Kent Zakour: High school basketball needs a shot clock -- Gazette.Net


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My father played high school basketball at Lignonier Valley High School in Western Pennsylvania during the 1960s. Throughout my 27 years of life, he has, from time-to-time, told me stories about what he refers to as his athletic glory days.

Usually, I rolled my eyes and shook my head in disgust, wondering how a 63-year old man would've looked in short shorts, which, of course, were in style back then.

But, in all seriousness, he would tell me tales of games that often ended with scores in the 20s and how teams would often play “four corners” on offense, spreading the floor and passing the basketball around the perimeter of the court without ever intending to score.

And I would wonder, “How is that possible?” After all, my first vivid memory of watching basketball was when I was 6 and the original Dream Team rewarded sports fans with highlight-reel passes and dunks, scoring more than 100 points per game during the 1992 summer Olympics.

My father's stories of his basketball glory days all came rushing back to the forefront of my memory Friday evening when I sat on press row at the Comcast Center and rolled my eyes again while watching a controversial (albeit within the rules) ending to a Class 2A state semifinal between Frederick County's Oakdale High School and Baltimore City's Edmondson/Westside.

As I watched an otherwise entertaining game dwindle to a halt, the majority of my colleagues in attendance wondered: Why is there no shot clock? Every other significant level of competitive basketball (youth leagues do not count in my book) has a shot clock. Additionally, most of the region's private school leagues, including the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, Interstate Athletic Conference and Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play with a 35-second shot clock in an effort to improve the game and prepare their student-athletes for the college game.

With no shot clock to dictate the pace of play on Friday, an Edmondson player literally held the ball on his hip near half court with no intention of scoring for almost a quarter's worth of time late in the double-overtime contest. Throughout all of this, fans on Oakdale's side of the arena booed while Edmondson's faithful cheered.

But Edmondson was just playing by (a bad) rule.

“Oakdale, they pretty much let us hold the ball,” Edmondson coach Darnell Dantzler said after Friday's game. “If they pressed our ballers, we was going to attack, but they pretty much let us hold the ball, so I said the score's tied let's take the last shot.”

In the end, the tactic proved to be genius since the Red Storm's decision to play stall ball against an athletically-outmatched Oakdale team sitting back on defense resulted in a 60-56 victory and the program's first state championship on Saturday.

I, however, would prefer to call the coaching decision a chicken choice because stall ball is not likely in the spirit of the game Dr. James Naismith created.

The National Federation of State High School Associations' rules, which govern most high school athletic programs throughout the country, do not mandate a shot clock to be used in girls or boys high school basketball. But the NFHS does allow states to make their own exceptions

Only eight states use a shot clock, according to a 2011 USA Today article, but the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association is the only state organization that implements a shot clock for girls and not boys (or vice versa). When the state's girls adopted NFHS rules, they kept the 30-second shot clock even though national rules don't call for one.

So why don't the boys? Even Bears coach Terry Connolly and Dantzler both admitted they would like to see a shot clock implemented. Of the numerous coaches I have talked to throughout my four-plus years at The Gazette and 25 years of living and playing high school sports in Montgomery County, I would estimate two-thirds are in favor of playing with a universal shot clock of some kind.

It doesn't need to be 24 or 35 seconds. Forty-five seconds would even suffice, but to have none is a travesty.

The NFHS has received proposals in recent years for implementing a shot clock, but they have not been approved. In April 2012, NFHS decided the sport is “functioning well without it,” according a news release at the time.

“The committee also expressed a belief that the game is typically played with an up-tempo style even without a shot clock,” Kent Summers, the director of performing arts and sports at the NFHS, said at the time. “In addition, the committee believes that coaches should have the option of a slower-paced game if they believe it makes their team more competitive in specific situations.”

On one hand, I agree with Summers. On the other hand, perhaps my larger and more dominant left, I disagree.

Yes, the game, in theory, is evened without a shot clock. A less-skilled team can, in theory, slow the game down by running clock to remain competitive against a superior team. But how often does that actually happen and work?

If a team, actually runs offensive sets and takes a minute or so off the clock, but elects to not shoot, that's fine with me. But for a player to hold the ball on their hip and make a mockery of the sport is disgusting.

A superior team can play tight man-to-man defense and force five-second violations and turnovers to mitigate the tactic. But in Oakdale's case, a lack of a shot clock hurt them. The Bears were clearly slower and admittedly could not guard Edmondson tightly without fouling or having a player go by them for an easy layup. With a shot clock, there would've been many more possessions and a better opportunity, perhaps, for Oakdale.

And less eye rolling by me.

Kent Zakour (kzakour@gazette.net) is the Assistant Sports Editor for The Gazette