The groans grew louder as the seconds ticked by without a shot, magnified by the small crowd in the Ben Davis gym for a first round Marion County tournament game between the hosts and Franklin Central.
“Play ball!” one female fan shouted.
“Your own fans are yelling, ‘Shoot the ball!’ ” another man yelled.
A few fans joined in unison with a “This is boring!” chant before one turned to another and said, “We need a shot clock.”
Does high school basketball need a shot clock? There are currently eight states that use some variation of a shot clock, which has been a staple of the NBA since the 1954-55 season (24 seconds) and the men’s college game since 1985-86 (45 seconds, changed to 35 seconds nine years later). But in Indiana high school basketball, the game remains the same: four quarters, eight minutes apiece, no shot clock.
“As a coach, you determine if you want the game to be a long possession or short possession game,” said Ben Davis coach Mark James, who was the target of some Franklin Central fans’ frustration in the Flashes’ 40-38 overtime win on Tuesday.
“You can press, trap, foul or do what you want to get the game sped up. I’m sure it was an interesting game to watch if you like basketball. If you don’t like basketball, it was probably boring. There was a lot of chess going on.”
An informal survey of area coaches seems to indicate that there is not a high level of interest currently for adding a shot clock. But the topic does come up on occasions like Tuesday, when Ben Davis held the ball for more than two minutes at the end of one quarter and played at a methodical pace most of the night.
During an ESPN televised game in December at Tech between the Titans and Huntington Prep (W.Va.), color commentators Paul Biancardi and Dan Dakich debated the issue with Biancardi taking a pro-shot clock stance and Dakich saying there is no need for one.
From a national level, there is little momentum for mandating a shot clock. Theresia Wynns, director of sports and officials education for the National Federation of State High School Associations, said a proposal for a shot clock comes up almost every year. So far, the Basketball Rules Committee has voted against it.
“There is not an overwhelming sense that the game needs the shot clock at this time,” Wynns said. “Basketball in the state of Indiana does not need to step up the tempo. Other states feel the same way. They want the coaches to be able to determine the style of play that is best for the teams they have on the floor.”
Advantage for offense?
Of the 47 area high school boys and girls basketball coaches surveyed, only 11 were in favor of a shot clock and four undecided.
Cathedral coach Andy Fagan is among those strongly in favor of a shot clock, citing an unfair advantage allowed to the offense.
“I don’t care how good of a defensive team you are or how well conditioned or tough you are, at some point you are going to break down,” he said. “Teams that are talented and disciplined can effectively hold the ball for 35 seconds and at some point in time you are going to break down. It’s an unfair advantage for teams that want to play that way.”
Fagan points to another factor that actually played a role in the college game adding a shot clock: entertainment. The Sun Belt Conference added a 45-second clock in 1978-79 after its conference tournament championship in ’78 was decided by a 22-20 score.
“When a family spends $40 on tickets, food and beverages, a 22-20 game won’t make them happy,” then-South Alabama coach Cliff Ellis told Sports Illustrated in 1982. “We’re in the entertainment business, and that’s not entertainment.”
There’s also little doubt that the players prefer a more free-flowing style of game. Franklin Central senior Jacob Malone was on the floor playing defense Tuesday night during the lengthy Ben Davis’ possessions.
“It’s definitely boring because we just had to kind of stand there waiting for something to happen,” Malone said. “At the end we had to kind of force the tempo because they were just going to hold the ball the whole time. But we knew that’s how they were going to play.”
Cathedral senior Matt Gregory said the Irish became accustomed to seeing a lot of opponents slow the tempo last season. Cathedral was an immensely talented and deep team last year that advanced to the Class 4A state finals before losing to Carmel.
“Some of our losses last year we definitely got slowed down,” Gregory said. “I’d like to see the games sped up so you can see the talented players play. But disciplined teams with good ballhandlers can pretty much do what they want. With a shot clock, it takes a little strategy out of the game and makes it more talent-driven. I think it would make it more fun for the fans.”
Factors against a clock
For many of those in favor of keeping the shot clock out of high school basketball, it comes down to this: it’s unnecessary.
Most coaches in the area say they rarely see teams simply attempt to hold the ball.
“Teams are not stalling and scoring is not down,” Brebeuf Jesuit coach Noah Haynes said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Bring single class basketball back and we will put up a shot clock in our gym.”
According to numbers compiled at johnharrell.net, an Indiana high school basketball web site, combined scoring for the 2003-04 season was 111.8 points. Ten years later, it is 111.9 points.
Veteran North Central coach Doug Mitchell, a proponent of a pressing, full-court style, prefers the variety of styles in the high school game without a shot clock.
“The fact that you can be deliberate in high school basketball is a great equalizer,” Mitchell said. “Just ask Carmel.”
Carmel has used an efficient, deliberate tempo under coach Scott Heady to win back-to-back Class 4A state championships. The Greyhounds have also featured guards like Ben Gardner and Michael Volovic on those title teams who rarely turned the ball over and forced opponents to maximize possessions.
Brian Hahn coached for a time in California, which is one of the eight states with a shot clock. Hahn, now at Pendleton Heights, said teams like Carmel were still successful in California.
“I’m not convinced (a shot clock) would increase scoring,” Hahn said. “Certain well-coached, less athletic teams would be extremely patient on offense and then play solid zone defense and have average games in the 40s. Overall, I didn’t feel the shot clock improved the quality of play for the players or fans.”
Sheridan girls coach Jeff Guenther is among those who believe a shot clock would lead to poor shot selection.
“Our game should be about skill and execution,” he said. “Not who has the best athlete and can break down opponents with a ball screen. A shot clock will not lead to higher scores; it will lead to poor shot selection.”
The cost issue may be the biggest factor. With school districts facing dwindling budgets, it’s unlikely that the installation of shot clocks costing more than $2,000 would be a high priority. There’s also the manpower involved at the scorer’s table and an additional responsibility for the three referees on the court.
“How many schools, especially smaller schools, can afford to not only install the clock, but have a knowledgeable, qualified person to run it?” asked Eminence coach Shawn Alspaugh.
Of course, Bobby Plump’s famous shot in the 1954 state championship may not have happened if there had been a shot clock. Plump held the ball for more than four minutes at one point during the fourth quarter of Milan’s 32-30 win over Muncie Central.
Times have changed since then, though. High school basketball added a 3-point line in 1987 and 10 years later, Indiana did away with the single-class tournament for a four-class system. The installation of a shot clock may seem minor in comparison to those changes.
“We live in different times than when I started high school coaching back at South Bend Adams in 1982,” Guerin Catholic coach Pete Smith said. “Therefore you acclimate to the times as I have tried to do, or you do something else.”