Summer league basketball gives Hampton chance to build chemistry

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Friday, June 25, 2021 | 8:55 PM


High school basketball season is still five months away, but the Hampton boys are getting a running start.

Hampton competed in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club’s 28th annual summer league, which attracted roughly 40 schools from around the WPIAL for a month-long return to the court.

The teams played two 20-minute halves with officials and a running clock, getting the chance to develop skills and prepare for game situations during live action.

“It’s about having an opportunity to play and working on some things and maybe trying some things,” coach Joe Lafko said after Hampton’s 47-39 victory over North Catholic on June 17 at North Hills. “You look to try to get better each night.”

Hampton, coming off a 4-16 high school season, had dropped its first five summer league games before topping North Catholic. The team beat Norwin on June 22 and closed out summer play against North Hills on June 24.

Hampton also met Shady Side Academy, Shaler, North Allegheny, Highlands and Moon during an eight-game schedule that ran from June 1-24.

“It’s fun to try new things and practice some skills that maybe you wouldn’t do in a regular season game,” rising senior guard Matt DeMatteo said.

While Hampton missed qualifying for the 12-team PBC playoffs, the players were encouraged by their growth during the event.

“Our record doesn’t really matter in my opinion,” said point guard Brennan Murray, who will be a junior in the fall. “It’s just building that chemistry and getting to know your teammates better and better every time.

“That’s a major thing, especially for our team, since we were so young last year. Maturing to the game and being able to see what we did bad last year and being able to fix it this year.”

With players on family vacation or having other summer obligations, those who can show up for games varies from night to night.

Against North Catholic, Hampton dressed seven players: DeMatteo, Murray, rising senior Zander Plizga, juniors-to-be Eric Weeks and Jaden McMeekin, and Liam Mignogna and AJ Prodente, who will be sophomores this fall.

“I think we are getting good competition for only being summer league,” Mignogna said. “I think it really helps the team come together.”

Mignogna, a 6-foot-8 forward and the cousin of former Hampton stars Ryan and Collin Luther, saw varsity time last season as a freshman and has made strides this summer. He was the team’s best rebounder and showed a deft passing touch in the win over North Catholic.

“We saw spurts of it last year,” Lafko said. “He was a freshman. He was only 14 years old. He’s going to be one we are looking at to hopefully take us to another level. I haven’t told him that verbatim, but that’s what I think he has the potential to do.”

The Talbots return all five starters from last season’s squad. They struggled to the worst mark in Lafko’s 25 seasons at the school, but thanks to an open WPIAL tournament, extended their playoff streak to 17 consecutive years. The Talbots ended last season without any seniors on the roster, and the summer league gave them a chance to further jell.

“I think we will be a lot better this year,” said DeMatteo, a first-team all-Section 4-5A pick last season. “We just need some time to grow up and play a little bit more together.”

The league also provides an early scouting report for the 2021-22 season. Two of Hampton’s summer opponents, Shaler and Highlands, are in its WPIAL section.

“You get to see what they’ve got from the upcoming freshmen and what we are going to face in the school year,” Murray said.

Lafko, who has an overall record of 486-310 in 31 seasons, is a proponent of summer league basketball and was glad to be back after the pandemic canceled last summer’s games. One night after losing to Moon, the players showed improvement while beating North Catholic.

“That’s the exciting thing about summer basketball,” Lafko said, “and you just hope those kind of experiences stick and they learn from it and they continue to make those kinds of plays.”

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