There are summer basketball camps, and there are competitive summer basketball camps.
The Houston High School girls were undoubtedly involved in the competitive variety at last week’s annual Branson Shootout in Blue Eye.
Hosted by O’Fallon-based Licking Summer Camps, the three-day “Branson Shootout” event featured a 22-school field including varsity and junior varsity squads from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Each varsity team played at least eight games from Wednesday through Friday at three venues, including Blue Eye’s high school, middle school and elementary school. After each playing eight preliminary contests, the varsity squads faced off in a single elimination tournament on Friday afternoon.
All games had referees and featured 15-minute halves with a running clock.
The Lady Tigers had practiced some prior to the event, but had gotten in only one day of full-court work.
“I talked to some coaches there and there were teams that had been going full-court for two to three weeks,” said HHS head coach Brent Kell, who is back at the helm of Lady Tiger hoops after retiring in 2016 following a 30-year stint. “That was of course going against the wishes of the government, and we were a bit behind. But it was good to see where we stood compared to some other teams. It was good for us.”
Houston finished the flurry with 4 wins and 5 losses. The Lady Tigers began with a trio of games Wednesday at three different venues, and won them all, beating Dora at the high school, downing Waukomis (Okla.) at the middle school and defeating St. Paul Lutheran (of Concordia) at the elementary school.
Houston played three times on Thursday, facing Seneca and Rolla at the middle school and taking on Hollister at the high school. The Lady Tigers kept their roll going in the morning with a victory over Seneca, but then fell to Rolla and Hollister.
Houston played back-to-back games against Blue Eye and Sparta on Friday morning at the middle school, and lost both.
Then in Friday afternoon’s single-elimination bracketed tournament, Houston lost to Fair Grove in the first round.
“There was some good competition there,” Kell said.
One of Kell’s focuses during summer workouts has been helping the team’s post players improve and generate more inside scoring.
“We’ve been spending some extra time with them, and I saw some good things from them in camp,” Kell said. “Not in every game, but sometimes they really stepped up and showed some of the things we’ve been working on.”
Kell said 14 HHS girls made the trip, and the group sometimes had to be split to accommodate varsity and junior varsity games going on simultaneously. That proved to be taxing on some young legs.
“When we had only seven, we got tired and weren’t able to play with the run-and-gun style we want to use,” Kell said. “But when we were all together, we looked pretty good. We played fast and we kind of frustrated some teams by being able to really get after it on defense.”
Kell said he’d like to see a few players improve their on-court mental approach, and adopt a “next play” attitude rather than focus on what has already happened.
“We’ve got to work on some maturity issues,” he said. “Sometimes some of us let things like missing shots frustrate us, or if we get pushed and it doesn’t get called we let that affect us. But we’ve addressed it, the kids recognize it’s a problem, and now it’s a matter of them making the adjustments they need to make.
“We just need to go to the next play and put those things out of our minds.”
The Lady Tigers stayed in Branson during the event.
“It was good to get closer as a team and do some bonding,” Kell said.
As far as the 2020-2021 season goes, Kell is encouraged by his youthful squad (which has only two seniors on the roster).
“I think we’ll be competitive with everyone we play,” he said. “We’re going to be fast; I heard comments from several coaches who said, ‘you’ve got a nice team, and you’re so fast!’ The girls need to take pride in that because that’s how we’re going to have to play.
“Even if we improve in the post a lot, we’re still small and we’ll need to get up and down the floor and use our speed.”
Kell said he also like the team’s depth.
“We’re going to have a lot of kids who can play,” he said. “I see as many as 11 who have a possibility of getting some varsity playing time.”
Houston’s junior varsity squad went 6-3 during the event. Kell said he’s hoping to get in several more games during the summer.