AUGUSTA — Carter Hunt saw a chance to make a play to win the game. The senior on the Skowhegan boys basketball team was chasing the action after a teammate stole the ball from a Lawrence player and went down the court for a layup, and when it missed, Hunt leapt into action. He beat the surrounding Lawrence players to the ball, grabbing an offensive rebound that, with inside of 10 seconds remaining, all but iced a 40-37 Skowhegan win.

“I did not want to lose to them again,” Hunt said.

He was referring to last year’s Class A North final, a Lawrence win over Skowhegan, but this play didn’t come in a tournament game. It came in the middle of the offseason, in the playoffs of the G&E Roofing summer basketball league at Cony High School, where one might think the players and coaches go through the motions at half speed as a way to casually practice some sets and concepts.

Players from Winthrop and Forest Hills compete during a G&E Roofing series playoff game Monday in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Watch a few possessions of a game, however, and it becomes clear that that’s not the case. Players dive for loose balls. They step in to take charges. They risk taking an elbow to the face to get that gritty offensive rebound.

Ask the players about it, and you get a simple explanation. They’re basketball players, and put a basketball player on a court, and it doesn’t matter what time of year it is.

“Coach (Todd MacArthur) drills that into our head, we play every game just like it’s a regular season game,” Winthrop senior Cam Hachey said. “That’s just something we pride ourselves on, especially on the defensive end. Getting it done, taking charges. Getting on the floor for loose balls. It’s just good habits to have come season time.”

That was the case when the league began at the start of the month. Now that the playoffs have arrived, the players have necome even more serious.

“It definitely puts a little competitive edge (into it),” Hunt said. “You know you’re playing for something. … It makes us work a little harder, because we want it more.”

“They’re not going to cry if they lose, but if they lose, they’re going to be ticked off. They don’t want to lose,” Cony coach T.J. Maines said. “They step on the floor, they feel like they’re playing for something. It might be some T-shirts this time around instead of a Gold Ball, but they’re playing for something. Any time you’re playing for something, it’s worth playing hard.”

And it’s not just the players. A coach gets as riled up about a bad screen in July as he does in February.

“Some guys are way more animated than others. The difference is some of them are coaching in flip-flops and shorts,” Maines said. “Some guys are pretty quiet in the summertime, and other guys are as explosive as ever.”

The league is in its seventh season, and its reputation has started to precede it. Nokomis joined up for the first time this season, and coach Ryan Martin said he was drawn by the intense clip of the competition.

“I think that’s one of the draws of this league, is the competition, how seriously the kids take it, how seriously the coaches take it,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s what’s going to make you better. When you get challenged by other teams and other players, it makes you better.”

The league is designed to be a forum for trying things out and seeing what works and what doesn’t work before the season begins. But in order for a coach to get the right impression of his team, and in order for the players to get the right understanding of their teammates, the execution has to be on point.

“Our thing is creating good habits,” Martin said. “We really believe that the habits you create during the summer are going to carry over into the winter.”

One of those habits is winning basketball games, and doing the things necessary at the end of a game in order to do so. That’s why, in the playoffs, teams will play their upperclassmen or the players having a great summer more. It’s not because of the goal of winning a summer league title, it’s because getting used to winning in July can be a key to remembering how to win in December on.

“You’re trying to put them in different spots,” Maines said. “This doesn’t pertain to winning a state championship later on, it doesn’t go on your resume or anything else. But there might be a coach where you’ve got a young team and you want them to learn how to win games, so you’re really focused on your end of game stuff or what they’re doing.”

Maranacook and Winslow basketball players compete during a G&E Roofing tournament game Monday in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Where the coaches don’t need to do much teaching, however, is in the competitive mindset of the players. Whether they’ve been playing basketball or American Legion baseball or 7-on-7 football or 18 holes a day during the summer, when they get on the court, the basketball rhythm comes right back.

“That’s exactly how we play during the season,” Maranacook junior Cash McClure said. “A lot of energy, and then I’m sure every player wants to win more than anything. We all hate losing just the same, with our intensity and our competitiveness.”

“We have a job to do when we go out there,” Hachey said. “We just try to bring the same intensity every game.”