Basketball: Steve Johnson Memorial Summer League builds 'team morale'

Liberty’s Tristan Kent and Connor Stewart talk about their experiences in the summer league.

The purpose of the Steve Johnson Memorial Summer League is simple — give kids a chance to get a basketball in their hands during the offseason, and have fun while doing so.

The league was started by a team of people that includes former Liberty High School boys basketball coach Steve Johnson. Johnson died in 2011, a decade after the league was established, and the decision was made three years ago to rename the league in his honor. The league has since grown in popularity among the Carroll County community, and has drawn attention from schools in neighboring counties.


Liberty High hosts the annual summer league, and it is commissioned by boys and girls basketball coaches Brian Tombs and Barry Green. Tombs took over in 2012 and said he is fortunate to help keep the league running in memory of Johnson.

“Any time you can continue to play and it’s not just a pickup, per say, having coaches there as well instructing and going through some things makes it more season-like,” Tombs said. “For the kids, it gives them a couple months off and then they’re back at it. It’s kind of feeling like the season without the pressure, it’s just good for them to play together and get to know each other a little bit more.

“It gives us as coaches an opportunity to see some kids in a non-stressful situation where we might be able to see them produce more.”

This year, the league once again has 10 programs each in the boys and girls varsity and junior varsity divisions, meaning close to 400 athletes get an opportunity to play. Girls games are scheduled on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the boys play on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The league used to be primarily Carroll-based, but in recent years teams from neighboring counties have joined in.

This summer, the boys varsity league consists of Century, Francis Scott Key, Liberty, South Carroll, Westminster, and Winters Mill from Carroll County, along with Glenelg and Howard from Howard County, a club team called the Gladiators, and a team from Littlestown, Pennsylvania.

On the girls side, it’s Century, FSK, Liberty, South Carroll, Westminster, and Winters Mill from Carroll; Catoctin from Frederick County; Howard and River Hill from Howard; and a club team called the Blue Angels.

The diversity helps Carroll’s players get acclimated to fresh talent and new strategies.

“It helps us get to know other schools that aren’t in the county in case we play them in the regular season,” said Liberty senior center Tristan Kent. “For us, it helps build our team morale and we get to know each other better and get used to playing with each other.”

Kent and teammate Connor Stewart were both prominent fixtures on Liberty’s varsity basketball team last season. The duo helped the Lions capture their first outright county championship in 35 year, and advance to the Class 2A West Section 1 final against Oakdale, the eventual region champion.

Kent, who averaged a double-double last season, earned Times Player of the Year honors. The Lions finished the winter at 20-4, a program record for wins in a season.

This is the boys’ third year participating in the summer league, and Stewart said it’s a good way to boost their confidence a few months before a new season, and their county title defense, begins.

“It’s better because you know you’re going to get every team’s best shot when they play,” Stewart said. “We have a target on our back now but we’re ready for anything any team brings us.”

The boys semifinals are slated for July 17 and the girls for July 23, but the objective of playing in the league isn’t necessarily about postseason success. Rather, the SJMSL participants get a chance to practice fundamentals they normally wouldn’t focus on in the regular season.


They also stay in shape during the offseason period, and interact with different players.

“It takes you out of your comfort zone a bit,” Stewart said. “But, that’s what you need to do in the summer.”