Dunbar boys basketball team

Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones (foreground) and his team took advantage of a state rule change that allows coaches to work with their teams from after Memorial Day until the beginning of August. "It helped them jell more under my direction instead of being under somebody else," Jones said. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam / November 25, 2008)

This summer, Dunbar junior guard Derrell Edwards saw a big difference on the basketball court.

Summer league ball wasn't just about getting up and down the floor anymore. The intensity was cranked up, and more of his Dunbar teammates were showing up on time, all the time.

"Yeah, we had a full bench," Edwards said.


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The reason?

Also on the bench this summer was Dunbar second-year coach Cyrus Jones.

In late April, the state sanctioning body for high school athletics passed a rule allowing high school coaches to work with their teams from after Memorial Day until the beginning of August. Teams had to play in an organized event orchestrated by an educational or nonprofit organization, and coaches were permitted one practice for every game played.

"We definitely took advantage of it," Jones said of the rule change by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. "It helped them jell more under my direction instead of being under somebody else like a recreation coach or an Amateur Athletic Union coach. We got in the gym, played together in the summer league and worked hard."

Other coaches who took advantage of the extra time over the summer cited added continuity, camaraderie and chemistry that put them ahead of schedule during the preseason - and will hopefully translate into more wins.

Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. had his team competing in the highly competitive Rock Summer League, which included a number of the top private and public schools in the Washington, Northern Virginia and Baltimore areas.

"It gave the kids some good exposure, but at the same time, it also showed them what type of talent there is in our tri-state area. You can set the bar as far as where your kids need to be and how hard they have to work to get at that level," said Moraz, who led the Lightning to a state title in 2006 and a runner-up finish last season.

Josh Devine, who takes over at point guard for the Lightning this season, said having Moraz on the bench this summer was very different but beneficial.

"At first, the players were scared to make a mistake because they knew the coach was right there. So they didn't want anything they were doing in the summer league to reflect poorly. But it raised the intensity and made everybody challenge each other, and that made everybody better," he said.

While most of the coaches put the rule to use this summer, others stayed with the routine of watching from the stands.

At Harford County powerhouse Aberdeen, coach Richard Hart, who lives in York, Pa., is confident in the coaches who work with his group in the summer, citing the way the things they teach fit with his philosophies.

Winters Mill coach Dave Herman, who led his Falcons to an improbable state title last year, said the late timing of the new rule effected his team not getting completely together over the summer. He also considered when enough is enough.

"I ask a lot from the kids for the 3 1/2 months during the season, and they hear me talk a lot. I worry about them hearing my voice too much," he said.

Milford Mill senior guard Xavier Drake, one of three starters back for the Millers, is excited about the prospects of the coming season, and the summer experience is a big reason.

"Having Coach [Albert] Holly around really helped us out a whole lot coming into the season because of the simple fact that we did a lot of things in the summer which he has carried on into practice now," Drake said. "So basically, we didn't have to start over with anything, and you can see that how smoothly things are going."