Clutching a clipboard, Mark Shelley put in a workout on the sidelines at the Community Park courts last Wednesday evening, never sitting as he urged on his players verbally and with hand gestures to the final whistle.
It may have been July but Princeton High boys’ basketball head coach Shelley was in mid-winter form in the Princeton Recreation Summer Men’s Basketball League.
Shelley’s instructions were heeded as the PHS entry in the league, Princeton Youth Sports (PYS), pulled away to a 49-33 win over WTG.
“I really try to coach them up,” said Shelley, who guided PHS to a 12-11 record and the second round of the state tournament last winter in his debut season at the helm of the program. “I want to stay positive but I want it to be a learning experience.”
Shelley saw plenty of positives on the offensive end as PYS jumped out to a 30-11 halftime lead in the victory over WTG.
“What I like is that I thought we took smart shots,” said Shelley, who got 14 points from Paul Murray on the evening with Kevin Kane scoring 12 and Matt Vasseur chipping in 10.
“It helps when you shoot well. For the most part, one of our issues with a lot of new people is some of them can be good shooters in practice but they force shots in the game. We talked about a lot about going inside out, whether it is with the post or with dribble penetration and kicks and almost all of our threes tonight were on that.”
PYS also played some good defense, giving up only two points in the first 10 minutes of the contest.
“We have worked a lot on communicating within the zone and I think you heard them talking a lot on defense tonight,” said Shelley.
“The defense was really solid and the other team said a couple of things to me about that.”
Despite having produced some solid performances this summer, the win over WTG marked a breakthrough for PYS as the team improved to 1-5.
“We come in with the attitude that we just want to play well and if we get beat by 15, that is fine,” said Shelley.
“It is nice to win. We were missing a lot of key players [Peter Mahotiere, Cal O’Meara, Matt Hart, and Andrew Braverman] and we talked before the game about the secondary break and certain things and we did those things.”
Over the course of the summer, the PHS players have been doing a lot of things to get better.
“We have had a lot of open gyms where they do an hour of drills and then they scrimmage,” said Shelley.
“I don’t coach during the scrimmages, I just let them play 5-on-5. We went to the University’s team camp and we played six or seven games there in a weekend. Our JVs are playing in a league in Hillsborough with a lot of Group IV teams like Piscataway, and other big-time competition. The JVs were at the University camp too.”
In Shelley’s view, there is a dual focus to the competition this summer. “One is individual; we want them to work on what they are not good at,” explained Shelley.
“We give them things at the end of the season and over the summer and a lot of them come and ask us what can I work on. The other thing is the team-building thing. It is bonding and learning each other’s tendencies. For Peter and Cal, it is knowing that without Lior [Levy] and Scotty [Bechler], they have to score more, not 20 a game but they have to be around 10 or 12 a game. It is getting confidence in these younger guards.”
Shelley is confident that the work everyone around the program is putting in this summer will pay dividends over the winter.
“They know what we are looking for; it is so much easier for me now,” said Shelley.
“I took over last year in the fall and that was hard, it was late. This is a lot better. We are able to put our summer program together and the other coaches are on the same page as I am in terms of what we are looking for from the kids. It has been a real good summer so far and the guys have enjoyed it. We have realistic expectations; we are losing some really good players but we feel good about the balance we have, that is the big thing.”