It may be extra work during the summer, but Dock Mennonite boys basketball coach Mike Fergus doesn’t mind it.
The third year of Dock’s now annual summer league kicked off Monday night, again featuring a field of local teams getting extra reps in the offseason. With a few new teams in the fold this summer, all 12 squads aren’t focusing on results, but what the results of the eight-week league will yield in the winter.
So, it’s extra work, but Fergus’ team is reaping the benefits as well.
“The number one goal is to get your team better and get your team playing together,” Fergus said. “It’s about having a new group every year trying to learn how to play together, learn your system and style. We have a young group this year, so for us, it’s a great learning opportunity.
“I liken it to giving kids summer reading for English, well this is their assignment for basketball.”
Fergus started a summer league during his time as the varsity coach at North Penn and it carried on for a few years after he moved on from the Knights but eventually fizzled out. After holding the job at Dock for a couple seasons, Fergus wanted to bring summer hoops back to the area.
Knowing most players have other commitments during the summer, whether it be AAU basketball, other sports, jobs and so on, he consolidated the schedule as much as possible. Dock’s facilities certainly help, allowing two games to be played side-by-side in the main gym with a third game going on in the Pioneers’ old gym.
The league, which takes place on Monday nights, runs until July 29 with the only break coming the week of July 1.
In order to prevent players from sitting around too long, the 12-team pool is split into two six-team pods each week and play consecutive games. The first session begins at 5:30 p.m., with the second games starting at 6:30. The second pod plays at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
“No one ever forfeits, they all always have enough players and the referees are all PIAA refs, they’re very good and it’s a great opportunity to get your team a leg up for next year,” Fergus said. “The response has been great. I think a lot of coaches feel the same way, I actually had to turn a few teams away this year.”
Four different high school leagues are represented in the 12 teams. Counting the host Pioneers, the Bicentennial Athletic League is also represented by New Hope-Solebury, the District I 3A champion this past season.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference is represented by PAC champion and state quarterfinalist Methacton as well as Phoenixville. The Phantoms are one of two newcomers to the summer league this year.
Lansdale Catholic and La Salle, which generally fields a team of JV and underclassmen players, are the two Philadelphia Catholic League representatives.
As for the rest of the field, the teams all hail from the Suburban One League and all from the Continental conference. State runner-up Pennridge, Central Bucks East, Central Bucks South, Central Bucks West and Souderton have all been a part of the league from the start while Quakertown is the other newcomer this summer.
“There aren’t a lot of summer leagues out there anymore, to me, it’s essential to your team quite honestly,” Fergus said. “Selfishly, it’s great for Dock. I think the success we’ve had, a lot of it can be attributed to the summer league and the fall league we have.”
Following a highly successful first season of summer league, Fergus got plenty of interest from teams around the area. Monday’s opening night was a sign of how quickly the league has grown in just three years. Fergus said aside from a good number of fans, there were a handful of college coaches and scouting services out to watch the games.
There’s no playoff or summer league champion crowned, the focus is just on improving and giving players expecting to take bigger roles the next season more playing time. Last summer, Pennridge went the entire length of the league without Sean Yoder and Jon Post playing games which opened the door for guys like John Dominic, Jack Gillespie and Pat Gillespie to get reps that translated in the winter.
Rams coach Dean Behrens is a fan of using the summer to put those type of players in situations where they have to make decisions, make big shots and start building the team chemistry that strengthens going into November practices.
Methacton had a strong showing to open the league slate this past Monday and like the rest of the coaches in the league, Warriors boss Jeff Derstine gives plenty of guys time to show what they’ve got. Last summer, guard Erik Timko played very well and it helped carry him to a key role in the team’s terrific season.
“I could be off, but I did an estimate of the win-loss records of the teams in the summer league last year and it came out to something like 200-120,” Fergus said. “Pennridge going to the state final, Methacton went deep in the playoffs, we had a great year, New Hope won a district title and La Salle was great. CB South was really good, CB East had a banner year and you can go up and down. Even teams that may not have had the great record, they’re solid programs and good coaches.”
The Warriors and La Salle are also part of Plymouth Whitemarsh’s spring league and both are in the league’s semifinals set for June 25 at PW.
When his team isn’t playing, Fergus roams and watches the other games going on. He likes being in the gym, so he figured why not open it up and make something multiple area programs could benefit from.
“It’s a lot of work but to me, it’s worth it,” Fergus said. “A lot of summer leagues, you play one game and go home and I don’t like that. There’s a lot of different styles of play, but it’s a good cross-section and the games are good.”