MORGANTOWN — One of the most valuable summer tools for West Virginia’s basketball team has become just a wee bit less valuable.
The Pittsburgh Basketball Club’s annual pro-am summer league begins play this week, moving from the Greentree SportsPlex, where it had been anchored for seven years, to Montour High School. That move allows more games to be played because there are two courts available at Montour instead of just one.
And that’s good because there are more teams this year, the number growing from six to eight. And the reason it grew is the thing that makes it just a little bit less valuable, at least in terms of college players using the experience to get used to playing with their college teammates.
Here’s the deal. In the past, as many as four players from one college program could play on one team. Although the NCAA said only two players from the same Division I school could play on the same team, they didn’t count incoming freshmen or transfers. So two new guys could spend a summer playing with two of their future teammates.
Now, though, the NCAA says those newcomers count. That means the limit of two players from the same Division I team can be enforced, which means instead of having a nice core of four players working together, now it’s two mixed in with players from other schools.
OK, so maybe that’s nitpicking. After all, the summer league is still an invaluable experience. Still, it’s just a little less valuable, it would seem.
“I thought one of the best things before was that we could put all of our new guys on one team,’’ WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “Those guys got to play together against good competition and in games with officials. I thought that was the right thing to do.’’
What changed, it would seem, is that now that coaches are permitted to spend a couple of hours each week with their players — including freshmen and transfers — it’s pretty hard not to count those newcomers as representatives of a particular school. Call it a trade-off.
“I don’t think it’s as good as what it was,’’ Huggins said, referring to the summer-league restrictions and not the increased access to his players with the two-hour rule.
The summer league, though, is still a pretty valuable tool. Along with those from WVU, players from Pitt, Duquesne and Robert Morris play in the league, as well as some from the Division II schools in the area, a handful of Pittsburgh-area natives now playing elsewhere and an alumni team. The competition is good, even if the players from each of those teams can’t collectively work together as much as they did in the past.
Anyway, that two-per-team rule is one of the reasons there are now two extra teams in the league (if you’re going to spread the players out you have to have enough teams to which to spread them) and 11 West Virginia players are listed on the rosters, although a couple likely won’t be available to play until they are officially enrolled in summer school. Elijah Macon and Jevon Carter are on the same team, as are Brandon Watkins and Tarik Phillip, Jonathan Holton and walk-on James Long, Devin Williams and Daxter Miles, and Nathan Adrian and walk-on Chase Conner. Jaysean Paige is also on a team without a WVU teammate.
That leaves just four WVU players not participating — Juwan Staten, Gary Browne, Kevin Noreen and recent junior college signee Billydee Williams. And that’s fine with Huggins.
“It’s the summer. They need to enjoy themselves,’’ Huggins said. “If they don’t want to play, I have no problem with that. It’s not like they aren’t working out.’’
In fact, the Mountaineers have a pretty good alternative to the summer league these days. Now that the team has its own state-of-the-art practice facility, a lot of former players are returning to work out during their offseasons from a variety of foreign pro leagues. Among others, Huggins said Da’Sean Butler, Alex Ruoff, John Flowers, Dominique Rutledge and Casey Mitchell will be working out this summer and there’s nothing to prohibit the current players from joining pickup games with them.
“In truth, it might be better for them to stay here and play against those guys,’’ Huggins said. “For right now, they [will also go to the Pittsburgh summer league]. But the new practice facility has really changed things and gives us a lot more opportunities.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1