HYATTSVILLE – For high school basketball teams, summer league play is not as much about winning as it is assessing what they have for next season.
Every team loses seniors to graduation and must see how younger players step into new roles, mesh with transfers and upcoming talent that spent the past year playing junior varsity. By the end of the summer, coaches have a better idea of how their team stacks up, and the players know what they need to work on before the real season begins.
Bishop McNamara High School boys basketball gained valuable experience in those areas on June 15 during their Capital Hoops Summer League game against St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes (SSSA) School. The Mustangs lost 11 seniors from last year, and five of the six players on last year’s varsity team were missing due to injury or other commitments.
Only one player from last year’s roster suited up for McNamara, and it showed in a 76-43 loss to the Saints.
“It was a good experience for them,” Mustangs Assistant Coach Shamon Antrum said. “They played against a great varsity team. Us starting five JV guys, for them it was a learning curve. But it was experience, getting them out there and get a taste at what varsity is like at this level.”
As the game went on, McNamara (5-4) had no answer for what the Saints did. St. Vincent Pallotti High School transfer and rising junior Ed Johnson III hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession, and the Mustangs led 7-6 in the opening minutes. But SSSA (7-0) went on a 15-1 run, taking control of the game in the blink of an eye.
On offense, McNamara struggled with the Saints’ size, as they had five players under 6-foot-5 on their roster who played in Saturday’s game.
The Mustangs usually have four, but 6-foot-11 center Favour Aire was out with an injury and 6-foot-7 guard Terrence Butler was at another showcase event. McNamara continued to see it’s driving lanes close, eventually settling for three-pointers early in the possession clock.
On the other end, the Saints attacked the rim at will, dominating the points in the paint battle, 50-14. The Mustangs struggled with 6-foot-10 rising senior center Andre Screen, who had a game-high 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Screen led a balanced SSSA attack that included three players scoring in double figures and seven players that scored seven points or more.
But where the Saints set themselves apart was with their aggressive, trapping defense. SSSA’s press made it hard for McNamara to get the ball past half court, and it did enough to speed up the Mustangs’ possessions once they did, forcing 24 turnovers. The Saints fought for every loose ball as well, even when the game was well in hand.
“That’s our culture,” Screen said. “We work at it every day in practice. Coach preaches it all the time. Play hard, outwork the opponents. The separation is in the preparation.”
Even in the blowout loss, the Mustangs did have some positive moments. Johnson scored a team-high 12 points, and along with rising sophomore guard Brendt Johnson, showed a willingness to still attack the rim despite SSSA’s size in the paint. Rising junior guards Josh and Jordan Jackson both showed nice outside strokes, hitting two three-pointers each.
“We didn’t give up,” Johnson said. “We still played until the end. Even though some of us were pouting we still played our game.”
The result is something to build upon and if everything works out well, could give McNamara some depth when its starters return for other games.
Along with building chemistry, it is all part of building a successful team before the start of the season in December.
“I told them it all comes down to your energy and your motor,” Antrum said. “Staying solid on defense, communication, talking on defense. Just playing the game the right way and doing things that we’ve talked about and we’re training about.”