TOWAMENCIN >> Had Pennridge boys basketball coach Dean Behrens not been on the sideline, it would have been near-impossible for most to recognize the Rams on Monday night.
Pennridge, which is participating in Dock Mennonite Academy’s boys basketball summer league, has been using the six-week league to set up for next season. A state playoff team last year, the Rams graduated three starters, so there’s a lot of opportunity to be seized this summer.
The benefit for Behrens is he doesn’t have to make those calls until December, but there’s a lot of good observation getting done this summer.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Behrens said. “It’s good to see all the guys in the summer time, you get to see the other coaches and it’s good for our guys because we’re looking for varsity guys. Of our nine guys here tonight, all of them are going to have an opportunity to play varsity.”
Pennridge went 1-1 on Monday, topping Lansdale Catholic 43-40 in overtime before falling to a hot-shooting Methacton squad 56-50. Wins and losses aren’t the focus of the league, which runs for two more weeks but instead gives coaches a chance to start building team chemistry and letting younger guys have chances to show the fruits of their offseason efforts.
The Rams on paper still have a solid core to build around this coming winter. Point guard Sean Yoder, who is pulling interest from Patriot and Ivy League schools and forward Jon Post are seniors and on of last season’s top reserves Jake Pestrak figures to slide into the starting lineup.
Outside of that trio, there are starting spots, bench roles and lots of minutes up for grabs.
“It’s a time to grow as a team but as individuals too,” guard Jon Dominic said. “We’re looking to have a good offseason together and with those guys not here, it’s a chance for new faces to show themselves. It’s definitely different, we’re better when they’re all here, but it’s good seeing new faces have a chance to play too.”
Dominic was one of a handful of Rams playing Monday that got into some varsity games last year. Pennridge had a solid rotation that included the departed Mike Molettiere, Ryan Warner and Tyrese Lewis in the starting lineup and Brett Henofer off the bench, but some of the young guys got minutes.
Christian Guldin, Pat Gillespie, Jack Gillespie and Colin Post, Jon’s younger brother, got a few chances to see varsity play. It was no coincidence that they were some of the Rams leading the way on Monday, whether it was moving the ball, shooting or talking on defense.
“Coming up from JV, it’s a different speed to the game,” Dominic said. “You have to be closing out on shooter and everyone is a shooter on varsity. It’s mentally tougher; guys are always up in your face. It’s really a very different thing.”
Dominic had a couple nice plays against LC, including a drive into the lane for a floater that drew contact during the second half and a defensive play to get a piece of a Crusaders 3-point try in overtime. Behrens said this group has played unselfish ball, as displayed on a play against LC where Jack Gillespie passed to Post open on the wing, only for Post to find a more open Pat Gillespie for a corner trey.
LC is in a similar boat this summer, with coach Joe Corbett working with a group of young guys and newcomers after graduating five seniors. Corbett, who’s been working with his team on plays before their first game the last few Mondays, also has a lot of minutes and opportunity available.
Crusaders guard Jay Hicks was aggressive on Monday against the Rams while Matt Hart and Matt Dome made a couple of 3-pointers and did well to get themselves into open spaces to put up shots.
Against Methacton, the Rams couldn’t buy a bucket for most of the first half and at point trailed 29-14 before rallying in the second half to take a 35-34 lead. While the Warriors regained the lead and won, Pennridge’s guys showed the coaches a lot by not playing selfishly and continuing to make the right play during the comeback.
“All you can ask for is an opportunity,” Behrens said. “What we’re trying to decipher is how we communicate defensively, are we able to stay in front of guys and from the offensive standpoint, we’re looking for guys able to shoot off the dribble. We’re not so much running offense and we have younger guys who don’t know all the stuff, and that’s fine, we’re just looking for some continuity.”
Yoder and Jon Post can both create their own shots but they also draw the kind of attention that opens up space. Coaches want guys who are willing to pass but also confident to shoot when the moment is there and Behrens said his guys have had that this summer.
The Rams want to keep building off what they’ve done over the first four weeks and finish the summer league strong. Behrens noted health will be the biggest determining factor this season, especially with some of the guys on the roster playing fall sports but he’s confident this work will pay off in a deep team this winter.
“It’s a different group because we’re not playing with three guys who are probably going to be starting, but we’re working together,” Dominic said. “It’s good to see how we’re working together, we’re passing the ball, sharing it and keeping it up on the defensive end.
“We have high expectations and we’re going to hold ourselves to that this year.”
Methacton was also without most of its key players after a key AAU weekend and the Tribe had just five guys on Monday.
Against Pennridge, it didn’t matter as Eric Timko took over down the stretch. A rising junior who played mostly JV last year, Timko came out firing and finished the game hot, hitting three pivotal 3-pointers in the final 6:10 of play against the Rams to keep the Warriors in front.
It wasn’t just his outside shot though, as the guard drove right into the Rams’ defense for a lay-up that gave Methacton a 40-37 lead and he was active on the glass and with his passing.
Methacton won the PAC title last year and has a strong returning core, but guys like Timko show the value of summer league’s like the one Dock runs, giving a young guy a chance to make big plays that may pay off when the games count a few months from now.