AUGUSTA — Summer basketball came back to central Maine this year. With a twist.

After being shelved last season due to the coronavirus, the G&E Roofing League, which pits many of the area’s boys basketball teams against each other throughout the month, returned for another year of preparing teams for the upcoming season.

The difference? Games have been outside at Augusta’s Williams Park, in the elements. Under the sun, in the wind, and sometimes after the rain.

“It’s definitely a different experience,” Messalonskee senior guard Owen Axelson said. “If it’s too sunny out or windy, shooting the ball is weird. But it’s nice to be outside. It’s a nice day, it’s nice to be out playing. It affects us, but sometimes it’s not too bad.”

“When the weather’s been cooperative, it’s been a great experience. We’ve gotten really good feedback from players and parents,” Cony coach T.J. Maines added. “You’re hesitant (to do it) because it’s harder to shoot outside. It’s not easy. … But once you get into the rhythm of it, it is fun. It’s just a different way.”

The league — which included Cony, Lawrence, Gardiner, Winthrop, Lisbon, Lincoln Academy, Messalonskee, Medomak Valley, Winslow, Hall-Dale, Waterville, Skowhegan and Nokomis — began its playoffs Monday, with semifinals and the championship slated for Wednesday afternoon. In addition to serving as a unique element to the annual league, outdoor play also provided a throwback of sorts.

“A lot of these guys, they haven’t grown up playing outside,” Maines said. “That’s how I grew up playing, on tennis courts in Bath. Everybody went (outside), you played pick-up on the courts. I think for a lot of us that are of our age, that’s how we played. So it’s pretty cool to kind of re-introduce that idea to these kids.”

Skowhegan coach Tom Nadeau was among the ones who said outdoor basketball was a flashback to yesteryear.

Fans keep the pressure on officials during a summer basketball game between Messalonskee and Lincoln Academy on Monday at Williams Playground in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“It’s not new for me,” he said. “When I played in high school (at Skowhegan), this is where we played.”

For the players, Nadeau said there’s been an acclimation process.

“It takes an adjustment,” he said. “On a windy day, shots aren’t falling, you’ve got to be able to find a way to get the ball in the hoop. We’ve had a few of those.”

Axelson said players have had to learn not to get frustrated by being denied by a gust of wind.

“It does affect you mentally,” he said. “You could have a shot that looks amazing, and you just airball it. It’s definitely mental.”

Nadeau said for those days, the answer isn’t to re-work the shot to adjust for the wind.

“I just say ‘Get a higher percentage shot,'” he said. “And it’s a little more slick out here, too.”

Those aren’t the only challenges. When temperatures soared into the 90s earlier in the month, players dealt with high humidity and a sizzling sun.

“If it’s in the direct sunlight, it’s terrible,” Axelson said. “You’re looking straight into the sun, you’re baking. You’re trying to shoot with the sun in your eyes. … If it’s nice weather, mid-70s, then you’re good.”

Coaches took to calling more timeouts for rest, and players made sure they kept up with their hydration.

Cony coach TJ Maines speaks with officials before a summer basketball game Monday at Williams Playground in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“I went down (the road) and bought a gallon of water, for each game,” said Gardiner senior forward Ryan Moore, whose team set up a tent to offer shade on one particularly brutal day. “I just drank it all. The sun drains the energy right out of you. … But it’s better than not playing.”

Moore’s coach, Aaron Toman, said he’s stressed to his team to take the unique circumstances as a challenge.

“Early on, the boys were a little hesitant about playing outside and just getting used to it, but I think it’s been great,” he said. “It’s a cool experience for the boys, it’s kind of old school.”

Different as playing outside may be, the point of the league is the same. The objective is to further understand schemes, workshop ideas and get a better feel for playing with teammates, which can be done indoors, in 95-degree heat or in the rain.

“I would say chemistry-wise and teamwork-wise, it’s definitely great,” Axelson said. “Running sets, getting used to your new teammates, it’s great.”

“A lot of coaches out here, you’re trying to start to create an identity for what you want your team to look like during the winter,” Toman added. “So I definitely think there are some takeaways that you can get from this summer season into the indoor season, whether that’s style of play, certain play calls, the way you want to play.”

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