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The Shot Clock: what impact will it have on high school basketball
Mike Uppena
Potosi boys basketball coach Mike Uppena - My question was, What was the rational for having to have it? The game has not slowed down. In fact, it probably has sped up over the last how many years. So, why do we have to have it now?

LANCASTER – I’ll be the first to admit that, while covering more than a few low-scoring high school basketball games over the years, I’d be off to the side taking photos while whispering to myself, “We’ve gotta get a shot clock in high school basketball.”

I’ve always been a fan of the up-tempo style of play where the defense is in your face forcing turnovers, and the offense is nothing more than a track meet with a couple passes and a lay up at the other end.

I cringe every time I see a team walking the ball up the floor, or anyone walking at anytime during a basketball game for that matter.

Well, it appears I got my wish, when the WIAA Board of Control voted, 6-4, last month to implement a 35-second shot clock for varsity boys and girls basketball games, beginning with the 2019-2020 season.

With the recent news, Wisconsin will become the ninth state to use a shot clock in high school basketball, and as you might expect, it has its supporters, and it also has its critics.

One such supporter of the shot clock is Lancaster varsity girls basketball coach, Rob Wagner, who favors a more fast-paced game, and is always looking for his team to get off as many shots as possible.

“I like up-tempo, I like running the floor and trying to get as many shots as we can. So for me, the shot clock is pretty exciting that’s coming into the high school game,” Wagner said.

“I honestly think it will also be good for the state in the aspect of participation and attendance,” Wagner added. “The WIAA has said that the number of student/athletes is decreasing every year, and that basketball in one of the prime sports that keeps dropping. I just think this style of play will maybe intrigue more kids to want to be part of it. And, as a fan of the game, I think it will draw more people out to come and watch, just because it’s going to be a little more up-tempo and more action.”

One of the critics of the shot clock is Potosi varsity boys basketball coach Mike Uppena, who feels the strategies used by a team throughout the course of a game, should be left up to the coaches, and not force them to play faster if they don’t want to.

To Uppena, coaching basketball at the high school level is about doing your research on your opponent and playing the “chess game,” while doing whatever is necessary to give your team a chance against a more explosive or overpowering team.

“My question was, ‘What was the rational for having to have it?’” Uppena said. “The game has not slowed down. In fact, it probably has sped up over the last how many years. So, why do we have to have it now?”

“No one is doing the stall for quarters on end and getting a 4-2 score at halftime. You don’t have that, and teams just don’t do it anymore. So to me, it’s just not necessary,” Uppena added.

One thing that both sides can agree on is the added expense to the schools who have to add a shot clock at each end of their gym, and then pay someone to run the shot clock during varsity boys and girls basketball games.

According to Uppena, he expects the initial cost of the shot clocks and their installation to be around $3,200, but sees more of an issue in getting someone to run the clock during home games.

“The first time they don’t set it right, or reset it too soon, or don’t start it on time, you know people are going to be all over them,” Uppena said. 

“And who’s going to monitor that the shot clock started, stopped or was reset correctly?” Uppena added. “That’s just another thing for our officials crew to have to worry about, when all they need to really be worrying about is what they’re watching on the floor, not what’s going on with the shot clock.”

“All college levels now have gone to a monitor system to go back and look,” Uppena explained. “Is that going to be the next thing, because it’s going to be an issue and people are going to complain, and the person running the clock is going to have that on their back.” 

Of course schools will also have the added expense of paying the shot clock operator, which Wagner believes will be compensated by drawing more people to the games.

“Let’s just say you pay $25 or $30 for your score people and now you have to add one more to it,” Wagner explained. “I think we charge $3 (admission), so I would have to think that maybe you might pick up 10 more spectators a night that would be able to compensate for that.”

As far as changing the game itself, Wagner sees advantages to implementing a shot clock, while Uppena is convinced it will only make things worse.

“What I don’t want to see happen is a bunch of last-second shots during the course of a ball game,” Uppena said. 

“As a coach, if you’re trying to teach kids to play the game the right way, you tell them not to take bad shots, and to take care of the basketball,” he added. “To me, that in a nutshell, is the reason why it shouldn’t be in high school, because you’re trying to teach them to play the game the right way.”

“Coaches have to be      prepared for it, teams have to be prepared for it, and if we’re going to turn the ball over more and shoot poorer shots, I don’t care if it’s three times a game, I’m not O.K. with that,” Uppena added. “That’s not how you play the game. You want to take a good shot if you can, especially at the high school level. This isn’t college, this is high school.”

“I think, even if you have some tall kids and want to take advantage of them, you’re still going to be able to do that,” Wagner explained. “You’re just going to have to run your sets a little quicker.”

For Wagner, the shot clock also means that teams playing with a lead late in the game can’t pull the ball out and run as much time off the clock before their opponent decides to foul.

“It takes that stalling with six minutes left in a game out, and it gives somebody that opportunity to always be able to come back,” Wagner explained.

“Now, if you’re down 10 with three or four minutes to go, you’re in trouble because they’re going to start pulling it out and holding it. This will not allow that to happen,” Wagner added.

Another negative that coach Uppena sees as a byproduct of the shot clock, is that it will take away from the team game, and lead to more one-on-one clear outs or two-player pick and rolls.

“When you’re running out of time, you have to get the ball in your best player’s hands and let him go one-on-one,” Uppena said. 

“Why is the NBA the way it is? Because by the time they get the ball passed half court, they have 14 seconds. There is not a lot of time to run an offense, and it turns into ball screens, pick-and-rolls, and that kind of stuff that people complain about,” Uppena added.

For Wagner, it just means installing and remembering a few more set plays or clear-outs for just such occasions.”

“Right now we have a couple of things that we do, but we don’t practice them a lot because there are only two opportunities per game to do them, and you might not have the ball in either one,” Wagner said. 

Wagner is also aware that ball handling becomes even more important, and the need for kids to create on their own will be of more importance, which perhaps emphasizes Uppena’s point of taking away from the team game.

Uppena also raises the question of resetting the shot clock if a common foul is made by the defense with two seconds remaining, allowing the team on defense to use the shot clock to their advantage, especially if they have fouls to give.

“That’s one that I’m going to push for. If there’s a foul in the last five seconds the shot clock should be reset to 15 or something like that,” Uppena said.

 After listening to arguments for both sides, and doing some calculating of my own, I’ve come to the opinion that the 35-second shot clock will most likely have a minimal impact on the high school game.

Unlike the NBA, which uses a 24-second shot clock, and the NCAA that uses a 30-second shot clock, 35 seconds is still a lot of time to get one, or even two good looks at the basket.

Not many teams use the full 10 seconds to get the ball across half court, and even if they did, they still have, at the very least, 25 seconds to get a good shot off. I just don’t see it speeding teams up very much at all.

Using team stats from the 2016-17 basketball season, I’ve calculated that Uppena’s Potosi Chieftains were one of the quickest shooting teams in the area, getting off an average of 58.2 shots per game. On average, a shot was taken every 20.1 seconds by either the Chieftains or their opponent during last year’s contests.

On average, a shot was taken every 25.9 seconds at a typical Cassville boys  basketball game, and every 28.6 seconds at a River Ridge boys’ basketball contest.

 When figuring out how many shots per game a specific team had averaged last season, Potosi stood at the top with 58.2, while Fennimore proved to be the most patient with 33.6 shot attempts per game. It should be noted though, that the Golden Eagles had one of the highest shooting percentages of local teams at 52.7 percent.

The shot clock will undoubtedly play more of a role in the final minutes of a contest, but don’t think it will completely eliminate some teams from stopping the clock with deliberate fouls.

Depending on the situation, the clock is still going to be a losing team’s worst enemy late in a game, when teams simply can’t afford to let valuable seconds tick away and hunker down on defense.

Like coach Uppena, I too am surprised at the sheer speed of how fast the WIAA passed the shot clock proposal, and would have liked to see some sort of a test run made before implementing it in all divisions.

“I wish they would have done a division 1 or division 2 trial for a couple of years,” Uppena suggested. “Do a trial with them to see how it works for a year or two, and then push it in.”

It only makes sense, since it’s the larger schools who can better afford the initial cost of the shot clock equipment, and more D1 and D2 high school players take their game to the college level, where they need to adjust to a 30-second shot clock. 

Whether you like it or not though, the shot clock is coming to high school basketball, just as the 3-point line did in 1988 and the 18-minute halves did in 2015.