BY MICHAEL KELLY
Well before the area’s high school basketball teams opened practice Nov. 9, players were getting into the swing of things at open gym sessions.
The nature of the informal get-togethers, which generally start in September or October and carry on a couple times per week through the end of the latter month, vary from one program to the next. The goal, however, is the same: to get players ready for the looming serious basketball in a fun, loose environment.
“There’s a little bit of structure,” Shenendehowa girls’ head coach Joe Murphy said at one of his program’s sessions. “Like, I make sure [scrimmage] teams are picked up as fair as possible, and that they get in some skill development, too.”
For the most part, though, the players run the show at open gyms. While that is necessitated by Suburban Council rules — coaches cannot turn open gyms into practices — Niskayuna girls’ head coach Sarah Neely said that is also part of the charm of the sessions.
“I’ve always had my seniors run the open gyms,” Neely said. “So, it’s kind of like a captains’ practice, and they do a very good job with it.”
Generally, any player hoping to make a high school team is encouraged to attend the open gyms, which bring together athletes ranging from those hoping to make the cut for a freshman squad to established senior varsity veterans. Getting anywhere from 20 to 50 players is within the realm of possibility.
While both Murphy and Neely said it is important to them to see players making an effort to come to the sessions, they also try to keep the schedule manageable in the fall to help athletes avoid burnout.
“They play so much basketball year-round — they’ll do AAU in the spring, summer ball, and some have their own trainers — and that’s a lot of basketball for these kids,” Murphy said.
Of course, many of the kids playing hoops at the open gyms would probably have been playing elsewhere, anyway. Each year, Neely said, she is encouraged with the dedication of her players — many of whom use their chance to run a workout to work on defensive and rebounding drills rather than only playing pick-up games.
“I love to see that because then maybe I am getting into their heads a little bit,” Neely said.