Summer ball part of the fabric of high school hoops

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Into the Arena: Members of the Terre Haute South boys basketball team compete against the Martinsville team on Wednesday during the Indiana State Basketball team camp in the ISU Arena.

Summer basketball at the high school level is a little bit different.

So it was at Indiana State on Wednesday as it hosted its annual high school team camp. Games were played from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on three courts inside the ISU Arena and six more inside the North Gym in the revamped Health and Human Services building.

If you're looking for spiffy uniforms? Forget it. Pullovers are the order of the day.

Summer ball part of the fabric of high school hoops

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Making the big lead bigger: Terre Haute South's Cordell Hanes shoots over the Martinsville defense and scores after he and his fellow Braves stopped the Artesians from scoring on their possession on Wednesday during the Indiana State Baseketball team camp in the ISU Arena.

And unlike the traditional high school season, you see sixes, seven's and nine's — numerals above five aren't allowed in high school and college games — if there are numbers on the pullovers at all. West Vigo provides an exception to the rule with the largest numbers one has ever seen on a basketball shirt.

The games themselves are less formal — you're not going to see many sets called or any games weighed down by timeouts — but the intensity is high. A normal high school basketball game takes about 90 minutes to complete. During summer ball, teams play about 30-45 minutes per game, but they might be playing as many as three games in a single day.

Game day is an Indiana tradition with pep bands and decent crowds. Game day during summer ball is a cacophony of squealing basketball shoes covering many courts and many games. There is a small crowd compared to a high school game, but those who are in attendance are disproprtionately comprised of college coaches who are on the lookout for their hidden gem.

Scores are kept, but they only matter in the sense of marking progress. Terre Haute South was happy to go 2-0 on Wednesday. West Vigo was pleased to beat Class 4A Martinsville in an unexpected matchup. Most coaches, however, are less focused on the scores than they are the individual and team development.

ISU is like most colleges in hosting its annual June camp. Nearly every Division I school hosts an event as do smaller colleges and junior colleges. Forty teams — most varsity, some junior varsity — took part in the 2019 camp. Typically, ISU has more, but Hulman Center wasn't available.

Schools from outside the area — from as far away as Middletown, Ohio and Decatur, Ill. — take part, but there's plenty of local teams participating too. All three Vigo County high schools were represented as well as Linton, South Vermillion and Marshall.

For the colleges? It's a chance to evaluate talent in an environment that's more structured than the July AAU circuit typically is. It's also a chance to raise some revenue with a modest admission charge.

For the high schools? The June period has become part of the norm. A generation ago, there was no contact between high school players and coaches at all during the summer. Those days are long gone. Now? It's part of the routine.

For the players? It serves both purposes. It's a chance to play and get better and for the select few who do draw interest from the colleges? It's a chance to cement their standing.

So it was for Linton's Lincoln Hale on Wednesday. The Miners played games against Cascade, Delphi and Park Tudor. Afterwards? Hale, a junior-to-be at Linton, received an offer from ISU.

Before he received the offer, Hale talked about what he likes about summer ball.

"I use summer basketball as a tool to grow as a basketball player, make my teammates better and get ready for next season," Hale said. "We play 30-35 games in June. It's insane."

Hale meant "insane" in a good way. He said he "loved" it for the elemental reason that he's "playing basketball."

Summer ball part of the fabric of high school hoops

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Local talent on display: West Vigo's Sean Roberts shoots over a Martinsville opponent during the Vikings' game against the Artesians on Wednesday in the Indiana State University Arena.

In the recent past, playing basketball during the summer meant doing so in an informal setting. Until the mid-2000s, the IHSAA did not allow contact between high school coaches and their full squad of players, much less have a summer season.

For Terre Haute South coach Maynard Lewis, the contrast is sharp. Lewis attended South in the 1990s before the current by-laws were put into place. He thinks the difference is night-and-day.

"Once basketball was over? The IHSAA frowned upon contact. The coach could open the gym, but then the seniors handled it. This is so much better. The kids are getting so much more structure and more out of it to be able to be instructed and lead them in the right direction. It's the new norm and it's making the game better," Lewis said.

The summer season can be as long, or rarely, as light, as the coaching staff wants it to be. From May 28 to Aug. 4, with the exception of moratorium period around July 4, teams can play. Realistically, given the July AAU season? The bulk of the high school games occur in June.

"So many of those shootouts have popped up over the years, you can play every weekend, even during the week. We play several games during the week," West Vigo coach Joe Boehler said. "A lot of how much you play revolves around your personnel. I like to play close to 20 games in the summer. It gives you a good feel."

Terre Haute North coach Todd Woelfle noted that each summer is different. If you have an experienced team? You want to test them against the best. If you have an inexperienced team? You might want to play a lot of games, but maybe against realistic competition.

"We just have to keep in mind as coaches, players and parents that there aren't any trophies passed out in June. The object is to get better skill-wise individually and develop the trust that it's going to take to win January, February and March," said Woelfle, who estimated the Patriots will play in six leagues or shootouts in June.

The summer work for the high schools isn't just about the games.

"We also have weightlifting and skill work. The goal isn't just to improve as individual players, but to improve as a team on the court. We threw out 75 percent of our playbook, but we want to execute the 25 percent that we do have," Lewis said.

The summer season isn't the same for all programs or for all sports. Smaller schools tend to have more multi-sport athletes and there's no distinction in the summer between seasons for the various sports. That means competing for athletes between sports within the same school.

"There's a good and bad to everything. Kids get pulled in a lot of directions. Every coach wants everyone there. I don't like that aspect of it, but I like the fact we can get together and have structure. Open gym can be tough to judge when it comes to knowing whether a player is getting better."

Woelfle saw a bright side to the multi-sports conundrum, albeit at a larger school than Boehler.

"Maybe you are sharing some kids with other sports, that's fine, because it gives other kids a chance to show what they can do," Woelfle said. "Along the road you might find a glue guy you weren't projecting to be at the varsity level. For a lot of coaches, it's about learning how you're going to play, score and defend. You get to see what works best."

Then there's the college part of it. ISU coach Greg Lansing explained some of the benefits.

"I think it's a great recruiting tool for Indiana State. Families come here and get to see nice facilities and maybe for some of the players we're not recruiting, they want to come here because they like the university," Lansing said. "Basketball-wise? It's a great opportunity to get kids on-campus and evaluate them."

Lansing said ISU has hosted a camp since the first year he coached. 

"Being a coaches' son? I err to the side of being with their high school coaches. In AAU you play so many games. You always like to have high school teams together."

And the recruiting part of it doesn't hurt either. Silver Creek and Jeffersonville were both participants on Wednesday. The Sycamores covet Silver Creek's Trey Kaufman and Kooper Jacobi and Jeffersonville's Tre Coleman. ISU got multiple chances to see them play on Wednesday.