Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
LANSDALE — The work of a coach is never done.
He'd already been in the gym for more than four hours, but Dock Mennonite Academy boys' basketball coach Mike Fergus still had plenty to attend to. Setting up — and later, cleaning up — is just part of the cost that goes into bettering a program and on this July night, it was the toll due after another night of Dock's summer basketball league reaching its end.
Dock coach Mike Fergus (above, in Feb. 2020) has seen his team benefit from the summer league he's hosted since 2014. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL
A pet project since his arrival at the Bicentennial Athletic League school in 2014, Fergus has watched his summer league grow, improve and expand with each passing year.
"You can't have a good basketball program anymore unless you're doing something in the summer," Fergus said. "The programs that don't, they don't develop like they should and I think you owe it to your kids to be involved in some sort of summer league."
This summer, the fourth year the league has operated but technically its fifth year of existence with 2020 not contested due to COVID-19, has seen plenty of changes.
In its first three years, the league operated on Monday nights with teams playing a pair of back-to-back games. Now, it's a two-night affair with a full slate of games and a half pallet taking place on Wednesday. The reason for that is the ever-growing number of teams in the league.
That first year, Fergus invited programs with coaches he knew well that would commit to having a team show up every week but even then he had to put together an alumni team and get another non-high school program to fill out the 12 team-field. When that went well, the field filled out with all high school teams and Fergus had to reluctantly turn away a few eager programs.
With teams eager to get back in the gym with restrictions lifted this summer, the league is up to 18 teams and Fergus said he likely could have gotten up to 24. But, given that he takes care of a heavy share of the work making everything run, the 40-year coaching veteran had to consider the cost of going that big.
"I started with guys like (Pennridge's) Dean Berhens, (Wissahickon's) Kyle Wilson, (CB West's) Adam Sherman and a few others I've known forever," Fergus said. "I think by word of mouth, that's started to bring in some of these other guys. I didn't want to expand to two full nights, but next summer, we'll see."
At the same time, teams lining up to get in meant Fergus was doing something right. It also helped that at the end of each summer, he takes a step back and evaluates what could be done better.
So far, that's included adjusting the start time of the games, bringing some portable fans up to the older Clemens gym to help move air and this year, a pair of electronic scoreboards to ease operations in Longacre gym where the other two games are played in each pod. Fergus also wants good play, so he brings in good officials thanks to Dan Moretski, a former assistant coach at North Penn under Fergus who is now a local official.
"He assigns all the refs, he works every week, helps me set up and break down and gets us great refs," Fergus said. "If I had to get the refs, I couldn't do this."
Another quirk to the league is its scheduling. Fergus didn't want teams to have to sit around for an hour or more between games, especially on a weeknight, but he also didn't want to have the teams coming from a half-an-hour away or further to feel like it was a waste of time by playing just one game.
So, he devised a back-to-back slate where the first six teams in would all play two consecutive games then leave for the night, while the second pod came in for another set of back-to-back games. This year, it's the same schedule with an additional back-to-back added on Wednesday.
"Based on my experience coaching and just going around, you'd play one game then go right home so I figured why can't we just play two games in a row," Fergus said.
"You also don't have to wait around, you know you get your two games then you're out," Dock assistant Roger Perry added.
Perry has also been a valuable behind-the-scenes help in keeping the league running. The Pioneers assistant took on the task of producing the schedule and making changes as needed throughout the summer.
Fergus also has two former players from his 12 years at North Penn — Methacton coach Pat Lockard and New Hope-Solebury coach Derek Brooks — now leading their teams in his league.
The league has benefited pretty much every team that's played in it. Not every team brings a full-strength roster and others may have players out for other sports commitments like a Legion or travel baseball tournament or football workout, but there's still plenty of tight games on a given night in either gym.
Of course, Dock has also reaped the rewards. Fergus has led his team to the District 1 playoffs every year he's been at the school, including a Class 3A district title in 2020 and the Pioneers have often held their own playing teams in the higher PIAA classifications.
"This has built our program into the program it is," Fergus said. "It helps everybody but for a school like us, for us to do this, it's an immeasurable benefit."
Fresh off coaching his team in a pair of games, Fergus still had to haul equipment back to storage, fold up chairs, lower the nets and turn off the lights. A coach's work is truly never done.
"It's a lot of work, but in the end, you do it for your program," Fergus said. "I love basketball, I hope all these teams get better but I want Dock to get better, so that's why I'm running it."
Jason Lagana (above) is one of several players new to the Methacton varsity roster who are having good offseasons. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
Methacton’s busy summer
If there's been a league or event this summer, chances are Methacton has been there.
The Warriors, who have been a part of Dock's summer league since its inception, also participated in Plymouth Whitemarsh's spring league and the Philly HS Live event last month. Add in the various AAU commitments for each player and it's adding up to a lot of basketball for the Warriors this summer.
Lockard, who guided Methacton to wins over Faith Christian and Hatboro-Horsham on Wednesday, noted that's part of the idea.
"That's the big thing, we just want to get out here and play," Lockard said. "Guys are doing a million different things, so it's a lot of basketball and I don't expect all the guys to show up at every single thing we do, but the guys who do show up, we're here to play to the best of our ability."
Methacton didn't have several of its usual contributors on Wednesday, including rising seniors Cole Hargrove and Brett Byrne, but that simply opened up minutes for some newcomers. With a handful of incoming freshmen spelling out the roster, Methacton's young guys held on late to hold off a late rally by the Hatters, who are new to the Dock league this year.
Among the standouts for Methacton on Wednesday were Anthony Daddazio, who earned praise for his communication on defense and rising junior Jason Lagana, who showed good vision passing and knocked down several key shots. Methacton had good guard play all around and Lagana has been impressed with the building the group has done in Dock's league.
"All this basketball has helped us a lot, we're getting a chance to play as a team and get known to each other," Lagana said. "Some of us are moving up from JV, there are a couple returning varsity and some new guys so it helps to get that chemistry going and get our team to flow."
Lagana noted there are a lot of open positions, roles and minutes to be had this coming season and the busy summer schedule is helping the Warriors start to figure some of those things out. The guard added the back-to-back games are tiring, but only adds more reps and has made the younger players learn how to dig down and finish games like they did to cap Wednesday night's showing.
It was an encouraging win without the team's senior leaders present and just the effort Methacton's coaches were looking for on another busy night in what's been a very packed summer schedule.
"That's what we need, to build our chemistry without them so when they're back with us, we're even better," Lagana said. "As a team, we're getting coached up well and playing better defense. Our coaches are preaching help the helper and besides on the ball defense, working on the help defense we lacked in the PW league that we're trying to fix in this league."
Lockhard was pleased with the outcome Wednesday, noting there will be times during the season Hargrove, Byrne and others won't be on the floor and someone else will have to step up.
"These guys showed a lot of effort and a lot of heart and that's the biggest thing I've asked them to do," Lockard said. "Mistakes will be made out there, but if they're hard and aggressive mistakes, I can live with those."