Summer is winding down and that usually means just one thing—football season is almost here.
But four years ago, Ken Manfredi had a vision.
Manfredi, the varsity boys basketball coach at , wanted more chances for his team to play during the summer—even while many athletes were starting to prepare for fall sports like football.
At the time, there was only one major boys basketball tournament in the Sacramento region during the summer. It took place in Rocklin, nearly half an hour away from Elk Grove.
That’s when Manfredi took things into his own hands.
“We saw an opportunity to invite as many teams as possible, but also provide a great, organized tournament,” said Manfredi.
The result sparked a new era of competitive summer basketball when Manfredi, along with former coach Scott Gradin, co-founded the the Sheldon-Trail Summer Jam. A year later, coach Mat Bradley created another local tournament when he began organizing the Valley-CRC Summer Challenge in 2009.
Both tournaments, hosted in June, have been smash hits as squads from around the state have flocked to Elk Grove each summer. The Sheldon-Trail event drew 57 teams, up from 50 from the previous year, while 32 schools attended the Summer Challenge.
“That really spotlights three of our local high schools,” said Bradley. “We obviously get a majority of our Elk Grove district schools participating as well. They don’t have to travel as far and they’re getting really competitive games from teams in our section, but even outside our section and into Nevada.”
Other schools have certainly noticed that Elk Grove is a competitive destination for summer basketball. Marin Catholic coach Mike Saia, whose team attended the Summer Jam this June, said the event is one of the best tournaments in Northern California.
“It looks like they put thought into how they bracket the groups and they do an excellent job,” said Saia.
Manfredi, who said he worked hard to polish the Summer Jam’s reputation, thinks the local tournaments have helped put Elk Grove on the map.
“I think that gave us more exposure and the ability to host these tournaments,” said the Mustangs coach.
Savings for players, school district
Beyond the prestige factor, there’s also an economic factor staying close to home. Traveling to tournaments in other cities takes money—and especially during a rocky economy, that’s a luxury some players and schools can’t afford.
Sheldon coach Joey Rollings explained that basketball tournaments outside of Elk Grove sometimes don’t provide much bang for a program’s buck.
“You’re paying $500 entry fees for the team, plus each kid has to pay so much for room and board,” said Rollings. “You’re only getting about five games for that.”
Instead, summer basketball has become a fundraising opportunity for the Elk Grove schools, who charge entrance fees for the tournaments.
“There are many ways to raise money, but the best and most enjoyable way to raise money is through basketball,” said Manfredi.
Beyond the economic perks, Elk Grove’s tournaments also are exciting for the players. Tercail Hadley, a senior point guard at Valley, had looked forward to participating in the yearly events.
“It gives us a lot of pride,” said Hadley. “It makes us know that basketball in Sacramento and Elk Grove is getting bigger and teams are coming here to play us.”
While the tournaments are the biggest thing going for Elk Grove basketball during the summer, many basketball players do have other options. Some play for local AAU teams that travel to tournaments to other parts of California.
But Dakari Allen, who will be a junior this year at Sheldon, said his skills would have suffered if the tournaments didn’t exist.
“In the month of June, I wouldn’t have played many games, except for maybe at 24 Hour Fitness, because my AAU team doesn’t start until July,” he said.
At the same time, other players see the Elk Grove basketball tournaments as a chance to avoid costly travel with a summer AAU squad. Hermon Brown, a senior shooting guard at Monterey Trail, initially planned to play AAU ball in Los Angeles this summer but decided the Sheldon-Trail Summer Jam would be more effective for raising his profile among college scouts.
“I just decided to play in our tournament because it’s got a whole lot of competition and a whole lot of publicity,” said Brown. “A lot of people come out and look at you, because (the tournament) is so big and it’s been growing over the years.”
Most of that recognition has been a blessing, especially as more schools participate and the tournaments get increasingly competitive. Rollings, who’s in his second year coaching at Sheldon, said that hosting these tournaments serves an immediate purpose: making local teams better.
“In summer, you’re trying to develop your kids,” he said. “The more games, the better.”
Most of the coaches who hosted the Elk Grove tournaments were satisified with this year’s outcome, and some of their teams continued to practice together into the month of August.
Sheldon and Valley had the most successful summer—Sheldon finished second at the Valley-CRC Summer Challenge while Valley went 3-2 at both tournaments. On the other hand, Monterey Trail had mixed results. The Mustangs started slowly at the Summer Jam, going 1-3 in pool play before surging back into the consolation finals where they lost to Center.
Still, Manfredi said the most important thing about playing summer basketball isn’t measured by wins or losses.
“A vast amount of coaches will tell you that they don’t care what their record is during the summer,” said Manfredi. “They just want good quality games to see their players put into a position where they can learn.”