By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Like the shopper who’s discovered online commerce just in time for Cyber Monday, or the chap who finally decided to get his first cell phone, high school basketball in Ontario has joined the 21st century.
When the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior boys season opens Tuesday, the players will be dancing to the tune of shot clocks.
The discussion around implementing shot clocks has been happening at the OFSAA table “for decades, really,” said Suche James, Frontenac Falcons coach who was, for the last four years, chair of the basketball sport advisory committee for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations.
“It’s a natural evolution to where it’s just part of the game now, in every jurisdiction except ours,” he said. “It was just a matter of how it would look in Ontario schools.”
Shot clocks have been around since 1954, when they were introduced in the National Basketball Association as a way to increase scoring. The watershed game was played in 1950, when Fort Wayne defeated Minneapolis 19-18 in a contest where the teams combined for four points in the fourth quarter. There followed a six-overtime game between Rochester and Indianapolis where there was just one shot taken in each overtime period.
Shot clocks help officials enforce a rule that requires a team to take a shot within a prescribed amount of time or risk losing possession of the ball. In one form or another, that rule has been adopted in college and university basketball, international ball under the umbrella of FIBA, the international sport-governing body, and even in youth programs within Basketball Ontario.
Under the new high school rule, that duration will be 35 seconds.
The rule is designed to prevent teams from “stalling,” passing the ball around the perimeter when they have a lead to keep it out of the other team’s hands. It is seldom seen in Kingston Area games, but even once or twice is too often for a purist.
“We were getting into games where, essentially, the game would be played for 30 of the 32 minutes,” James said. “If a team was up, the game was over after 30 minutes.
“We needed to push a shot clock for that reason, especially at the OFSAA championships. We wanted teams to stop doing that type of thing.”
KASSAA commissioner Frank Halligan said proposals to adopt shot clocks were rejected by OFSAA twice in the last three years. “I’m surprised how easily it passed (this time),” he said.
One of the things that prevented implementation of the rule in scholastic ball has been the cost, but the price of a set of clocks in the past half dozen years has dropped, James said, from about $2,000 to half that amount. At the same time, amateur ball has adopted the FIBA structure and Basketball Canada has been pushing for uniformity among the various levels of the game.
Even so, there remained philosophical differences that wouldn’t be so easily overcome. “I found out very quickly that there are a lot of different opinions, from many different basketball coaches, with varying levels of experience, who wanted it to look a certain way if we did adopt a shot clock,” James said.
The 24-second shot clock is pretty much universal, “but that was a non-starter for high school coaches,” James said. “There was no appetite to do that."
Most teams have one or two club players, some have more, and they would be quite comfortable in a 24-second domain. Some schools, however, have no players with experience beyond the scholastic framework and for them, coaches feared, restricting them to 24 seconds would be problematic.
“(The question was) what is an appropriate length of time for a team that has inexperienced kids to run an offence?” James said. “As a compromise, to get shot clocks in our system, we settled on 35 seconds—what the NCAA was, up until this year.
“That seemed to be palatable for coaches from all sorts of schools, whether they’re small rural schools or city schools; schools that had a lot of experienced basketball players or schools that didn’t have a lot of experienced players on their teams.”
All that’s left is to train people to operate the shot clocks, and that’s not an insignificant consideration in a league where, given the number of times there are issues around game clocks and scoreboards, it seems it’s hard enough to find two people with the requisite knowledge of the game—and attention span—to perform these functions, let alone three.
“That’s the concern,” James confessed. “Everyone has a shot clock in their building; people are pretty happy to experiment with the 35 seconds. Everybody is worried about finding a third operator.”
Partly to address that, KASSAA decided to dumb down the task. In club ball, for instance, there are two reset buttons on the controller; after an offensive rebound or foul in the front court, the clock is reset to 14 seconds, not 24. For high school operators there will be just one button, and all resets will be for the full 35.
“Very often, you’ll have adults doing (club) games, or kids who are way more experienced with basketball in general,” James said. “In the high school scenario, you’re not necessarily getting kids that are on the basketball team. You’re getting kids who are helping you out, and want to do something for the school, but aren’t necessarily basketball people.
“It’s a nice, community thing, but … we’re going to the old style NCAA reset, because we know the third operator is going to be inexperienced.”
Shot clocks won’t be mandatory throughout Ontario until 2016, but KASSAA decided to jump in right away, James said, partly to address the concern over finding and training people to run them.
“We felt locally the sooner we can experiment with it, and see how the third operator pans out, the better,” he said. “Work out some kinks, maybe train some younger kids for next year—we thought it would be a good idea to put it into play for at least one of our leagues.”
It wouldn’t have been practical to do so for the senior girls season in the fall, simply because there wouldn’t have been time to prepare. “September comes up pretty quick,” James said.
The other reason for the early implementation, Halligan said, was financial. The funding model will vary, depending on the school or the board, but the cost of the shot clocks ultimately will come from somebody’s athletic budget. “If it fell on the backs of the schools, it might work out to a dollar a kid for three years or something like that,” Halligan suggested. “The thought for us was to get a head start on that.”
There hasn’t been a lot of chatter among players, who, James said, are generally happy about it.
“It’s just like anything else. They want to emulate what they see around them in the NCAA and the NBA, what they see in the basketball culture. The shot clock has really become part of the equipment now. It’s as much a part of the game as anything else.
“They’re just glad that nobody can hold the ball anymore, for minutes at a time, and essentially ruin a basketball game. We’re all happy about that part.”
Halligan said he doesn’t expect the complexion of the game to change.
“I’ve watched a lot of high school basketball games,” he said. “Teams hardly ever take 35 seconds (to take a shot). I don’t think it’s going to change the offensive side of the game all that much at all.”