Coming off its best season in a decade, the Hampton boys basketball team is staying busy this summer.
The Talbots went 5-1 and reached the championship game of the Northgate undergraduate league before beginning play in late May in the monthlong Pittsburgh Basketball Club summer league.
“I feel good,” said 6-foot-4 all-section guard Peter Kramer, who will be a senior in the fall. “I’m just looking forward to this summer. I’m just going to try to put on some weight and get faster and stronger.”
“I think it’s good to just stay sharp in the offseason and to get team chemistry up while we’re getting ready for the next season,” said guard Andrew Butler, a rising sophomore. “It definitely gets you an idea of playing with people who you might not normally play with in the regular season and getting a feel for how different guys play.”
Hampton defeated North Hills in the May 25 PBC opener before losing to Avonworth, 75-54, on June 1 with only seven Talbots in uniform. Shallow benches are common in the summer league with players having other obligations. Returning starter Robert Coll, a rising senior forward, missed the game with an injury, while weeklong football camp kept some others away.
“The best teams I’ve ever coached have committed together as a group to get better in the summer,” said coach Joe Lafko, who will bring a 523-326 career record into the 2023-24 season. “Sometimes you have conflicts, but the good teams that I’ve coached, the teams that have won championships, played for championships, won section titles, they committed to get better collectively in the offseason.”
The June 1 game marked the return of 6-foot-8 center Liam Mignogna, who played sparingly after missing about six weeks with a sprained ankle. The Talbots trailed 44-25 at halftime before showing some increased energy in the final 20 minutes. Hampton players were diving for loose balls, and Mignogna stood tall to draw a charge with his team trailing by 18 points late in the third quarter.
“I liked in the second half, some of the young guys responded to the challenge I put to them in the first half,” Lafko said. “It’s a learning experience and a mindset.
“One of the things that became very evident is our mindset of attack on both offense and defense. I was happy that when I saw that and pointed that out, I challenged some of them and they did it better in the second half.”
One of the primary goals this offseason is finding replacements for graduated guards Brennan Murray, a three-year starter, and Eric Weeks, a first-team all-Section 1-4A pick. They helped the Talbots to a 24-4 record and the program’s first section title since 2011. Hampton also earned its first PIAA playoff victory since 2014, despite playing the entire postseason without leading scorer Kramer, who was ineligible following his transfer last summer from Shady Side Academy.
A trio of rising seniors, guards Alex Nyilas and A.J. Prodente and guard/forward Keegan Thomson, should help to fill the voids left by Murray, Weeks, wing Jaden McMeekin and forward Braxton Eastly.
“There are still a lot of question marks,” said Lafko, who is entering his 28th season at Hampton, 34th overall. “Guys are having an opportunity to show what they can do and they are trying to show us what they can do. That’s what these offseason programs are for.”
Said Kramer, “There’s a bunch of kids who could step up.”
Kramer, who is eligible for the playoffs this winter after averaging a team-high 20 points per game last season, is attending offseason camps at Dartmouth, Penn, Columbia and Lafayette. His goal is to play collegiately in the Patriot League or Ivy League. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying the competition in the summer leagues.
“Leagues like that are just fun,” he said. “You are running up and down. It’s a good preview for the season.”