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Revisiting the Shot Clock

It's a discussion that comes up every off-season, the idea of bringing the shot clock to prep basketball. A twist aimed at reducing stalling strategies, and improving the flow of the game.

“It would change the game and probably change it for the better — it would make our sport a little more exciting,” said Tom Johnson, boys’ coach at Sam Barlow High School in Gresham, Oregon. 

The shot clock is in use in eight states nationwide, but with California and Washington in that mix, Oregon schools get some exposure to that style of game during preseason tournaments.

“States all around us have it, so the thought is that everyone else does, but that's not the case,” Johnson said.

Washington was the most recent state to add a shot clock at the start of the 2009 season — giving its boys teams 35 seconds to get the ball to the rim.

“It's something that's been well accepted here, and the shot clock rarely goes off — very rarely. Once you get used to playing with it — 35 seconds seems like a long time,” said Cindy Adsit, assistant executive director with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

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“We've played with the shot clock in tourneys over the years, and I'm surprised how few times it gets down to those final seconds,” David Douglas High School Coach Chad Reeves said.

Washington's governing body put together research and found that teams, even playing without a timer, typically attempted a shot 20 seconds into a possession. Teams were moving toward a faster style of play regardless of the shot clock.

“We found it largely to be a generational issue with some of our older coaches wanting to spread things out, while our younger coaches were used to the shot clock in AAU ball and preferred that style of game,” Adsit said.

A study by MaxPreps showed North Dakota being the only shot-clock state among the top-10 in scoring across the nation.

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“You don't encounter that much anymore where a coaches' strategy is to hold the ball from the get go of the season,” Reeves said. “The days of 12 and 15 point games have passed. It's hard to get kids excited to play in that kind of system.”

While the clock-draining four-corners sets (think Ralph Miller days at Oregon State) have become a basketball dinosaur, it's a style that still musters a roar once in awhile — often when teams are feeling mismatched.

“It's one thing to be patient on offense and wait for a good look, and another to be intentionally holding the ball. Let's be honest, fans don't want to watch someone hold the ball at half court and run circles,” Damascus Christian girls coach Dave Wakefield said. “I've seen my share of stall ball used against me, and I can't think of anyone ever winning that way — it has the reverse effect. When you stall, you are sending the message that your opponent is better than you are.”

The shot clock is most effective at improving late-game action, allowing the defense to get the ball back without falling into desperation mode.

“It changes the game for the better and rewards teams for playing good defense,” Wakefield said. 

Without a timer in place, teams will often hold for a 'last shot' once the clock gets near a minute. The thinking being that your opponent can't score if you don't give them the ball.

“A lot depends on if you have ball-handlers you can trust to keep possession, but everyone wants to get that last shot,” Reeves said.

While only a smattering of states use a shot clock, it seems only a matter of time before high schools follow the example long set by colleges and the pros.

“It's a topic that comes up every year at our athletic directors meetings and there's an old-school element that can be hard to change,” Wakefield said. “All of the colleges use it. I think it will be like the 3-point line — it took forever to put that into place, but now it's been embraced and it's really opened up our game.”

From GameChanger and David Ball.

Basketball, Basketball Features