By Chad Courrier
---- — Summer is a good time for golf, tennis and baseball, and it’s perfect opportunity to prepare for running, swimming or football.
It’s also been a good summer for local boys basketball teams, who have won a lot of games and a few tournaments as the fellas try to improve and prepare for this winter.
Last season, Mankato West was 16-10, 12-6 in Big Nine Conference games, and showed nice growth by young players, despite losing all-conference center Dan Wills before the season. That improvement continued this summer as the Scarlets’ varsity won the Impact league, held at Lake Crystal and St. Clair, posting the best record and winning the playoffs.
The West junior varsity also had a nice showing, struggling during the first month but winning a playoff game to get to the semifinals.
“I think you saw the guys really start to value defense,” West coach Tom Boone said. “They really worked together, the camaraderie was good. We have a lot of guys coming back who will be competing against each other, but we will also be competing with each other.”
At Mankato East, assistant coach Dave Makela is in charge as Joe Madson takes some time off to watch his son play the next two seasons. He said that things started to come together at a team camp, and the Cougars, who were 6-21 last season, played pretty good basketball in July.
The Cougars went 21-10 in summer games, winning 20 of the last 25, getting accustomed to a new coach.
“We went 1-5 in our first tournament, but all five losses were within 10 points,” Makela said. “We went 2-1 in the next tournament, and then we won the last two at Prior Lake and Lakeville.”
Makela said the key to improvement has been the acceptance of the team concept.
“Our No. 1 goal was to have a lot of guys touching the basketball and trusting your teammates,” Makela said. “Once we started to buy into the direction we wanted to go, we really started to click.”
The Cougars’ junior varsity struggled against older players, but that experience will pay off this winter.
It’s often been said that you find out a lot about players by the amount of work they put in away from their season. The commitment to gym time in the summer, when there are no crowds to inspire, is just as important as the game in winter.
Judging by the improvement this summer, it’s going to be a much more interesting season at West and East.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.