By Andrew Powell ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
SIKESTON -- For many people, summer is the perfect time of year to head out to the ballparks, lounge by the pool side or maybe even test out that golf swing on the fairways.
But for many high school basketball teams around the area, summer is the perfect time during the off-season to polish up their skills. As basketball is quickly becoming more of a year-round affair.
"Basketball is really starting to be more than just a wintertime sport," said Portageville girls head coach Eric Ellerbrook. "A lot of people expect you to pick up a ball in November and be good. But in order to get better you have to improve in the off-season."
And that's what a lot of girls in Southeast Missouri are doing. They are playing on AAU teams, competing in summer leagues and individually just becoming better basketball players.
And Ellerbrook's team is no exception to this as they have been competing in numerous events throughout the summer to improve their game. From open gym on Tuesday mornings to Thursday night league action in Cape, the Lady Bulldogs have stayed active against some familiar opponents.
Top teams including Notre Dame, Perryville, Delta, Kelly and Cape Central have all competed with Portageville at the Osage Center in their high school summer league.
But that isn't the only place the Lady Bulldogs hope to fine tune their skills at as they will be attending a Licking basketball camp at Rolla in the upcoming weeks.
"The Licking basketball camp, we are going to is actually one of the biggest camps a team can go to," said Ellerbrook. "There will be around 80 teams in the camp we're going to, and we get to play in about eight or 10 games. So it will be nice to see how we measure up against some teams we normally don't get to see."
However, the ladies aren't the only ones busy this summer as the boys from New Madrid County Central will be traveling to Central Methodist University to compete in a camp of their own.
"The guys are really excited to go up north and play against some of those other teams up there," said NMCC head coach Travis Day. "It just gives us a chance to play against some new faces. Plus the team with the best record overall will be rewarded medals so it will be a good opportunity to show those other squads what we got."
Even though the Eagles will get to chance to play against new competition, Day says more importantly his team gets the chance to work on the basics.
"Camps are always a great way to hone in on your fundamentals and just becoming a better all-around basketball player," he said. "From ball handling, to passing and dribbling, to just being able to shoot free throws well, every bit helps to improve your game and get ready for the next season."
But while fundamentals are important for any team to have success, it's hard for any squad to make it very far without team unity. And that's another thing that teams can prosper from at these summer camps.
"Just to get the opportunity to play games and be a team helps out just as much as anything," said Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield, who recently took his team to the University of Tennessee-Martin. "I've been coaching for 20 years, and I think during the summer it's hard to get everyone together because some have to work or can't make it.
"But you definitely build team camaraderie when you have a chance to play together, and so far we've played pretty well when we've had our entire team together so I'm very pleased with that."
While these teams may be developing their skills at different camps this off season, the big thing that the coaches agree on is that just getting out to play is a lot better than lounging by the pool side.