BLUEFIELD, Va. — High school basketball teams from all over the area descended on Graham High School last June to compete in a summer league.
This summer they plan to return to play in the Graham Summer Basketball League — although it is still up in the air whether it will be played due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s just the uncertainty right now of whether we’ll be able to have it. The goal is to have it,” said Graham boys head basketball coach and founder of the league Todd Baker.
Last year’s edition had a record 65 boys and girls teams compete, including programs representing multiple classifications from Virginia and West Virginia.
The league will not be played in June where it has been since its inception. July is the league’s the best option to get games in.
“My plan is even if we get an abbreviated two to three weeks in July if possible but that’s no guarantee,” Baker said.
The league does not keep overall records or crown a champion. Yet overall interest in participating remains high — even with the dates not set.
“A lot of coaches are still wanting to do it, I’ve got calls about it and of course we really want to have it. It’s just a matter of whether time will allow,” Baker said.
The probability of setting up this year’s league hinges on whether or not Baker can arrange access to the gyms from the school district. Also, in order to proceed there has to be enough time left to squeeze in an abbreviated league schedule after state and local officials give their blessings.
“It’ll come down to our school system to whether they’ll let us use the facilities or how long that’ll take before they open up the facilities,” Baker said.
Expanding the league from 22 teams six years ago to 65 last year allowed flexibility for when teams could play. Some teams were only available on certain days or were unavailable on others due to players being busy.
“The more teams really gives you the ability to have games every night, whereas some teams go to camps here, or they’re out of town here, and they can’t play certain week or certain day,” Baker said.
Some teams use the league to face the best competition in the area while others are looking to build confidence in young teams.
Baker is not expecting there to be the same number of teams in the league if they play the league this year. July normally has more conflicts with other opportunities, but some teams will still want to get on the court.
“Of course it’s not going to be that kind of number [like last year] but I know coaches and kids are wanting to do something and this will be a great opportunity for some of them to get out and do something,” Baker said.
The league is focused on the development of players and giving them an opportunity to improve their skills against parity opponents.
Coaches are able to obtain an idea of what their teams will look like for the upcoming season and they can diagnose areas where improvements need to be made.
“A lot of coaches deal with a turnover of kids and they don’t know what they have coming back. It gives you an opportunity to see some kids that are going to move up from JV to varsity or middle school to JV,” Baker said.
Coaches are always looking to get their teams more games. Combined with any other available leagues or camps, they are capable of getting in at least half the number of games they’d normally play during the regular season.
“Some of them get eight, nine games and then they’ll go to a team camp and get six, seven games so they almost have a full schedule in the summer,” Baker said.
The league had to expand to the gym at Graham Middle School last year to accommodate 15 games each day but focusing on bringing in more teams is not the only way Baker is trying to improve the league.
“Keep building the league — not necessarily always by number of teams participating — but lets just operate better, Let’s just do things better and build better relationships to where people are happy and keep coming back,” Baker said.