woodward reaches for a loose ball during summer game against Wissahickon at Dock Mennonite Academy on Monday, July 31, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)