Working on their game

Trio hones skills in Youth League basketball.

By DEREK J. LaRIVIERE, Times Correspondent
Published December 7, 2007

They grew up shooting hoops in the driveway. Now these same youths are playing together in Hernando Youth League Basketball. The trio includes Matthew Bennett, Danielle South and Jonathan Parker. As members of the Cortez Community Bank-sponsored 13- and 14-year-old team, these youths are showing why their futures on the court are bright.

Danielle, 14, is a junior varsity starter at Central. She plays power forward for the team and plays very well in the post. If she misses, the freshman always tries to follow her shot.

"Playing with the guys makes me a better player," Danielle said. "You have to be a little more aggressive to play down low (in HYL), so that helps when I play in school."

Jonathan, 14, is only in eighth grade and plays for the Challenger K-8 program. Yet he is already 6 feet 2. Like any youth that reaches that height at such an early age, he is still struggling to learn how to use that size in the paint.

"I've been playing (organized) ball for a long time," Jonathan said. "At my height, I need to work on my game as much as possible if I am going to make an impact (in high school)."

Matthew, 14, is a point guard on the junior varsity team at Central as a freshman. He admits that he enjoys driving to the hoop and passing it out for others to score. Coaches have been trying to get Matthew to look for his own shot from time to time - something he's still getting used to.

"I guess that it really just comes down to getting good enough that (we) can be a big part of our school teams," Matthew said. "My dad does a good job of pushing me and letting me know where I need to improve."

Michael Bennett is the coach for the Cortez Community Bank team and league director for HYL basketball. He understands that youths like these play basketball outside of the school because they love the sport and want to improve as much as possible.

When the schedule was drawn up, Bennett decided to pool the 13- and 14-year-old teams into the same schedule as the 15- through 17-year-old teams. In last Saturday's opener at Faith Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, everyone saw the results of that decision as Cortez Community Bank matched up with Lyle Plummer Welding Services.

Matthew, Danielle and Jonathan led the team to a 28-20 victory, scoring 20 of the Cortez's 28 total points.

Matthew led the scoring effort with 12 points while Danielle added seven points. Parker owned the glass with eight boards and played stellar post defense with three blocked shots.

"Even though we won the game, we all know that this is a fun league and the main goal for these kids is to get better," Michael Bennett said. "Watching today's game, it was easy to see that there were a lot of ways for us to improve as a team."