Getting real

Imagine coaching in a summer youth basketball tournament an hour from

home. It?s almost midnight on a Saturday night. Your team and your

opponent have both played two games that day, and will play again

Sunday morning?possibly three more games if you keep on winning.

The officials are tired, you?re tired, both teams are tired and

parents who came to watch the teams are tired. And now it?s time

the opening tip-off.

For some folks, this would be basketball heaven. For Dave Kroeker,

coach from Hillsboro, this is not what basketball is supposed to

He wants to see if others agree.

This summer, he and two local partners?Darrel Knoll and David

Loewen?will find out if other coaches, players and parents are

interested in a significantly different format for youth


Rather than hundreds of teams at tournaments that last an entire

weekend, with games played simultaneously on adjacent courts with

running clocks and overworked officials, they have a different

Eight teams, tops. No games on Sunday. Rested officials. One game

gym. Eight-minute quarters with a game clock that stop for fouls

other violations. Full-sized courts. Adequate seating for parents


They call it Real Basketball.

?To me, that?s the purpose of summer basketball: to simulate what

winter basketball?s going to be like as much as possible,? Kroeker


In its maiden season, Real Basketball will offer four tournaments,

played in Hillsboro between the first week of June and the second

of July. Each tournament is geared to a different age group, from

fifth and sixth graders through high school.

?We just want to see if people are interested,? Kroeker said.
?It?s a

way to find out. If (the tournaments) fill up real fast, then

of expanding the tournaments here, we?ll try to expand to other


Keeping the tournaments manageable is key to their approach.

?We?re going to expand, not by expanding the number of teams in

tournament, but by expanding the number of tournaments,? Kroeker

He can envision someday having Real Basketball tournaments in

Colby, Topeka, Salina and other sites across the state.

The Real Basketball organizers bring various strengths to the

Kroeker?s full-time job is teaching business at Tabor College. He

officiates basketball games during the winter and has coached

summer basketball teams.

Knoll and Loewen are both basketball coaches?and friends of

Knoll is head boys? coach at Hillsboro High School and Loewen at

Elyria Christian School.

From his experience as an official and summer coach, Kroeker has

concerns about several unintended consequences of summer
basketball as

offered by other organizations.

He said the fast-paced, rigidly scheduled system necessary to

a heavy schedule of games requires a continuous clock so games end


That, in turn, discourages officials from calling as many fouls

violations that reduce actual playing time, thus reinforcing a

trend in basketball toward physical play.

?Everybody expects summer basketball to be rough,? Kroeker said.

ask any coach, go to any tournament. They expect it to be a very

physical game.

?We envision games being called like they are during the winter

season,? he added. ?Being strong is great in every sport, but you

really have to develop skills. To me, that?s the real purpose of

summer basketball.?

Loewen liked the game-like environment Real Basketball Tournament

tries to emulate. He said it does athletes a lot more good for the

winter season.

?I saw right away the concept was a good concept,? he said.

Not scheduling games on Sundays is a deliberate effort to free

for other priorities and interests.

Another goal of Real Basketball organizers is to offer a more

reasonable expectation of time and resources from players, their

parents, coaches and officials.

Many summer basketball teams play in tournaments almost every

of the summer. Because the tournaments are huge, games sometimes

begin as early as Thursday evening and last through Sunday.

Kroeker said, ?I know here in Hillsboro there are a lot of kids

would play, but they don?t want to give up every weekend all

all weekend.

?How much is enough?? he adds. ?Ten more games or 50 more games

going to make my daughters enough better to get a Division I

scholarship. You don?t know that when they?re fifth and sixth

and that?s when they start (playing summer ball).?

Setting reasonable expectations for young people was one thing

attracted Knoll to Kroeker?s alternative.

?Especially being in a smaller school, your athletes are pulled in

several different directions,? Knoll said. ?They need to spend a

little time on their baseball skills, a little time on football,

weightlifting, and basketball and other skill sports. I think

starting to ask almost too much of everybody.

?As a basketball coach, I like for guys to spend some time working

their basketball (during the summer),? he added. ?If you want to

good, you almost have to do that. But I also think they ought to

allowed to do other things, to be with their families.?

?I want my kids to be in church on Sunday morning,? Kroeker said.

?That?s important for me. If we have Sundays off, we can also go

the lake, we can visit friends, we can golf?whatever it
is?instead of

sitting in a 100-degree gym, which we (as parents) would all do if

kids were involved with that.?

Real Basketball has focused its marketing on community teams that

encourage school teammates to play together rather than ?all-star?

select teams. Brochures were sent to every high school in Kansas.

?We?re trying to address what we think is a growing market of

teams,? Kroeker said. ?I think high school and middle school

will try to direct their teams to us because it?s a chance for

players to play together.?

Kroeker said a lot of people like the current format for summer

basketball. Real Basketball simply offers an alternative for those

want to try something different.

?If there are people out there who don?t want to play on Sunday,

got a place for you to go,? Kroeker said.

?Just like any niche marketer, we?re going to try to provide a

high-quality product that?s different from what?s out there,? he

added. ?The product that?s out there may be good, but some people

want something different.?

For all its good intentions, Real Basketball is not a charitable

endeavor. It is a business that must make a reasonable profit.

?We?re going to run Real Basketball tournaments to make a buck,

we?re going to try to provide value in return,? Kroeker said.

With Real Basketball in its infant stage, Kroeker, Knoll and

aren?t concerned about corporate structures and organizational

?It?s like a mom-and-pop store,? Kroeker said. ?Everybody does a

little bit of everything. Until we get big, that will be OK. If we

ever get big, we?ll have to do some specialization and work on

division of labor. Hopefully, we?ll never get to the assembly-line


As a business instructor, Kroeker also knows not every venture


?We?ll find out if people want an alternative,? Kroeker said. ?If

lose our shirts on the deal, and n

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