Dear High School Basketball Coaches / Fans / Administrators in Wisconsin,
Greetings from California where I am watching with interest your ongoing discussions about whether or not to bring the shot clock to high school basketball in Wisconsin. I have had many discussions in person (during a recent return trip to Wisconsin to cover the state girls golf tournament) and via social media on the topic because I have a unique perspective on it.
After a lifetime of writing about, broadcasting, coaching and watching games without one while in Wisconsin, I inherited the shot-clock concept when we moved to southern California in the summer of 2016 with one daughter still playing high school basketball. We went from an ultra- successful program coming off a WIAA Division 1 state championship at Verona and, here at Chaparral HS in Temecula, walked into a struggling program that went 3-21 last season.
I’ll never forget walking into the gym for our first game and seeing a square clock on the wall beneath the scoreboard and thinking “Oh boy! This isn’t going to help our young team.” I was surprised by the positive impact it had on our games in ways I never would have imagined.
Let me highlight some of them:
The Technology. I envisioned another device next to the game clock and the sound system (not to mention the scorebooks) at the table. At CHS, ours is simply a device plugged into the game clock console that is essentially run by the clock operator and reset by a person you would loosely identify as the shot clock operator. All that person does is push the button after every made shot, every missed shot that draws iron or any time the official gives that signal we’ve all feigned when someone is called for a kicked-ball violation (triggering a reset). Once in motion, the shot clock starts and stops with the game clock until it needs to be reset.
The Operator. Like many who have complained about the potential cost impact of an additional table worker, I figured -- especially in a state that gave us the Big Baller shoe line -- that a PhD in basketball might be expected of the operator of the shot clock. Hardly! Our school requires a minimum of 40 hours of community service over four years to graduate and our shot clock was typically administered by a student in need of those hours who was trained in when to reset the shot clock and how to do it. We rarely had a problem and, the handful of times that we did, the game officials would briefly stop action and ask the clock to be reset to the proper time.
The Execution of the Offense. I’ve seen much said on how placing a time limit on each possession will result in more rushed shots and sloppy execution at the end of possessions by teams that might not be equipped to “beat the clock.” Even with our young team, the shot clock encouraged the five players on the floor to run the offense quickly and efficiently. There will be a learning curve in some situations -- i.e. recognizing when the shot clock doesn’t reset after the ball is knocked out-of-bounds and the need to get off a quick shot after the ball is inbounded -- but players will develop a sense for when they need to create a quick shot. On this point, the quality of the shot continues to be based on the skill set of the team, not the time on the clock.
The Officiating. I never realized how much pressure we put on our officials in Wisconsin with the volume of work that goes into calling a game without a shot clock. The armbars by the defender in the post. The hand-checking and reach-in calls trying to disrupt/stop a long possession on the perimeter. The five-second closely guarded situations. The 10-second backcourt count-down. We have spent several years legislating those situations with “points of emphasis” and, out here, many of those problems were solved with a shot clock. The offense ran its plays and the defense reacted to the faster pace, specifically with the movement of the ball and the attacking of the basket. There simply wasn’t time for the defensive player to “get physical” with the player he/she was guarding (by the way, varsity boys games follow varsity girls games during what we call conference games) because the offense had to be run quickly and efficiently. For the record, games out here are officiated mostly with two-person crews.
The Cost. I know you have all done your due diligence on this topic and have compared and contrasted the price tag of a shot clock to many of the things that we, as parents running our booster clubs, have been asked to cost-share with our districts or foot the bill ourselves (i.e. scoreboards, scorer’s tables and rebounding machines to name a few). What I will share with you is that we play in maybe one facility that is as lavish as a Sun Prairie, a Middleton or a Watertown and, despite most gyms having basic scoreboards, all found a way to implement shot-clock technology, suggesting that open minds and creative fundraising prevailed.
Having witnessed two of the more egregious examples of what can happen without a shot clock -- Mukwonago holding the ball for 3½ minutes against Verona in the 2016 Division 1 girls state championship game in Green Bay and Sun Prairie holding the ball for nearly 3 minutes of a January girls game in Verona that same season -- it’s clear there needs to be a deterrent to keep coaches from resorting to extreme clock management practices to shorten games games and level the playing field, especially when so many eyes are on our product. A shot clock seems a logical option based on its success at other levels of basketball and, as I have seen here in California, other states that use it for basketball at the high school level.
Thanks for taking time to consider my perspective!
Former prep sports editor, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison)