ELDERSBURG — It wasn't as glamorous or well-attended as the NBA off-season offerings in Las Vegas or Orlando, but the Steve Johnson Memorial Summer League, which ended last week, gave six of Carroll County's eight public school basketball teams their own taste of offseason play.
It's early, so many coaches and players at Liberty High School weren't judging the competition solely on the five-week tournament, where each squad played two games every Tuesday night. Instead, the focus was on working out the kinks, getting a basketball in each player's hands, and, for some, an introduction to some new faces.
"Everyone looks pretty good, I'll say that," said Francis Scott Key coach Ryan Kimble, who returns as one of the county's longest-tenured coaches. "It's just interesting to see how these teams have changed and evolved, and [we get] a little bit of a prelude to what they're trying to do, but not too much."
The level of quality basketball was a theme expressed by multiple coaches around the county after watching summer league action, especially given the departure of a few important pieces to their teams.
"There was a lot of turnover from last year, not only just from players, but with a couple of coaches," Liberty coach Brian Tombs said. "So there's going to be some things that are probably going to be different."
Winters Mill's Dave Herman was replaced by longtime assistant Billy Mays, while former head coaches Jim Carnes (South Carroll) and Brett Kanther (Westminster) return for a second stint at their respective schools.
Other than a few new coaches, the amount of roster changes compared to last year should shake things up for some of the perennial county powers.
County champion Century lost most of its starting lineup, including Times Player of the Year Kevin Steadman. The same could be said for the majority of the other seven teams, as six of the eight first-team all-countians have since graduated.
"We lost a lot of really good players, but there's talent," Kimble said. "Kids work hard in this county. All of these kids are playing in the summer. They're playing AAU. I think basketball is going to continue to get better in the county."
Westminster, Century, Liberty, FSK, South Carroll and Winters Mill joined Howard County's Marriotts Ridge, Howard and Glenelg, as well as Frederick County's Oakdale, for the summer league.
Aside from the heat in the non-air conditioned Liberty gym — for which Tombs said other teams jokingly blamed him — the quality of competition was high.
After topping the Knights for the Class 2A West Region title in March, Oakdale went on to lose in the state title game. Howard County's teams in the league were also competitive during last season, giving Carroll's clubs a look at a few opponents, which could come in handy next season when schedules change now that the county has exited the Monocacy Valley Athletic League.
Westminster senior-to-be Brady Meixsell said the Owls focused on teamwork as the league's season progressed. Following its conclusion, he said had already seen signs of improvement.
"We are working a lot better together than we were from day 1," he said. "We started in June, and now it's definitely a better team."
Now that the quick summer league has been completed, it's up to the players to maintain their skills during the rest of the offseason. Some will be gearing up for fall sports, while others — including coaches — will continue looking for an edge in a county that could be up for grabs.
"In terms of competitiveness, I think it's going to be a wide-open league," Tombs said. "I don't know if you can count anyone out."