Every now and then – even with the great things in life like the game of basketball – a little change is needed just to keep things moving forward into the next generation. Change is always a scary thing because people get comfortable with the way things are and naturally fear what things will be like if attempted in a different way. What usually happens is people change, they evaluate, and they eventually work out the kinks. In the end, most people usually seem to like the finished product much better than the old one. I feel high school basketball in Ohio is facing
change once again, and this time it is the shot clock that needs to be plugged into play throughout the Buckeye state.
In talking to people that played and watched basketball throughout the 60s and 70s, fans love to describe the old, box-like gyms that had shooters in range as soon as they dribbled past the half court line. The stories say that these gyms were fine for the days of the 5-foot-11 centers in boys’ basketball, but as time moved on and players became bigger, faster, stronger it became necessary to increase the floor size and give these improving athletes more room to operate with their athletic ability.
“When I played basketball the gyms were so small I use to get back on free throw situations and blend in with the crowd that surrounded the floor,” said 1955 Unioto graduate Don Neff who scored over 1,000 points in his “three-point line free” career and remained Unioto’s all-time leading scorer for more than three decades. “A big guy had quite an advantage during that time period and various rule changes slowly started to give the shorter, quicker player a chance to be more competitive.”
As the game moved forward, players continued to improve athletically and the high percentage shot became the premium. Players with great size would setup camp down low and wait for the opportunity to dominate each offensive possession. The game first utilized the three-second rule and various lane sizes and this helped a little, but the game truly became balanced when the three-point line was integrated into play.
This offensive weapon did wonders for the game. It not only gave the great post player more room to operate, but it forced athletes to cover more room defensively which gave perimeter players more room to cut, slash, and create shots for all five positions.
“I felt like the three-point line really added excitement to the game – the end of the game in particular,” said Neff. “Technology and things simply evolving have allowed sports to continue to improve for the better. I think the shot clock would do nothing but make a great game even better.”
The shot that is referred to as a trey, a triple, or even a trifecta has revolutionized the game in a great way. A player who can knock down this jump shot at a 33-percent clip is now as efficient as a player who makes half the shot attempts inside the paint. This change forced coaches to reevaluate strategies and it forced players to be able to defend all areas on the floor. You could no longer let a guy stand 20 feet from the basket all alone and shoot a shot that was worth as much as a lay-up. This improvement in the “risk and reward” strategy of dropping down on the dominate post player had started to become a more complex decision.
“When the three-pointer was first added to the high school game, I did not think that it would impact the game all that much,” said former coach Ron Lovely who led Bishop Flaget High School to a perfect 23-0 start in 1983 without the three-point line and then led Unioto to three league titles and seven straight sectional titles from 1990-1996 using the three-point line. “I found out real quick in my first game coaching (a game in which Coach Lovely lost by five while giving up 11 three-point FGs) that it was going to be something that changed the game quite a bit.”
Coach Lovely, who won well over 300 games in his fine basketball coaching career, continued by saying he thinks the shot clock could have a similar impact on today’s game.
“I think the shot clock would really add to the strategy of the game on both ends,” Lovely said. “Major rule changes in high school basketball have often times trickled down from the college game, so I am surprised that this has not made its way to high school yet.”
The idea of getting our high school sports aligned with the college game is something Zane Trace volleyball coach Lori Merriman supports. Merriman – who while at Westfall coached Cassie Sowers before the three-time SVC Player of the Year went on to play her college ball at Eastern Michigan – believes changing the game is important in the area of recruiting as well.
“I think having the high school sports aligned with the college game really helps student-athletes know the game better, and it allows the elite players to get a better idea of how the game operates at the next level,” Merriman said. “I know volleyball has made some nice improvements to the high school game here of late, and it has really helped make the game better.”
True fans love to see people in charge looking to improve great things to keep them great in the years to come. Many people commend the OHSAA, the administrators of the Ohio high schools, and the coaches for how they have improved many of the Ohio sports here lately. Take volleyball for example. Rally scoring, passing rules getting more hands involved in the skill-set of players, and the libero. All of these things are geared to the college game, and even the “old school” fans that are not crazy about some of these passing rules seem to agree that the game has become a better game.
“I think from a fan’s perspective it gives the game a better tempo and is much more enjoyable to watch,” Merriman said. “From a coaching perspective it has changed the game as well. There is much more of risk/reward in serving and hitting aggressively. You have to get kids to understand when and where to take more of a chance.”
Another example is football. The best thing Ohio has done in recent years is expand the playoffs. Just like the wildcard did in Major League Baseball, the expanded format – which allows eight teams in each region to make the playoffs instead of the old rule of four – in Ohio’s high school football playoffs has accomplished the same thing. Ninety-six teams that would have been buying tickets in week 11 under the old format are now strapping their pads on one more time in hopes of advancing to the state’s final four. This format also has another four or five teams from each region – approximately another 100 schools – still dreaming of the postseason all the way down to weeks nine and 10. Being 6-2 after week eight no longer has you ready to put the pads away and ready to get the basketballs out, but instead, it has players, coaches, and fans hanging onto the possibility of sneaking into that eighth and final spot.
“The playoff expansion opened up a can of worms in a good way,” said Paint Valley head football coach Pete Hollon who in 2003 led his Bearcats to the regional finals. “It helped schools that play in a little bigger conference still be able to get rewarded even if they suffered a loss or two. It has generated good revenue for schools and really helped the sport grow.”
Every year in week 11 you see lower seeds go on the road and beat – and sometimes severely beat – the higher-seeded home team. This possibly tells fans that the old system did not always produce the best teams in week 11. Change has now given football in Ohio a chance to find the best team in each division.
Money is a concern, but let’s face it; money is going to be a part of many decisions. Schools find a way to get things they need, and a shot clock would be no different. When schools had to add the three-point line onto each floor they did so, and now when schools are being asked to wear white uniforms at home, small schools all over Ohio have scrambled to replace the gold, grey, or whatever they wore at home by getting new uniforms to meet the requirements.
“With today’s technology, this would not be that hard to do,” said Hollon who also serves as Paint Valley’s athletic director. “I know in some tournaments and AAU ball that our kids have been involved with the shot clock and our kids loved it. It made the game fun and gave the game a much nicer tempo.”
It is time for a shot clock in high school basketball here in Ohio! Set a deadline and get this done. Allow schools to plan ahead and get this implemented into this great game. Give the coaches the challenge of having another thing to strategize. Help put more of a premium on decision-making and time-and-score situations into a game that is quickly becoming more about bigger, faster, stronger and less about execution.
Align the game more to the college game. Play two, 16-minute halves with a 35-second shot clock, and allow the game to take on a more consistent flow. This will bring more parity to the game, because coaches and players can utilize the shot-clock on both ends to help pace the game to their liking.
I know some people are against it, but before shooting down the shot clock remember the serve-to-score volleyball matches of the past and the four team playoff formats. Remember the game of basketball before the three-point line and then think about the dramatic finishes that you have witnessed because of this shot. Remember that change for the better is the reason those old ways seem the way they do, and give the game of basketball an opportunity to take off the way it has in the past when great changes were given a chance.