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Shot clock may benefit HS hoops

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Earlier this week, the National Federation of State High School Associations Basketball Rules Committee voted to allow a 35-second shot clock in high school basketball beginning in the 2022-2023 season.

It’s now up to each individual state to decide whether to go forward with it.

The next PIAA board meeting is scheduled for May 26, and it isn’t yet clear whether it will immediately be a topic of conversation with the looming state track and field championships and high school baseball, softball, boys volleyball and boys tennis postseasons about to begin.

But the topic is already creating plenty of discussion across the state and country — from both sides.

I have covered high school basketball for nearly 20 years and have seen examples of games screaming for a shot clock. In 2019, the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic boys played a doubleheader at DuBois during the second round of the PIAA Class 2A playoffs, and Ridgway and Wilmington were both in single digits as the game approached the half. Neither team seemed interested in changing that as minutes passed with players holding the ball at midcourt.

I’ve also covered Mark Moschella-coached Bishop Guilfoyle girls teams that were so good at ball-control offense that a five-point fourth quarter lead might as well have been 20. Some might say that’s a manipulation of what basketball is supposed to be, but those are the way the rules have been written for high school basketball, and developing the ability to play that way is certainly a skill.

Central boys basketball coach Paul Frederick said he would be in support of a shot clock, but during his time as an assistant coach under former Scarlet Dragons coach Reggie Nevins, and at times during his tenure as head coach, Frederick has directed offenses that could have picked up several shot clock violations on just one possession.

“When you get teams who like to play a faster style and get them out of their comfort zone a little bit and force them to play defense longer than they like to and give them less offensive possessions, that can get teams more uncomfortable than they normally would be,” Frederick said. “The biggest thing was giving teams less possessions. It puts the pressure on them to make them. We have certainly used that in the past, and at times it was to kill the clock, but other times it was pass the ball until you get a really good shot whether it takes 15 seconds or a minute and a half.”

But it takes a certain type of team to be able to play that way successfully, and its something that takes skill, repetition, dedication and work.

“You’ve got to have guys that are real smart with the basketball, and obviously you have to have a handful of good ballhandlers,” Frederick said. “A couple years ago, we had a couple teams where we’d spread the floor out in a three-guard set and just let them dribble around. As soon as something opened up, they would go and create, but that sometimes took over a minute until there was something we liked. But it’s not just something you can just do. If you don’t have the team to do it, more times than not, it ends up with a turnover instead of a good shot. You have to have guys that are committed to that style, and that’s not always the case in high school basketball.”

No one in District 6 has run that style more successfully in the past 15 years than current Marion Center boys coach Ralph McGinnis. When McGinnis was at Blairsville, his girls teams had a lot of talent but never any standout scoring stars. That didn’t stop Blairsville from becoming one of the best teams in District 6 Class 2A basketball at a time where that classification and district was the toughest anywhere in the state.

Blairsville was a thorn in Bishop Guilfoyle’s side for years before beating eventual PIAA champion Bellwood-Antis in the District 6 playoffs by getting an early lead and playing keep away. The Lady Blue Devils, a young team at the time, felt pressured knowing they wouldn’t get a lot of shots. They missed early, and Blairsville kept it away from them the rest of the game after building a lead. To the Devils credit, they grew and matured from the loss and avenged the defeat by winning in the PIAA semifinals. The games might not have been filled with a lot of exciting shots, but it was great drama, and it was a huge hurdle for a team that played Bellwood’s style to get past that challenge. Once B-A did, plenty of gold followed.

“Ralph was a great coach (during his time with Blairsville), and he had a style that he loved and coached very well,” said Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney, who favors the addition of the shot clock. “I don’t blame anybody if that’s the game that they like to play. I think it’s a great way to win basketball games, and Lord knows, he’s won a lot of basketball games that way. But I do think there’s even strategy with the shot clock. When you look at teams that press now, it’s more looking for turnovers. If you have a shot clock in play, you’ll see teams press just to try and eat up seconds off the shot clock. They are just trying to slow you down and force you into having as few seconds as possible for you to run your offense.”

When McGinnis coached his last game at Blairsville, I made sure to tell him that I respected the time, effort and patience it took to perfect a system like that. Not to mention the nightly abuse from parents screaming to play basketball or to take a shot as minutes or sometimes entire quarters passed.

But I can acknowledge those upset people at the games weren’t wrong. It didn’t really seem like basketball the way it was intended to be played, and putting a shot clock in would certainly change that.

“I think the shot clock, what it does, is that it continues the game in a flow,” Philipsburg-Osceola boys coach T.J. Anderson said. “It allows us to keep different actions going and it doesn’t slow the pace of the game down, especially late in the game. It keeps things moving, especially if it’s 30 seconds.”

Anderson, who also coached and had success at Juniata Valley, has a unique perspective on the topic. In addition to coaching high school basketball, he operates several AAU teams and plays in tournaments across the country with high school kids that are already using a shot clock.

“It changes the whole ballgame,” Anderson said. “Coaches will have to be up on the new trends of different sets. Once your plays start to break down late in the shot clock, you have to come up with certain things. Two-for-ones also come into play. Zone presses become effective, because you can waste almost 10 seconds getting the ball over halfcourt, now you need to get into an offense that can allow you to score quickly.”

Anderson believes learning to play with a shot clock is paramount, especially for players trying to continue their basketball careers at the next level. He believes it so strongly that he’s already instituted it into his daily practices.

“We always practice with a shot clock,” Anderson said. “We want our kids to score within 30 seconds, because it just trains them to be ready and be efficient when it comes to running our offense. Anything we can mimic for our kids to go right into college and play is a good thing. From workouts to the shot clock and the sets you’re running, you want them to be comfortable walking into a college atmosphere.”

Bishop Guilfoyle boys coach Chris Drenning, who led the Marauders to the PIAA championship game in 2019 and the PIAA semifinals last season, runs one of the more exciting offenses in the area. The news of a possible shot clock was unsurprisingly great news to him.

“I am 1,000 percent behind adding a shot clock,” Drenning said. “I hope they pass that tomorrow — or at least as soon as possible.”

Drenning said the rule change would mean something to him not just as a coach but as a fan of the game.

“It brings all new strategy into play,” said Drenning, who agreed with Anderson that it would also prepare players for the collegiate level. “It forces you to play differently defensively. There’s a lot of different aspects to it, but I just personally don’t like watching or playing games where someone is taking 90 seconds off the clock every time they are coming down the court on offense waiting for the perfect shot. I’m a much bigger fan of the game when it’s played at a higher tempo, and you can have two-for-ones at the end of a quarter and things like that.”

The girls coach at Bishop Guilfoyle, Kristi Kaack, just led her team to a PIAA championship and has won the PIAA Class 2A and PIAA Class 1A Coach of the Year awards the last two seasons, respectively. She actually used the lack of a shot clock to help win the Lady Marauders’ PIAA quarterfinal game this season, but if the PIAA approved it, she would welcome the change.

“In the Coudersport game, we did that, and you use it to your advantage, but it’s more like college play for the kids who are preparing to go next year if they put the shot clock in now,” Kaack said. “I would be for a shot clock in high school girls basketball. Even when I coached at Mount Aloysius and we were recruiting, it was really hard to watch games where teams would stall the entire fourth quarter.”

It’s hard to imagine a change this massive in high school basketball happening any time soon due to how many schools would need to buy equipment and hire an extra scorekeeper for each game. NFHS guidelines mention displaying two timepieces that are connected to a horn that is distinctive from the game-clock horn and using an alternative timing device such as a stopwatch at the scorer’s table for a shot clock malfunction.

“The schools are going to have to buy shot clocks, and there’s going to have to be a shot clock operator,” Swaney said. “There will be an added expense to everything, and the referees’ job probably gets a little bit harder watching for shot-clock violations. I don’t know how much you would be talking for that kind of equipment. If you implement it for junior high, junior varsity and varsity for all three games, you’re talking having an extra scorekeeper there through all three games. Most schools, junior high and junior varsity-wise, you’re not making any money on those games to begin with. Now, you’re going to be paying out more. So, that’s kind of tough. That might be an issue with doing it at all levels or just doing it at the varsity level. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.”

Despite all that would need to be adopted to make it happen, Swaney wouldn’t be surprised if the PIAA made it work.

“I have seen a lot of changes since I have been involved with basketball,” Swaney said. “I have seen the 3-point line come in. I’ve seen us change from all using one basketball to using a boys basketball and a girls basketball, so maybe this would be another thing just in line with everything else.”

Change, though often resisted, more likely than not helps improve something. Though adding a shot clock would take some of the strategies that make high school basketball unique out of the game, it’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t make the game more watchable and would better prepare athletes for the next level.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 814-946-7521. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael

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