BRADENTON — A big smile flashes across Michael Frey’s face when he thinks about playing basketball during the summer for Bradenton Christian.
The pickup games inside BCS’ steamy gym are tolerable, but it’s the two-week excursion through 12 states that makes the team bond grow stronger every year.
The Panthers recently returned from their annual trip and were back in the friendly confines of the Panthers Den.
“It’s kind of what separates us from the other teams,” Frey said. “We are together so much on these trips and during the season, always doing team nights. And it builds such a good camaraderie and good chemistry from doing all of these things, and I think that’s what sets us apart.”
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During the two-week road trip, BCS visited or played basketball at 12 colleges, including Notre Dame, Kansas, Valparaiso and Tulsa.
They also played basketball at the Heroes Camp in Indiana, a basketball camp for inner-city youth run by Panthers coach David Magley’s brother, Pat.
Frey, a rising senior and reigning Herald All-Area Player of the Year, had been ill and couldn’t play for a while, so the trip helped work him back into basketball shape.
“It was really cool, and we got a lot of good looks from a lot of good schools,” Frey said. “It’s good exposure for you. I actually saw myself improve a lot. I saw a good improvement in my shot and my handles.”
The annual trip is just another contributing factor to Bradenton Christian’s success over the past decade. The Panthers have nine consecutive 20-win seasons, six regional final appearances and four trips to the Class 1A state semifinals.
“These kids put a lot of work in,” said Magley, entering his 10th season as Panthers coach. “I try to re-create my childhood. My childhood was playing against men and going to colleges and playing against college guys, and that’s how we got exposure when we were kids. There wasn’t such a thing as AAU. I’m not older than dirt, but I’m older than AAU. We just go out and network through different friends, and we’ve had enough really good players that people want to see us.
“So when I tell people I think I have a guy that can play at your level, people want to see us play.”
The teens also swam and ran the mile-high dunes of Lake Michigan, went inner tubing on Lake James in northwest Indiana and rode speedboats around the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri.
Now, that’s a summer vacation.
“I went tubing in two of those lakes and swimming in all three,” Frey said. “That was a lot of fun. Freshwater is nice, and you don’t have to worry about the salt and all of the scary fish.”
For someone like rising sophomore center Brian Cobb, who will play his first year of varsity basketball in the upcoming season, the trip helped him become more acquainted with his teammates, and it also exposed him to big-time basketball.
“It was the best competition you can get during the summertime,” he said. “Everyone else is just sitting at home. We got to bond a lot with the team, and we saw a lot of good colleges.”
And with that, another basketball player has been introduced to the Panther way of life.