Miners basketball grows from ground up through youth program
Park City has not historically been a basketball town. In the past decade, the Park City High School basketball team has not made it out of the first round of playoffs. There are a lot of possible reasons why that is, but PCHS coaches Mike Doleac and Thomas Purcell are working to change one major factor. After Purcell was hired as the program’s JV coach last year, the pair decided to create something most high schools that PCHS competes with already have: a feeder program.
Some youth basketball programs already existed locally, such as a parent-organized league and Junior Jazz.
But Purcell said a feeder program can be more specific in what it teaches, which gives kids a leg up going into high school.
“The younger you get kids into a high school system, the easier it is for them to be successful,” he said. “Most systems both on offense and defense take a couple of years to teach, so if you can get the kids in seventh grade instead of ninth grade, it gives the kids a better chance of being successful as 11th-graders.”
When Doleac hired Purcell last year, the basketball community was modest, he said.
“We were getting five or six kids to high school open gyms,” he said. “Mike and I would play so we could play four-versus-four.”
So in March, they starting planning the new feeder program. What they envisaged would have camps and clinics during the spring and summer, and league play in winter, but they didn’t have a good feel for how popular the program would be.
In early October they held tryouts, and to their surprise, created 11 teams: 85 players.
“The number of kids was completely overwhelming,” Purcell said. “In our seventh-grade group we ended up keeping three teams and still ended up cutting 20 kids.”
Since then, Doleac and Purcell have been working constantly to keep the larger-than-expected program on track.
Purcell estimated he and Doleac spend up to 30 or 40 hours a week between running practices for the four high school teams and the eighth-grade teams, and helping organize the younger teams.
“I’d say it’s like starting a business with lots of demanding customers and very few profits,” Purcell said. “But it’s been great. It was shocking how many kids came out for the tryouts. To have two or three teams at every age group was amazing. And in our first tournaments, our eighth graders — both eighth-grade teams — played for the championship in their age groups.”
After a recent game, Doleac said Purcell has been invaluable to the endeavor. Currently, Purcell coaches two eighth-grade teams along with the high school JV team.
“I’m trying to find ways to be home and still be a husband and a father,” Doleac said. “Thomas has taken a big load off of me, and so that’s huge.”
He added that this year has had a steep learning curve for the coaches, but as time goes on he expects it to get easier.
“It’s a lot of teams, but we have pretty good parents,” he said. “They are doing a good job of figuring it out and being supportive 90 percent of the time.”
On the sidelines during an eighth-grade practice on Monday, Kristin Iacavazzi waited for her son Tanner to finish.
“He was extremely nervous about the tryouts, because there were a lot of kids that came and tried out, and he just really wanted to make the team,” she said.
She said she recognized some of the players from Junior Jazz, which her son played on.
“I know that others have been playing with various other programs, like down in the valley for years,” she said. “But I think this is the first year for quite a few of them.”
She said so far her son loves the feeder program.
“He complains about the running every now and then, which I’m astounded by because he played soccer before this,” she said. “But it’s good for him, especially at this age. … It’s great to see them all so excited to come together for this opportunity.”
Brian Leaf, another parent, said this is his son’s third year playing youth basketball. Leaf was appreciative of the parent-organized league before the high school coaches created the feeder program, a sentiment Doleac shared, but he said his son, Wyatt, really enjoys playing with the high school coaches.
Because Wyatt has played with the same group for three years that was essentially co-opted into the feeder program, Brian Leaf has seen the enthusiasm around basketball grow firsthand.
“Ever since (Wyatt’s) been in it, more and more kids have been coming into the competitive league,” Leaf said. “When he started out there were 10 or 11 kids that were on one team. Now they have 30 kids come out this past year. … It’s still small, but there’s some talented kids out here.”
As for Park City becoming a bona-fide basketball town, Leaf said the jury is still out.
Even if it’s never a sport that defines Park City, Purcell said it could be a major component of the sports scene.
“I see basketball in PC as being something parents can be really proud of,” he said. “They will start to be proud this year, but in the next few we are going to be very successful, and I think the youth program will be very valuable in restocking the shelves with good young talent.”
But can the coaches and parents keep up with the demand?
Purcell said he is optimistic that he and Doleac will find ways to lessen their workload while keeping the level of coaching they want for their upcoming players.
“I think a situation like this becomes infectious,” he said, adding that so long as the program has a positive effect, people will want to be a part of it.
“And if not,” he said, “We’ll just work harder.”
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The Miners are battling injuries and absences to key players but expect things to turn around once they get healthy.