High school basketball: Here’s hoping time has run out on shot clock idea

The day was Saturday, March 17, 2012.

The Hedgesville (WV) High School boys basketball team was on the cusp of completing a run to the Class AAA state championship.

 

QJ

Q.J. Peterson at VMI

The Eagles were the No. 7 seed of eight state tournament teams preparing to play defending champion and No. 4 George Washington.

 

Under the guidance of coach Kelly Church, Hedgesville had dealt with typical ebbs and flows of a season. The Eagles averaged 69.4 points but were scoring more than 74 per game in their six pre-Christmas games.

Fleet-footed point guard Q.J. Peterson averaged 21 and prepared to surrender his points in exchange for a victory.

The Eagles were hardly Hoosiers and Church is not Norman Dale. Still, extended possessions and limiting George Washington’s was a staple of the game plan of Hedgesville’s 33-32 victory.

In the quarterfinals, it defeated Wheeling Park 39-37.

Prior to the state tournament, Hedgesville averaged 66.9 points, but scored 44.6 in three tourney games.

Simply because spectators are enamored with uptempo basketball doesn’t mean rule changes should be considered.

The NFHS is firm on its stance that a shot clock in prep basketball is not necessary. With the decision in the hands of state associations, implementation has occurred in only eight — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington. These states do not have a representative on the NFHS rules committee. In other words, don’t expect a nationwide decree for a rule change.

Kevin Garner, a former high school basketball coach and an assistant executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, has evidence that it could damage the product.

“The empirical data we have shows that a shot clock increases scoring by four points per game, and it decreases shooting percentages by quite a bit,” he told the Quincy, Ill.-based Herald-Whig newspaper last April.

That is not a big surprise.

In the era of AAU programs in which fundamentals are tossed aside in favor of run-and-gun offenses and rosters made up of stars from here, there, and all points in between, high school teams run the risk of having more turnovers than points with a shot clock.

Sound dramatic?

It really isn’t.

We could be looking at teams using roughly half of the court’s 84 feet, trading missed shots and volleying turnovers for 32 minutes.

A clock will speed up high school teams that are splintered in the offseason by travel programs yet lack the mechanics to be consistent shooters and scorers.

The center of the debate for those in favor is based on low-scoring results and the idea that preparing athletes for the college game is imperative.

MaxPreps.com, a website that provides teams a free format to document scores, statistics, and other data, revealed in a 2014 report that the states with a shot clock averaged 101.4 combined points per game. Those without scored 2.8 points more.

As for the collegians, a 2011 CBS News report — outdated but relevant — concludes that fewer than 1 in 35 high school seniors end up on teams in college.

Dr. Gregory Merrick is the director of Wheeling Hospital’s Schiffler Cancer Center. He also is the founder and director of the Cancer Research Classic, billed as the “Nation’s Premier Catholic High School Basketball Tournament,” a two-day basketball showcase in Wheeling that benefits cancer research.

He recently tweeted that “There should be no controversy regarding HS shot clock. HS basketball is about player development, not just W/L’s. SC improves players & coaches. The rest of the basketball world can’t be wrong. If coaches can’t prepare for 30 sec increments, they are in the wrong sport.”

Fair enough, but events like the CRC mostly deal in private schools, in-season travel teams and star-studded programs not constricted by rules of geography. These high-flying circus acts are appealing, but not typical. Most fans can deal with a plethora of turnovers if tempered by the occasional slam dunk, behind-the-back assists and acrobatics.

The wink and nod of administrators when it comes to transfer rule enforcement and the ongoing loosening of these guidelines must be considered. The lack of application of such rules results in what amounts to AAU teams in high school uniforms.

In other words, grassroots basketball would hit another pothole in a long line of bumps in the road.

West Virginia programs, in particular, would not benefit from a shot clock. The state’s talent has dwindled with the population, creating a considerable chasm in the haves and have nots.

Those who stand firm against the idea of a shot clock often emphasize costs. They are justified in their concerns.

A sporting goods provider local to the Herald-Whig told the publication that mounting a clock above each backboard costs anywhere from $2,000-$4,000 per basket. Clocks on a stand in the corner of the gym would save some money. However, the representative also said that the cost would increase if the clocks are not adaptable to the current scoreboards.

There also is the matter of clock operators.

Mostly volunteers keep the home scorebook — an official account of the game — as well as the scoreboard and possession arrow. While most do a standup job, these positions are typically unpaid with those not always adept or dependable.

Do we want to ask programs to find another volunteer at an already space-challenged scorer’s table to maintain a shot clock?

As a sportswriter for more than 25 years, I had seen point guards — ball on hip — stand in the backcourt as the clock ticks away and a defense refuses to budge from its zone defense.

This is a strategic cat-and-mouse game within a game that teams play, and also a rarity. Fans attempt to regulate the decision-making of some coaches, who don’t really like to hear the crowd chant, “boring, boring …” for four quarters.

If you think some high school coaches don’t succumb to their fans demands, you haven’t been paying attention.

As for Hedgesville and coach Church, it was a necessary tactic to protect player rotation, not typical to his coaching style.

“Two of our best players were in foul trouble and we decided to hold the ball,” Church told the media for a Charleston Gazette-Mail story the Monday after the state tournament. “I’m proud of our kids. It’s not easy to do, to just pass the basketball. It’s not easy to get the kids to buy into that.”

The Eagles averaged 72 points entering the 2012 tournament and scored 134 in three tournament games — including a 39-37 overtime quarterfinal victory against Wheeling Park — for an average of 44.7.

They were undefeated in the seven games that year in games in which the winning team scored fewer than 50 points. They played 29 games.

His strategic decision resulted in an unexpected state championship that probably would not have been possible with a shot clock.

The fact is, most players prefer to press. A pass-free fast break or steal and runout are almost as gratifying as dunks.

Preventing a team from stalling also requires strategy. Any full-court press or half-court trap can force an opponent’s hand — and stalling is not much of an option when trailing.

It should be no surprise that many well-known proponents of a shot clock are those who have spent little to no time as traditional high school coaches.

  • Paul Biancardi, who spent three years as coach at Wright State University and is now the ESPN National Recruiting Director for Boys High School Basketball
  • Rob Fulford, whose prep coaching experience is at Mountain State Academy and Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, neither of which are traditional high school teams
  • John Lucas, whose coaching career is on the professional level.

As for preparing high school players for college, keep in mind that only .03 percent of high school seniors will play college basketball.

The lack of a shot clock didn’t hurt Peterson, who is playing professionally overseas following a successful college career at Virginia Military Institute.

There are vocal proponents of a shot clock, but few who understand the limitations of some high school teams. Many of these programs are fueled by their local fan base.

Casual observers would undoubtedly attend more high-scoring games, adding a modicum of more money at the gate and concession stand.

A shot clock would not contribute to this end.

Why sacrifice strategy for a rule change that wouldn’t help anyway?

About Rich Stevens

A 26-year career in journalism has had me covering high school, college, and professional sports, as well as entertainment and issues that go beyond athletics.
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