HELENA — Across two days at four different locations, 34 teams converged in Helena for the Helena summer basketball tournament hosted by Helena High and Helena Capital.
For most coaches, summer ball is the perfect time to get some of the younger players in their programs on the court so they can start building a roster for next season and give players a taste of what varsity action is like.
“We've got new guys who we need to become part of the varsity unit and play together and it's just a great kickoff and you don't realize how much you miss it until you don't have it," said Helena Capital head coach Guy Almquist. "Last year, I think we missed it quite a bit and at the beginning of the season, we were trying to get to know each other instead of having a summer to kind of work on it.”
The tournament has been a staple in the Helena area for about two decades, growing from less than 10 teams to now 34 teams that will play more than 80 games in two days.
For Billings Senior head coach Drew Haws, this is the third year he’s brought his program to the tournament. For him, it’s also a great time to get some different looks at other schools they don’t see during the regular season.
“All the (Eastern AA) teams get to play the teams in the West, and there are sometimes we don't ever see them in a year. We've never played Kalispell (Glacier or Flathead) in a regular-season game and probably never will. So to be able to come here and play both Kalispell teams for us is great,” said Haws.
This is the first year that Belgrade is in the fold at this tournament, and Panthers head coach Luke Powers said he and his program are having a blast and this kind of work in the summer is crucial to success when the regular season rolls around.
“It's a great time to improve. You don't ever hear about kids that they complain about, you know, they worked too hard and did too much, you know? It's people that have regrets that they didn't do this stuff," said Powers. "This is a fun time and, again, a great chemistry builder and just a great time for kids to be improving.”
The tournament is also operating in conjunction with Rob Tesch’s Correct Call Camp, a camp for referees to get in some practice over the summer ahead of the season. Tesch has run his program for more than a decade now and said the main focus of the camp is to give referees an opportunity to grow.
“We just self-correct, self-praise, self-awareness of what's going on on the court. When we want to do that, we sub a guy in, and we just self-correct, self-praise right there, help them out," said Tesch. "Maybe have a different perspective on how to call that play or why did we blow our whistle, or why shouldn't we, or why we should blow our whistles.”
Kalispell Glacier head coach Mark Harkins and his program have been coming to this tournament ever since the program was created 15 years ago and said the incorporation of the Correct Call Camp into the tournament has been a great addition, because it allows coaches to not only build a better rapport with referees but also get a better glimpse into what goes into their jobs.
"This is a great chance for the coaches to interact with the referees as they're doing their training and that sort of thing and I think that really helps. It just creates that basketball camaraderie and I like that," said Harkins. "I like watching those referees work and get you to know and listen to them if they're getting coached up, and it's just a great learning tool for me."
The Helena summer basketball tournament runs through Sunday, and the next Correct Call Camp runs from June 25-27 in Lockwood and Billings.