On Thursday, one of my favorite summer tradition tips off: the annual Metro Basketball Summer League featuring current and former college players and pros with local ties.
Formerly held at Omaha Sports Academy, the games were moved to the Iowa West Fieldhouse in Council Bluffs, Iowa to accommodate the growth in the league, which will include 20 teams this year, among them a new team made up of some of the best current high school players in the area.
The league runs from mid-June through late July with games on Thursday’s in June and Mondays and Thursdays in July. Admission is free for spectators with programs available for a few bucks to help subsidize the cost of the league.
The main draw for many of the fans that show up to pack the stands every week is the participation of the local Division I schools: Creighton and Omaha. All the healthy players from both teams take part every year and are spread out among the teams (rules say only two players from the same Division I school can play on the same team).
The league is a great way to get your sports fix during the summer when baseball is the only thing going on for the most part. The games are played at a high level with multiple professional players and high-level college athletes taking part. It provides fans with a terrific opportunity to connect with their favorite teams as fans and players mingle throughout the evening. Perhaps the greatest value of this event for fans is the chance to see incoming freshmen or transfers play in person for the first time. It also gives the players a chance to mix things up from their normal routine of intra-squad pick-up games and test their skills against different people. It’s a win-win situation for players and fans alike.
The one downside is the chance for injury to occur, and that unfortunately happened to Creighton center Zach Hanson last season. The big man suffered an injury during the first week of summer league and spent the rest of the offseason rehabbing, and he went on to have a senior season limited by injury. That is the worst case scenario, and it reportedly had Creighton coach Greg McDermott reconsidering his team’s participation. However, injuries mostly come down to bad luck and could easily happen during work-outs or team pick-up games just as well. In the end, McDermott must have decided the positives outweighed the negatives.
You’ll notice I have yet to mention a certain team that is of interest to most of my audience. Nebraska has not had current players participate in the league since I’ve been following it. Well, basketball players, that is. Junior football player Luke Gifford, who was a standout basketball player at Lincoln Southeast back in the day, hopped on a team for at least one week last year.
A handful of former Huskers have played in the league throughout the years such as Ryan Anderson, Jason Dourrisseau and John Turek. This year’s rosters include former walk-on Cole Salomon, Wes Wilkinson and Steffon Bradford. There’ still a bit of Husker flare to the league.
However, you won’t see any current players running the courts. Why? I was told that former staff member Ali Farokhmanesh, who played in the league himself a few years back, tried to get the ball rolling while he was still in Lincoln. League organizer Jason Isaacson tried to work something out with the Huskers for this year as well, but to no avail.
So what’s the hold-up? From what I’ve been told, it boils down to travel. For Creighton and Omaha, it’s a short drive to the venue. The Huskers are obviously in Lincoln, though, meaning a two-hour round trip plus the gas money to get there to play one game. Complicating the travel is that only a handful of the players on the team have cars in Lincoln. That certainly makes things more difficult, but players from Kearney, Peru and other places make it work every single year.
I’m not sure what the solution is to make the travel feasible for the Huskers, but hopefully there is one that will allow Nebraska to take part in the league in the near future. It is a great way to build up a connection with fans in the offseason, and there are certainly Nebraska fans in the Omaha Metro area. For a team that has struggled during the regular season so much in recent years, something like this summer league can only help.
For the time being, if you’re a basketball fan living in the Omaha Metro, go check out the Metro Basketball Summer League on Thursday. The first round of games tip off at 6 p.m.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.