Earl Hawkins, director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association boys basketball committee, might be the most partisan on the issue that filled conversation during last weekend's state finals:
“I hate shot clocks,” he said.
In Friday's 2A state semifinal win against South Carroll, Lake Clifton held the ball for nearly the entire second quarter. The Lakers spent 7 minutes and 38 seconds occasionally making passes without a serious attempt to score, until finally getting into their offense with 22 seconds left in the period. Although both teams played at a faster tempo during the game's other three quarters, the stall tactics sparked discussion about the need for a shot clock.
Just eight states use a shot clock, according to a 2011 USA Today article, but Maryland is the only state that uses a shot clock for girls and not boys (or vice versa). When the Maryland girls adopted National Federation of State High School Association rules about 20 years ago, they kept the shot clock they were already using, even though national rules don't call for one.
Because Maryland schools already have shot clocks installed for girls games, that mitigates a significant hurdle to implementing their use for the boys — the cost. An extra official still would be required to operate the clock during boys games, though.
MPSSAA Executive Director Ned Sparks said the shot clock has been discussed on a state-wide level and that Maryland has endorsed proposals before the NFHS that would alow states to independently determine whether to use a shot clock.
Hawkins, who also serves as athletic director for the Prince George's County Public Schools, estimated 60 to 70 percent of coaches don't want a shot clock.
“It takes it out of the coaches' hands,” Hawkins said. “If I've got to shoot every 30 seconds, that means I've got to execute, run a play and get up a quick shot. And I don't think that's the way things should be taught. I think we need to be able to teach kids how to play basketball without the threat of a shot being taken so quickly.
“What the game should be about at the high school level is teaching kids fundamentals of the game, how to execute, how to run an offense in a half-court setting, and how can you do that if you've got a shot clock?”
Rushed shots might be a more common concern for opponents of a shot clock, but shot-clock supporters point to the extreme cases like Friday's South Carroll-Lake Clifton game or Saturday's Oregon 5A girls championship game. In the latter game, which finished with a score of 16-7 due to prolonged stalls, neither team even attempted a shot in the second quarter.
Although fans at the Comcast Center jeered and snickered at Lake Clifton on Friday, they showed more excitement toward the game during that second quarter than any other point. Hawkins also saw a great learning experience for South Carroll.
“They had to stay focused,” Hawkins said. “They had to stay mentally tough, because every now and then, the other team was passing it. They were moving, so you can't lose focus. You have to understand it probably takes more concentration to stand there and be focused on what's going on when nothing's happening than when there's a lot of movement.”
Lake Clifton's stall actually backfired. Lake Clifton guard James Boone stepped out of bounds with 15.2 seconds left in the second quarter and South Carroll junior forward Gavin McTavish made a 3-pointer to tie the game at 14-14 with five seconds left. The three-possession second quarter, including Lake Clifton's desperation heave after McTavish's basket, ended moments later.
“I'd hold it, too,” South Carroll coach Doug Goff said. “I don't blame them for doing what they thought they had to do to win. If that's what they thought their best strategy was, go ahead and win. I mean, that's the rules, so take advantage of it how you can.”
But the question becomes, should the rules change?
Montrose Christian coach Stu Vetter thinks so. Above all, he'd prefer uniform rules for his team's regular season and postseason games. Montrose brought in a portable shot clock just to practice for the National High School Invitational, which will take place later this month at Georgetown Prep. Vetter said he leans toward implementing a shot clock. His main argument: A shot clock prepares players for college basketball, which uses a 35-second shot clock, or even the NBA, which uses a 24-second shot clock.
“The negative that I see is that, at all levels, is that the shot clock does present teams with instances where they have to take bad shots,” Vetter said. “I'm a purist. I like to take good shots, and I like kids to understand what's a good shot and a bad shot. Unfortunately, the shot clock does tend to rush players into taking bad shots. I think that's not a good thing for the game.”
Vetter said his team hasn't stalled in years, but his players can be so patient in their spread offense that observers have thought his players were no longer looking to score.
Vetter said a 35-second shot clock would be his preference, but he also mentioned 45 seconds, the same length Goff favored. Hawkins said if the MPSSAA were to adopt a shot clock, he'd prefer 30 seconds, because a high school game (32 minutes) is shorter than a college game (40 minutes)
“I think eventually, it's going to be a shot clock, because I think high schools move a little slower than the colleges — everything from high schools wanting to display a traditional game to the economics of it. You have to buy a clock, and those cost a little bit more money for the high schools to afford that,” Vetter said. “But I think, eventually, everybody will have a shot clock.”