Tired and drenched in perspiration, the Southold boys basketball players must have welcomed the relative cool relief they felt in a hallway after emerging from the stagnant, smelly air of a small gym that felt more like a sauna.
Like many of the gyms used in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League, the facility at the Rocky Point Middle School isn’t air conditioned. Hot, steamy gyms are part of the summer league experience.
“It just hits you,” Dylan Van Gorden, a senior guard for Southold, said. “We always say play hard or go home. Other than that, play until you can’t breathe any more.”
A gym without temperature control is not the most comfortable place to play in late July, but then again, a summer league isn’t about comfort. It’s about giving players an opportunity to get better and for teams to develop chemistry.
By all accounts, it seems to be working for Southold, whose coach, Phil Reed, said summer time is the best time for players to work on getting playing time in the winter.
“I keep preaching to our kids, ‘You must play,’ ” he said. He added: “This is a great tool for our kids to get better. We must have these summer leagues.”
Perhaps no one benefits more from a summer league than young players being introduced to the high school varsity level of play for the first time. The speed and physicality of the game is an education in itself. Not only that, it’s a chance for players to show coaches what they can do in the hopes of winning roster spots and positions on the school team.
Reed has made it clear that he likes what he has seen. Since his team’s summer schedule started on June 30, he said, he has seen a “major improvement” in about five of his players.
This coming winter, Southold fans may see some new faces playing for the varsity First Settlers like Gus Klavas and Adam Baldwin, who both played for the junior varsity team last season as sophomores.
Klavas is a triplet who plays on the team along with his brother, Anthony. Their basketball-playing sister, Angelica, is one of the top players for the Southold/Greenport girls team.
Gus Klavas, a forward/center, is expected to help the First Settlers with defense and rebounding. Mike DiCandia, a 6-foot-2 forward, and Dominick Panetta, also bring toughness in those areas.
“That’s been our biggest nemesis, rebounding, and we definitely have to get better at that,” Reed said. “I think we have the bodies to do that this year.”
Baldwin has more to adjust to than just varsity competition. He is in the midst of a position switch. Last season he played point guard mostly. He has since been moved to forward.
“I used to play as a big when I was younger, so it’s not that big of a change,” he said.
And then there is a player like Van Gorden. Van Gorden knows how big a jump it is from junior varsity to varsity; he made it last year. “It takes a couple of games to get used to,” he said.
Van Gorden had an abbreviated junior season, though. A couple of weeks before the season started, he tore tendons in his left ankle and didn’t return to the team until late in the season.
Van Gorden said he sometimes feels a little pain in the ankle and he keeps a tight brace on it.
Pat McFarland could be the poster child for the summer league. He played for the junior varsity team as an eighth-grader and as a ninth-grader before being brought up to the varsity as a sophomore. The junior guard could be considered the team’s best player, with apologies to senior guards Greg Gehring and Noah Mina.
“This is where he developed,” Reed said of McFarland.
A summer league can be like a time machine, accelerating player development. Reed understands the value of summer league games and what they do for his players. “This is a wonderful avenue for younger kids to improve,” he said, adding, “The more they play, the better they get.”
The First Settlers, who finished the Brookhaven league’s regular season with a 4-4 record, extended their summer campaign by pulling out their first playoff game in thrilling fashion on Thursday night. After a missed free throw by Rocky Point senior Harry Lynch with four seconds to go, the First Settlers grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock for a 32-31 triumph in Rocky Point.
With the exception of a 2-1 Southold lead in the game’s early moments, Rocky Point led virtually the rest of the way until a basket by McFarland with 34 seconds left put the Southolders ahead, 29-28. It was part of an 11-3 run that the First Settlers closed the game on.
Rocky Point had evened the score at 30-30 before Van Gorden (12 points) sank both ends of a one-and-one to restore Southold’s lead with 6.2 seconds to go.
Then Rocky Point called timeout to set up a play. Before the Eagles inbounded the ball, McFarland, who was tussling for position with Lynch, was whistled for a foul, sending Lynch to the foul line. Lynch made the first free throw for his 17th point but his shot fell short on the second attempt, striking the front of the rim.
The First Settlers earned a place in a small schools semifinal against Center Moriches on Tuesday night at Eastport/South Manor High School.
The First Settlers will also play in a fall league. In the meantime, the countdown toward the start of the school team’s preseason practices in November has already begun. Said Reed, “We’re four months away from opening up.”
Photo Caption: Southold’s coach, Phil Reed, talking to his players during a timeout in their playoff win over Rocky Point. (Credit: Bob Liepa)