Area basketball coaches believe time is right for state to give shot clock a chance

Published on Friday, 8 March 2019 21:19
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER

@ryanchichester1

Pacing in front of his team’s bench at New Britain High School, Newington girls basketball head coach Marc Tancredi couldn’t help but throw his arms above his head in frustration.

Trailing East Hartford by eight in the CCC Tournament semifinals with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Tancredi watched as the Hornets played catch just over midcourt, while the Indians’ defense looked toward Tancredi for guidance. It was too early to start fouling, but valuable minutes were ticking off the clock as Newington’s chances of a comeback dwindled away with each passing second.

Almost a full minute of game clock evaporated from the scoreboard as East Hartford continued the stagnant process.

“Would help to have a shot clock,” Tancredi muttered to whoever would listen as he glanced up above the backboard at the near end of the court. Above the backboard, normally where a shot clock would rest at the collegiate and professional levels, as well as at the high school level in eight states around the country, exists nothing but open space.

Still, that empty space comes packed with plenty of debate and discussion: will Connecticut high school basketball ever adopt the shot clock and save coaches like Tancredi from the frustration and powerlessness he felt in the CCC semifinals?

“I’m a huge supporter of adding the shot clock,” Tancredi said days after Newington ironically completed a comeback win against the Hornets, despite East Hartford’s efforts to eliminate any offensive possessions for the Indians. “There’s a lot of benefits to it that outweigh the cons. It will increase our player development, especially in late game situations.”

Tancredi is far from alone in advocating for a shot clock in the Nutmeg State. After polling high school coaches of both boys and girls teams throughout the area and the CCC, the overwhelming majority want to see that clock added above the backboard. Of the 18 coaches that were polled, 17 considered themselves to be “100 percent” or “absolutely” behind the addition of the shot clock, while one coach claimed to be “indifferent.” Clearly, if it were up to the coaches, the shot clock would already be a part of high school basketball in central Connecticut.

“Every coach I talk to says they would love a shot clock,” Bristol Central boys head coach Tim Barrette said. “Yet nothing has been done.”

Barrette is one of many coaches who freely admit to using the lack of a shot clock to his advantage in order to win games, much like East Hartford looked to do against Tancredi’s Indians. Still, while stalling on offense is within the rules of the game, the coaches don’t seem to feel good about implementing such a strategy.

“When you’re up eight with three minutes to go, the game is over if you have good guards,” Barrette said. “That’s helped me and hurt me at times, but it hurts the game of basketball. People love March Madness because of its thrilling finishes, but here, it’s very difficult to come back.”

Innovation girls basketball head coach Michael Jessie is among the group that benefits from the lack of a shot clock. His Ravens averaged just 29 points per game this season, and that average was tough to reach down the stretch of the regular season after losing leading scorer Ariana Rivas. Jessie was forced to limit possessions as much as possible to grind out low scoring games, but even he believes the shot clock is a necessary addition to the high school game, even if it would hurt his team’s win total.

“I’ll put out a four corner offense and pass (the ball) around all day and win an ugly 22-21 game if I have to,” Jessie said. “But that’s not the way the game is progressing. I think it’s time Connecticut steps up.”

Many coaches are in Jessie’s corner, trying to limit possessions to make up for a lack of scoring, while others stand across the scorer’s table, glaring in frustration at the strategy that hamstrings his or her team’s desire to run in space and create as many offensive opportunities as possible.

“If a team has really athletic guards, they can play keep-away for three minutes of an eight minute quarter,” Southington girls basketball head coach Mike Forgione said. “There have been times I went up to an official and said ‘hey, this isn’t even basketball.’ It takes away from the purity of the game.”

Four years ago, Forgione stood alongside UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma on the Huskies’ practice floor, discussing the state of basketball in Connecticut. When the discussion shifted to the absence of a shot clock in Connecticut high school basketball, the 11-time national champion couldn’t help but laugh and shake his head.

“He couldn’t believe we didn’t have a shot clock yet,” Forgione recalled. “He said that can hurt kids in their recruiting, because it takes away from the game so much.”

Auriemma’s remarks to Forgione reflect the greatest concern of the coaches in the area. Almost all of them want to see a faster game with more excitement, but above all, the main concern lies with the development of their players.

“I would tell you that if the kid is a good enough player, you’re not going to pass on them just because they played without a shot clock,” CCSU women’s basketball head coach Beryl Piper said. “If the kid can play, the kid can play. But in terms of basketball and the transition from high school to college, and understanding how to play within an offense and play at a different pace, it’s a really big transition. I do think it ultimately hurts the kids in terms of them developing as players.”

Despite high school and college coaches in the state expressing concern about the development of players, the shot clock remains a proposal and an idea rather than a reality. According to Theresia Wynns, the Director of Sports and Officials and National Coordinator of Basketball at the National Federation of High Schools, adding the shot clock nationwide has been proposed to the NFHS’s 11-person committee for years, aside from last year. Wynns, the liaison at the basketball committee meetings, describes positive discussions about the shot clock in recent years, and even believed a number of times that the final vote would bring it to high school sports in Connecticut and the country as a whole. But the voting has yet to reflect the tone of discussions at the NFHS, possibly in part due to the federation’s conflicting belief with the coaches’ concerns regarding player development.

“We feel very strongly that what's good for high school (athletes) is educational based,” Wynns said. “We're not a farm team for the collegiate level. It's not necessarily our job to get them ready for the next level. We get them ready for life. Sports may be a part of that life, but it's not our job to make sure they know how to play with a shot clock. I would venture to say that kids that have the skills to play at the next level may be already playing with (a shot clock) in AAU.”

Still, the committee is open to the idea, and Wynns expects the shot clock proposal to return in April, when the committee holds its yearly meeting. The NFHS has held test runs with the shot clock during high school tournaments in Arkansas and Texas this year, and hopes to learn more about its pros and cons when the season comes to a close.

Rhode Island once served as a shot clock guinea pig for the NFHS back in the early 1990s, and have had a shot clock ever since. In doing so, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League forfeits its right to sit on NFHS committees, but RIIL assistant executive director Mike Lunney considers that to be a small price to pay.

“It’s a non-issue here in our state, and has been for many years,” Lunney said. “Once we did it, we never went back. It’s a good thing here.”

Would Connecticut ever go that route? If the CIAC were to hear the pleas from the coaches in the CCC to add a shot clock, would it relinquish its seat on the national committee?

“We are 100 percent compliant with NFHS rules,” CIAC associate executive director Gregg Simon said. “We’re not going to forfeit our right to sit at the table and have a voice in how rules are made for basketball. Some states are willing to do it, but we’re not.”

Connecticut head coaches may feel a particular pull toward the shot clock because of the specific states that have implemented it. While there are only eight schools in the nation currently utilizing a shot clock, three of them border Connecticut, making such a way of life seem more attainable in the CCC. However, the coaches also recognize the financial obstacles of installing a shot clock and adjusting scoreboards for every school in the state, which Simon estimates to be between two and three thousand dollars.

“The big speculation is the cost, but it’s mainly just an initial cost,” St. Paul girls basketball head coach Joe Mone said. “I’m all for (the shot clock). I’m a firm believer that we should be doing what they’re doing at the next level.”

Lunney acknowledges the financial concerns as well, but stresses Rhode Island’s comfortable process with the shot clock as it stands today. Rhode Island uses volunteers to operate the clocks at the lower levels and sometimes at the varsity level, and transitions to RIIL employees come tournament time, or for any other big games in the area.

“Sometimes we have to reset (the clock), but there’s never been any issues or controversial situations at the end of games,” Lunney said. “It’s helped speed up the game and makes things more exciting.”

The initial monetary pitfalls could make the transition to a shot clock difficult, but the greater obstacle seems to be the CIAC’s stance, at least in the short term. While Simon has expressed optimism about the shot clock becoming an NFHS rule in the future, and would immediately poll the coaches to implement a shot clock in Connecticut if and when it happens, it appears the void above the backboards at Connecticut high schools will remain a space for debate for the time being.

Still, that won’t stop the coaches from expressing their intense desire to add the shot clock. While the CIAC stands firm with the NFHS, the coaches stand firm in their belief that it enhances the game and the development of the players. The only division from the coaches came when discussing how the shot clock would be implemented if it were ever approved. Some said it would have to be used statewide or not at all, while others offered to make the CCC a pilot program for a shot clock, even if they were the only conference in the state to install them for the early trials.

“I like the idea,” Newington boys basketball head coach Ed Quick said. “It absolutely should be in. It’s an easy decision. But whenever I ask, I don’t get an answer. I get a deflection. Nobody has an answer for why it’s being held up.”

The coaches, who are polled every year by the NFHS about potential rule changes, don’t have an answer, at least not one that satisfies them. The topic has been discussed for years, but no changes have been made, so the game continues to leave something to be desired.

“There hasn't been an explanation, as far as I can tell, why it hasn’t happened yet,” Plainville boys basketball head coach Jim DiNello said. “A shot clock is part of the game. You wouldn’t play baseball without third base, right? There’s a reason why there’s a shot clock in the pros and in college, and in high school sports in some states. I don't know why it isn’t here yet, but it should be.”

Therein lies the disconnect between CCC coaches and the NFHS, which believes the shot clock isn’t part of the fabric of basketball, at least not at the high school level.

“I think people are comfortable with what we're doing,” Wynns said. “What does a shot clock bring that we don't have right now? That's been the question, but I can't name one thing. The committee struggles with that, and they'll continue to struggle with that and come to a decision again in April if it's proposed.”

Coaches in the area see the NFHS’s content as possible complacency with what’s become familiar. Changing the rules and adding shot clocks could be uncomfortable at first, but would be a necessary transition into basketball as it was meant to be played.

“We've all kind of fallen into the way things are with the current strategy,” Bristol Eastern boys basketball coach Bunty Ray said. “I can see how coaches playing into the current rules changed the game, but we need to get back to the way the game should be and make games a little more competitive.”

The competition that matters for the coaches will take place next month, when Wynns and the NFHS committee discuss proposals made at the end of the season. Wynns anticipates the shot clock being one of them, but whether the voters change their course from previous years will be another battle that the NFHS and CIAC find hard to predict.

If the committee consisted of coaches in the CCC, the verdict would be slanted to one side, and high school offenses would be on the clock when beginning offensive possessions. For now, it’s the NFHS that’s on the clock, and coaches throughout central Connecticut will be waiting intently for its ruling.

“It's been a debate for a number of years,” New Britain girls basketball coach Marc Wesoly said. “They were talking about it 12 years ago. I'm sure it will be a topic of conversation come April. I know from a CCC standpoint, the majority of our coaches are in favor of it, but it comes down to the decision of the committees.”

Ryan Chichester can be reached at 860-801-5094 or at rchichester@newbritainherald.com



Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, Goodwin Tech, Innovation, New Britain, Newington, Plainville, Southington on Friday, 8 March 2019 21:19. Updated: Friday, 8 March 2019 21:21.