Leavitt’s McKenna Redstone dribbles down the court against Spruce Mountain in a summer-league basketball game at The Nest in Jay on Thursday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal

JAY — Summer-league basketball is usually a laid-back affair, where players see their friends over the summer and coaches catch a glimpse of perspective athletes.

But when the whistle blows, there is still that intensity inside the key between teams, with coaches hollering instructions from the bench as players struggle to drive to the hoop.

This is high-school basketball with a running clock — and nobody fouls out — but it does make players think about the upcoming season as well as establish friendships with other athletes from around the state.

“You get to know a lot of the girls and you get to help out with them,” Spruce Mountain senior forward Kaylin Knowlton said. “It is fun — a lot of sportsmanship. I get to know a lot people and get to play basketball.”

Spruce Mountain’s summer league is no different — and the coach who makes the program run on time is Phoenix girls basketball coach Zach Keene, who acts as a runner between the junior high and high schools as teams compete for eight hours each Thursday.

“Last year, me and our coaches decided to do it,” said Keene, who was overseeing nearly 14 games on Thursday. “We were traveling to Gardiner twice a week previously, and it got to be a lot. There was some interest and we started it up.”

For Leavitt coach Dave Gerrish, joining Spruce’s summer league for the first time was also a matter of convenience.

“We thought it was pretty local, something we could do on Thursdays,” Gerrish said. “We actually tried to cut back a little bit on summer basketball.

“Summer is awfully short for kids these days so we tried to go Tuesdays at our gym and we practice, and we play on Thursdays. It was kind of convenient for us to do that.

“It is really more about getting these kids some time. We enjoy it. We don’t think about the refereeing that much. We just come down here and play and try to do the things that we try to learn all summer.”

Each Thursday, the Spruce Mountain varsity and junior varsity compete at the middle and high school. Keene spent the first part of his afternoon coaching the Phoenix against Mt. View and Leavitt high schools.

“It is strictly games and there will be playoffs Aug. 1 based off the standings in the regular season,” Keene said. “Our youth camp is this coming week, July 15 to July 18.”

Teams competing in Spruce’s summer league include: Carrabec, Mountain Valley, Mt. View, Leavitt, two Winthrop teams, Mt. Blue, Kents Hill, Telstar and Dirigo.

“It gives (players) an opportunity to better their skills and for them to kind of make their way into roles for the upcoming season, get comfortable with the new players coming in — and kind of just keep sharp in the offseason, I guess,” Keene said.

But summer leagues are also about the numbers and players willing to show up.

“This summer has actually been really good so far,” Keene said. “The numbers have been good. Everyone has been coming. We hold strength and conditioning stuff. Everybody has been to games and practices. They have done a good job and so they seem excited about it. So it has been good.”

Summer-league games also allow coaches to take the time to be more specific about skills, Keene pointed out.

“It is a good opportunity to evaluate players a little more closely,” Keene explained. “Players get to see you a little more laid back, which is fun. 

“There are players from the other leagues that the players got to know. They play against each other every other week, which sets up cool rivalries in the season. But they have definitely built some relationships from other local towns. They have had fun with it.”

Spruce senior post player Alison Dubord said the summer league offers veterans an opportunity to meet the newcomers.

“It is a really good time for us to socialize outside of school,” she said. “We do a lot of other things outside other than just basketball.” 

And then there is the training and practices for Thursday’s games.

“The workouts in the morning get you up for the summer,” Dubord added. “It gives you a chance to work on (skills) that you normally don’t get to work on.”

Senior guard Jaycee Cole said summer league basketball is beneficial for a number of reasons, including getting to know the incoming players and for “getting the rust off” for the coming season.

“I like (the summer league) because you get to know your competition,” said Cole, who plays soccer in the fall. “We have a lot of MVC (teams). We get to strategize and know who their shooters are, who their match players are. It is really a game plan for the (regular) season.

“If I didn’t have summer league, I wouldn’t have touched a ball.”

Spruce Mountain coach Zach Keene speaks with players before a summer-league game against Mt. View in Jay on Thursday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal

Spruce Mountain’s Summer Chretien goes up for a shot againts Mt. View in a summer-league game in Jay on Thursday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal

Spruce Mountain guard Jaycee Cole gets bottled up by Mt. View players during a summer-league basketball game in Jay on Thursday.  Tony Blasi/Sun Journal

Spruce Mounain’s Kyra Langlin drives to the basket in a summer-league game at the Phoenix Dome in Jay on Thursday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal

Spruce Mountain’s Abby Ortiz, left, and Leavitt’s Taylor White wrestle for the ball in a summer-league basketball game in Jay on Thursday. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal


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