After missing out on the playoffs last season with a losing record in district play, the Carroll boys basketball team will look to regain its winning ways in coach Eric McDade’s third year. About a half-dozen players with varsity experience will return this fall, and a handful of those will look to draw on some significant experiences they had this summer playing at the highly respected Fab 48 tournament in Las Vegas.
A giant showcase of select teams from around the country, the event draws hundreds of college coaches and scouts who are looking for future stars. But as it relates to the Dragons next season, it’s a level of competition that’s hard to find elsewhere.
“The competition you face up there is so much better than what you play against in high school,” said junior Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who felt he got a confidence boost after lining up against seven-footer Thon Maker, the top-rated player in the country for the class of 2016.
“Playing against high level competition this summer will just prepare us for the season because we’ll be used to playing close games, used to physical games,” said senior Hunter Summy, who made his third trip to the Vegas tournament this summer. “The more preparation and practice you have against better teams the better you’re going to be.”
“Trips like this, when you’re playing against the best, and in front of some important people, it really takes away some of the nerves that you can have when just playing at school,” added junior guard Tyson Smiter. “The crowds [at tournaments like this] are a little bit bigger, the lights are a little bit brighter. There are media people there. That can alleviate some of the nerves when it comes to school ball.”
McDade thinks big tournaments and select basketball can be an important supplement to offseason work.
“There’s two parts to it,” he said. “Guys improve by getting stronger and getting in the gym and working on a lot of individual stuff. But one of the big things is how it transfers – transferring the skills. Basketball is a huge skill sport. You have to be able to dribble the ball, pass, shoot it and then you have to be able to defend and rebound. A lot of times kids aren’t able to put those skills into live situations. So that’s putting that skillset into a live setting and that gets you ready for the school year.”
Another Dragon hoping to return with a vengeance this fall is junior guard Cooper Osburn, who traveled to Las Vegas with Dallas Triumph. As a player charged with controlling the ball, experiences like the Fab 48 can be invaluable.
“The more basketball you play, the more situations you’re prepared for in the season,” he said. “If you see more tight game situations in the summer, you’re just more comfortable when it comes to crunch time.”
While players have taken many different paths over the summer, they all lead back to Carroll High School in September.
“When we get back together everyone is going to be a better player. That’s just going to make us better as a team,” Smiter said.
“We’ll have a lot of new pieces to work in, so it will probably take a little time to get the chemistry, but we’re going to try to run and score and play really good team ball,” Osburn added.
Team ball is a concept you might hear frequently from Dragons players. Without a dominant figure on the roster, everyone expects to have a significant impact.
“We don’t have prolific athletes, so we’re going to have to play really good basketball,” Osburn said. “We have some good scorers and we have some good athletes, but we don’t have that one guy who’s just going to be, ‘We’ll give you the ball every time down the floor and you can do whatever you do.’ We’re going to need some structure to play within.”
The veteran Summy thinks everything is now aligned for exactly that.
“We’ll have a team that will buy in more than last year,” he said. “We’ll play more as a team and more for each other. There are a lot of guys who really want to be good and are willing to put in the work. It’s Coach McDade’s third year, so I think we really trust that he knows what he’s doing. I think different guys will step up different nights. As long as we’re playing together, all the points and all the stats will fall into place. Just as long as the outcome is a victory that’s all that matters.”
And team matters, so says Humphrey, who admits that while summer showcases can be fun and useful, there’s something comfortable about a home locker room with familiar faces.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to my teammates and having a great season and being with a real team,” he said.