The shot clock is ticking for change in Oregon high school basketball. It would if such a clock existed, anyway.
Currently, eight states use a shot clock for boys or girls basketball, despite the National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body of high school athletics in the United States, frequently denying proposals for national rule changes to include the clock.
But the shot clock may be an inevitability nationwide, including in Oregon. The eight states that already have the shot clock, really, are ahead of the game — or at least staying in stride with a sport that has evolved so much in recent years, into a fast-paced, high-scoring, entertaining game. Two of those trend-setting states are Oregon’s neighbors: Washington, the latest state to introduce the shot clock (in 2009), and California. It would seem, then, that Oregon would be among the next wave of shot clock users.
Just do not expect that next wave to crest anytime soon. Really, the originating ripples have not even formed.
“It’s not like it’s something that gets talked about at every meeting,” says Peter Weber, executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association. “I think maybe there’s been talk every once in a while from coaches. We work with the (Oregon Athletic Coaches Association) and they have meetings after each season and stuff. But even that, if I remember, has been a coach here or there; not, ‘Hey, we as coaches want to change something.’ The reality is, the shot clock is not allowed in high school by the (NFHS) rules.”
Dean Smith, the legendary men’s basketball coach at North Carolina from 1961 to 1997, was polarizing in his “four-corners” delay offense, a technique that helped Smith’s Tar Heels teams preserve late leads for countless victories during his tenure — and that led to the NCAA implementing the shot clock in 1985. Similar stalling tactics have been used over the years by teams not restricted to 30- or 35-second possessions by a shot clock. Notably, in the 2012 Class 5A girls state championship final here in Oregon, Willamette held the ball for minutes on end in an eventual loss to powerhouse Springfield, a 16-7 score that stands as the lowest-scoring state final in Oregon high school basketball history. In the second quarter of that game, Willamette had first possession and held the ball until just six seconds remained in the half. Springfield led 4-0 at the break.
Afterward, then-Willamette coach Paul Brothers conceded that he did not “like to play that kind of game, but I like to give our kids the best chance to win.”
“The game’s a little bit different (now),” says second-year Trinity Lutheran boys coach Kyle Gilbert, who coached middle school basketball and trained high school players in California for 14 years before arriving in Bend. “A lot of times (in California) you take your first open look right away because of the shot clock. But here, if it’s not necessarily a really great look, you can always keep it going, keep the offense rolling, and not worry about getting a shot off before the clock goes off.
“I would prefer a shot clock,” adds Gilbert, who played basketball at South Medford High School. “In my ideal world, you push in and you’re taking a good shot. The game’s fun and exciting. It’s energized. That’s sometimes what a shot clock provides. But it does hurt if you don’t have skilled people. That part does hurt because sometimes you can’t get a shot off and you end up just running the clock out.”
High school basketball is about development, about fine-tuning skills and gaining a better understanding of the game. Certainly some programs in Oregon are much more advanced than others. When the haves play the have-nots, the spread offenses (four corners) allow for a more even playing field. Only occasionally do teams in Oregon employ stalling tactics, though it does happen.
“I think 99 percent of the time, it wouldn’t even come into play,” says sixth-year Summit boys coach Jon Frazier, remembering road trips when he coached at other schools prior to Summit. “When we played in games in Washington and California, where they do have a shot clock, you’re almost unaware of it. The only thing … obviously in the fourth quarter, if you’re up five points with four minutes to go, a lot of teams will just purely stall” in the absence of a shot clock.
But, Frazier adds, “I think the pace of play you see in today’s basketball is pretty quick. The pace is fine. I don’t think there’s a lot of slow-down games that don’t have the flow to them.”
In Washington, girls basketball has included a shot clock since the early 1970s. In 1999, proposals to either do away with the timer or add it for boys basketball were denied by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. In spring 2009, however, a proposal to add the shot clock for boys basketball was approved. Starting in the 2009-10 season, at each level of high school basketball in Washington, the girls have played with a 30-second clock and the boys with a 35-second clock.
“There were some coaches who felt they wanted to be able to have (a slow-down spread offense) as an option,” says Cindy Adsit, an assistant executive director with the WIAA. “I don’t believe that even any of them thought that it would be a major adjustment. … If you watch games with a shot clock, most shots are taken with less than 20 seconds expired, anyway. If a clock gets to 30, it feels like the team has been in possession for a long time. It did not appear to be a major adjustment for anybody.”
Among pushbacks to shot clock proposals, foremost are the availability of clock operators and the cost of the equipment, which can be several thousand dollars. Adsit notes that complaints about stalling strategies to the WIAA have dropped significantly in the past seven years, which she ties directly to the use of shot clocks, which can be either mounted atop backboards or below scoreboards. (Adsit says there is no rule stipulating where shot clocks be located.)
In Oregon, at the OSAA, conversations surrounding such a rule change are infrequent. According to Weber, the OSAA executive director, the OSAA prides itself on being a voting member when it comes to national rule changes, and adopting the shot clock would cost the OSAA its national voting privilege. Weber says coaches, players and spectators are “either happy with (the status quo) or maybe they’re not happy with it but don’t see the need to change or maybe they see the potential obstacles of costs.”
Few — if any — recent boys or girls games have revived the memories of that slowed-down 5A girls state championship in 2012. Not often do games in Oregon have long-lasting possessions that have spectators glancing at their watches and wondering if they have time for a trip to the concession stand before a shot is finally attempted.
At this point, there is no pressing need for shot clock use in Oregon high school basketball. An uprising of coaches demanding the shot clock could prompt the OSAA’s consideration. But, as Weber observes, no such swelling of support for the shot clock is apparent.
Implementing shot clocks is inevitable, Summit’s Frazier says, adding that he would be “shocked” if the clock is not adopted within the next 10 years. Right now, though, they are unnecessary.
“I don’t think it really matters,” Frazier says. “Rarely would it even come into play. … You can negate some crazy situations, but we don’t have a shot clock in our league, and I think the pace of play seems really good and the product is good.”
“Kids are so athletic now, they play year-round,” adds Trinity Lutheran’s Gilbert. “At this point, they already have a pretty good feel for the game.”
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