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Coaches, players appreciate return of summer basketball
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Coaches, players appreciate return of summer basketball

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Ryan Webber remembers getting plenty of text messages around this time last year from several of his players and other basketball coaches in the area.

For high school programs, the summer months are about skill development, team bonding and defining roles.

None of that transpired last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everybody got slapped in the face in a variety of ways," said Webber, entering his seventh season as head coach at United Township. "It really hit last year when we didn't have the (Justin) Sharp Shootout.

"It really bothered everybody and hit home that life is a little bit different when we couldn't have this."

Summer basketball was back at Rock Island High School and the Augustana College PepsiCo Center on Friday with the 32-team Justin Sharp Memorial Shootout.

No face masks were worn and spectators were scattered throughout the RIHS Fieldhouse. It was another step toward normalcy.

"The atmosphere is amazing," UTHS sophomore D'Vonte Cartwright said. "It hypes you up and makes you play better."

The Western Big 6 Conference schools squeezed almost an entire season into about a five-week window last February and March, but there was no state series.

Iowa had a full season, but many of the Mississippi Athletic Conference schools were limited until after the first of the year because of virtual learning.

"We really missed out last year," Moline point guard Brock Harding said. "It is nice to get out here in the summer and figure out what we need to work on for the season."

Bettendorf coach Curtis Clark felt his team almost went into last season blindfolded with no structured summer workouts.

His squad is on target to play 20 games in June and a chance to get many things in place before the season begins in November.

"There are an awful lot of teachable moments in the summer and we missed out on that last year," Clark said. "The summer months are about finding roles, teaching them how to communicate and all those life skills we try and do through basketball.

"There are so many good messages through summer basketball where we can put together a plan for the next four to six months. We can tell guys, 'Hey, when we see you in November, here are things we want you to hone in on and get better at.'"

While winning is nice, Webber said it was just as valuable for his players to compete in front of fans again.

"I didn't think we played very well today because we were too amped up and took a lot of quick shots," he said. "These are the most people these guys have played in front of in quite a while."

Maroons win twice

Coming off a runner-up finish in the Big 6 and a 16-3 mark last winter, Moline has plenty to like about its roster for this upcoming season.

Starting guards Brock Harding, Kyle Taylor and Kyle Pulliam are back along with juniors Grant Welch, Maddux Dieckman and Jasper Ogburn.

Moline beat Center Point-Urbana 51-36 in its opening game Friday and followed with a 56-36 victory over Bettendorf in the second round.

"I don't think we've played that good of defense in the time I've been a Maroon," Harding said. "That was fun to watch."

The Maroons might not have a rim protector, but their perimeter defense befuddled the Bulldogs.

"If we can get up in ball-handlers and be tougher than the other team, I think we can offset the lack of size we have," Taylor said.

With the graduation of Ryne Schimmel and Michael Galvin, more of the leadership has fallen on Harding and Taylor.

They've run with that responsibility.

"Brock's leadership has always been good, but it is something he's focusing on more," coach Sean Taylor said. "He's conscious to make sure he picks everybody up."

Harding received a scholarship offer from Western Illinois earlier this month. Radford University and Purdue-Fort Wayne also have extended offers to the 6-footer.

"He's getting a lot of attention," coach Taylor said, "and if he continues to do what he does, he's going to get even more attention. He's a junkie.

"He was really good last year, but he's so much better right now. His ceiling is very high."

The attention doesn't faze Harding.

"I don't feel (the pressure)," Harding said. "I know the work I've put into this. My dad always told me to trust my work and that's what I've been doing."

Moline plays Peoria Notre Dame in the quarterfinals at 11 a.m. Saturday. The winner gets Waukee Northwest or Cedar Falls in the semifinals.

"We're locked in for it," Kyle Taylor said. "We're just trying to play well every time we touch the court. Hopefully, we'll be playing at 6 o'clock (Saturday) for the championship."

Webber: UTHS has 'huge ceiling'

It has been a productive summer for United Township, which opened the Sharp Shootout with a 57-48 win over Maquoketa on Friday.

The Panthers won a summer league tournament at the TBK Bank Sports Complex in Bettendorf earlier this month.

"We're nowhere near a finished product," Webber said. "This is the first team I've really had at UT where I can't see our ceiling. Whether that's one kid or collectively, there is a huge ceiling for every kid that is here with us."

UTHS has four sophomores and three juniors in its rotation. Seniors Darius Rogers and Mahki Johnson are back after earning second team and honorable mention honors in the Big 6 last season.

"What I love about this group is, I don't have to worry about where any of them are at," Webber said. "They're all here in the gym every day.

"I'm excited what the season could bring for us. We've had a pretty good summer so far, and I think we'll be exciting to watch."

Other nuggets

* Rock Island split its two games on the opening day of the tournament. Under the direction of new coach Marc Polite, the Rocks thumped West Burlington in the opener 62-18 before squandering a big lead and losing to Waukee Northwest 52-48 in the second round. Waukee Northwest is a new high school opening this fall in central Iowa.

* The Iowa City West roster has some very familiar names to longtime Iowa basketball followers. Senior Pete Moe is the son of former Iowa sharpshooter Jeff Moe; sophomore Kareem Earl is the son of Moline product and ex-Hawkeye Acie Earl; former Hawkeye Val Barnes has two sons on the team in Christian and Canaan Barnes. The Trojans also have another McCaffery on their roster in 6-foot-8 freshman Jack McCaffery, the youngest of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery's three sons.

* Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson was among those in attendance at the Sharp Shootout on Friday. Jacobson couldn't be there to actively recruit, but his son, Hunter, is a senior who plays for Cedar Falls High School. The Tigers beat LaSalle-Peru and Decorah in their two games Friday.


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Sports Editor

Sports editor, with my emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 21 years, the last nine at the Q-C Times.

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