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What started out many years ago as a fun series of exhibition games and practice scrimmages between a few local basketball programs, has turned into a necessary part of summer.

That is the general consensus of area basketball coaches in the Terrebonne and Lafourche area whose basketball programs participate in the E.D. White Catholic Summer Basketball League each season.

The league, which began roughly 10-12 years ago and is generally kept at five teams each summer, wrapped up its 2014 schedule last Thursday night with host E.D. White Catholic falling to Central Catholic, 50-38, and H.L. Bourgeois edging rival Ellender, 41-39.

In addition to those four schools, Vandebilt Catholic also participated in the league this summer.

According to E.D. White coach Jonathan Keife, the man responsible for coordinating the league each year, his school can’t afford not to participate for risk of falling behind.

“It’s a necessity now to try and keep up with everybody else,” says Keife, a 15-year veteran at E.D. White. “Back when we first started this, it was something we would do that was just a little extra (participation), but now it’s necessary to try and keep up with everybody else.

“I think it’s really beneficial. We have good teams and good coaches, so every night you’re going to face good competition and that can only help. It helps your players get better and as coaches, it helps us to get a good evaluation of our players and our teams.”

Keife isn’t alone in that regard.

Other coaches, like Ellender’s Cornell Scott, said the league helps define players’ roles and brings teams closer together. For the Patriots in particular, that’s important because the school lost two key contributors from last year’s team in Justin Johnson and Jared Turner. Those players helped Ellender to 25 wins and a District 7-4A championship last season, and the Patriots have aspirations of being in the Top 28 this year.

In their game against H.L. Bourgeois last week, Ellender was also missing several of its expected key contributors this year in Curtis Anderson, Rontrell Hills, Andre Tillman, and Demetrius Price. With those players out, Scott said the summer league provided an opportunity for his other players to step up.

“I put some guys into some situations where I expect them to respond,” Scott said. “I may have taken our leader out to get the ball to somebody else, or put some freshmen in situations where you’re going to have to be able to perform on a night-in, night-out basis because our schedule is going to be tough this year. I’m overall pleased with it and I think they’re going to respond once the season begins because they’re going to know what to expect.”

Another advantage of the league is that it gives teams the chance to play as a full unit, coaches say.

Since many players also compete in football and begin working out in fall camps by early August, basketball coaches sometimes don’t get their full teams and rosters on the court until jamboree tournaments in late November or early December.

“We have a lot of football players on our team,” noted Keife. “In fact, most of our (local) teams are comprised of a lot of football players, and depending on the success of your football team, you may not get your entire basketball team back until a couple of days before the season. So there’s an added emphasis on doing a lot of (team) things that you’re going to do in the fall.”

For players such as Andrew Soignet, a forward at E.D. White, the chance to spend part of the summer playing with friends and teammates is the best part about the league.

“The season starts in October so it’s good to get playing time and see other teams,” Soignet said. “Our coach always tells us that team play is important and that we have to play as a team to win. It’s fun to come out here. The summer can get kind of busy, but you still try to have fun.”

H.L. Bourgeois coach Andrew Caillouet, whose school has been a regular participator in the league over the years, said his team gets a lot out of the summer program as well, and this year was no different.

The Braves went 6-2 in the league and are always a team to watch in the 7-5A district each year.

“It helps build your depth, No. 1, and everybody’s role changes from year to year,” Caillouet said of the summer league. “Even a guy like Chance Gasery, who played a lot of minutes for us last year and was one of our key guys, his role changed because he went from being a 1-A, 1-B or a No. 2 guy to being a no-doubt-about-it No. 1. It also helps in that maybe a guy like Rashawn Mart or Desean Walker, they become that No. 2 scorer and punch for you.

“We’ve got a lot of capable guys and I think it just builds up roles and builds up depth for you. You just want your kids playing, because we weight-lift and we practice, but this is our real practice during the summer.”

As for the man who’s credited with starting and maintaining the summer program, Keife says he envisions the league continuing as an important staple for area basketball teams for years to come.