West Morris, Jefferson go to ESU camp

By Mark Kitchin


EAST STROUSBURG,Pa.– Here’s the situation. The game is tied with 23 seconds remaining and West Morris has called its final time out in order to set something up. They inbound the ball on the sidelines but right away the play isn’t working. They rotate the ball and find a freshman open in the corner in the final second … swish. Game over and the Highlanders win again.

It wasn’t just a game ending play. It was a shot of confidence for the player and a reward for the hard work of his teammates. It came from fulfilling just one of the scenarios the teams at East Stroudsburg University’s Summer Camp are given to work on. Teams from Jefferson, West Morris, Roxbury and Pope John were among those that attended last weekend’s basketball team camp which helps high school squads prepare for the winter season.

West Morris’ winning shot didn’t come at the end of a close game but as part of a group of scenarios the teams are given called “special situations”.  In an hour-long session, the teams are given an end-of-game script to work through, such as: Away team is down four points and has the ball on the sidelines with 1:28 left to play. All fouls are two shot fouls and each team has one time out.

Moments later they were the team in the defensive end of the same scenario. In the end, no one is keeping score on what teams fail or succeed except maybe the coaches and the players. However, it is a good way to help players learn about recognizing and reacting to game-ending situations and handling the pressure that comes with them. The coaches handle the scenarios differently, too. Some coaches act as if it’s a real game and call all the shots. West Morris coach Wayne Shapiro prefers to let the athletes coach through the hour-long session and make their own in-game decisions.

“Situations is a good way for the kids to build confidence,’’ Shapiro said. “It puts them in a pressure situation. It teaches them how to play the game, when there is something on the line.  It teaches kids to play smarter, to play more efficient. It’s a fun thing because, win or lose it really doesn’t matter.

“Here at ESU, the tone is good. It is not super serious. It’s a nice, relaxed tone. We let our kids coach themselves throughout situations. I oversee certain things but for the most part it is their show. It’s a good way for our future captains to become leaders. It gets them to think collectively. It gets them to think on the same page. It’s an hour but it breaks (the scrimmages) up.’’

West Morris came out about even when it came to capitalizing on the situations they were given to perform, but they did learn some things. They certainly found a player who can knock down a last second shot – freshman Pat Anderson.

“He’s been hitting clutch shots since theHopatcong(Summer) League two weeks ago,’’ West Morris guard Pat Barron said.

Barron, who attended camp last year played some varsity as a sophomore and will be asked to step up this year.

“It’s always a fun time,’’ Barron said of camp. “We’ve never really played together that much so were trying to get the chemistry together.’’

This is West Morris’ eighth season at ESU and many of the players have attended camp numerous times. The games are fun and the competition is good but it is what happens off the court that is just as important as on.

“We just hang out,’’ West Morris’ Mark Pridmore said. “We play some video games. It’s a new group. We have two freshmen with us. It’s just getting to know everybody and how everyone is playing on and off the court.’’

Highlanders forward Charles Savite is convinced that he and his teammates have the best dorm room in camp.

“We got two fridges, PS2, three fans,’’ Savite said. “Get all the stuff together and get in the best room so everyone can hang out in it.’’

The athletes spend some of their time playing a card game called Kemps, which relies on teamwork. Friendships built off the court help solidify their efforts on the court.

“It’s team bonding,’’ Savite said. “You get to know what everyone is going to do on the court. You play together. We hang out in the dorms, eat and play video games.’’

The weekend is helpful for players and coaches alike, especially for a team like West Morris which had great success last year but lost most of their starters to graduation. The Highlanders have to build a varsity team once again.

“We’re a young team and we may be putting two sophomores on the floor and it’s an opportunity for us to see them play,’’ Shapiro said. “Maybe there is a kid who is a question mark when it comes to being a varsity player, (the camp) gives him some time on the court and helps him adjust.’’

Shapiro remembered reading that famed North Carolina  coach Dean Smith would often use his camps as a sounding board for changes he would implement in his UNC teams that fall. Some coaches use camps as well to implement changes to their systems in a game-like setting.

Jefferson coach Joe DiGennaro doesn’t have much to change. Most of his team is returning from last year and has already developed a little chemistry.

“The competition runs the full gamut,’’ DiGennaro said. “You have teams that are state powers playing out of here and you get teams that are very weak. Coach Potts (ESU assistant coach Justin Potts) is from Sparta and we have a very good relationship with him. Every year I tell him what type of team I’m bringing down and he will have the best fit for us. We usually get a very competitive schedule over here.’’

The camp offers a good mix with teams from the Jersey Shore and the Philadelphia area as well as local squads. They play as many as six scrimmages over the weekend. Some of them are held in the brightly lit, air conditioned ESU recreation center and others in the open spaces of Koehler Field House where the Warriors play their games in the wintertime.

The Jefferson players accept camp as part of a summer basketball tradition and one of the reasons for success over the years.

“It makes you get better,’’Jefferson guard Evan Rapp said. “The team we just played has a different style than what we are used to. A lot more shooting, a faster paced game, faster kids, taller kids. They are quick with their hands you have to learn to protect the ball. You have to toughen up.’’

That doesn’t mean they are not having fun off the court. Rapp has been known to flash a few card tricks to get the party started. In general, the Falcons have already put together a friendly and tight knit group and this camp only helps.

“We’ve known each other from fourth grade,’’Jefferson’s Jeff Oster said. “We love each other. We’re a family here.

“The kids that graduated were here when we were sophomores. They were our role models. Now we’re the role models. We just tell the guys how to do things.’’

There are also plenty of times for the coaches to talk to each other and often they see an inbounds play or defensive wrinkle that they could snag for their own playbooks. Each program treats how they use the camp in a different manner ranging from experimentation to evaluation. DiGennaro and the Falcons have fun but also take the camp seriously.

“There’s a lot of trial going on,’’ DiGennaro said. “We might even have kids that are here that will get cut (that winter) and we tell them they are on the borderline and they are being evaluated all the time so they should make the most of this time. We evaluate it even at that level.’’

After this year’s camp, the Falcons will sit down and have a brutally honest follow up of their weekend accomplishments.

“It’s all criticism on what they need to work on and it doesn’t matter who that player is,’’ DiGennaro said. “They actually enjoy the session because everybody gets torn down. It’s not just one kid. We tell them what is needed and they next time I see them play, they know what they have to do.’’

It seems like serious business, but don’t be fooled. There’s also a lot of fun happening here and for many teams a good summer camp is the first step to a successful winter season.

“It’s team bonding,’’ Oster said. “We head up here for three days. We get to be together every night. We hang out at the dorms. We play games together. We just try to figure each other out.’’

About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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