IS IT TIME? Coaches say implementing a shot clock would add excitement, eliminate stalling

WEBSTER CITY – Marty McKinney believes in the long-standing principles of basketball: fundamental offense, tough-as-nails defense and the idea that work ethic and preparation will ultimately provide dividends.

In other words, he’s not into gimmicks; never has been and never will.

McKinney has had his share of solid teams during his tenure at the helm of the Webster City boys’ program, most notably in 2011-12 when the Lynx went 20-3 and swept through the 18-game North Central Conference schedule.

That team was vintage McKinney. It frustrated opponents with its methodical offense and an in-your-face defensive style that yielded just 44.6 points per game. Seven of the 23 opponents failed to reach 40 points and one managed a meager 15.

Fun and gun it was not and that was just fine with McKinney. That style of play is plenty successful for other programs, but it’s just not him.

Why tell you all of this?

Even a traditionalist like McKinney says the game that he coaches – the game that he loves – is in need of changes. And one idea that elicits plenty of reactions on both sides of the fence sits near the top of his wish list.

McKinney wants a shot clock.

“I’m big-time in favor of it,” McKinney said. “I think it would just add so much to the game as far as strategy … there are just so many things you could do.”

Wait, back up a minute. McKinney’s most successful teams have benefitted greatly from slowing the game to a snail’s pace, so why does he want to speed it up?

“We’ve had teams that were really good at running time off the clock and things like that, but if you’re a good defensive team I think it gives you a huge advantage if you can guard people and force them to take bad shots before the shot clock expires,” he said. “Teams right now don’t press that much because you just don’t get that many turnovers. But if there’s a shot clock you might press just so they use some time.”

Is there really a need?

Looking at just the regular season in 2013-14, the casual fan could skim through the statistics and comfortably answer no. Scoring wasn’t a problem throughout the state; 16 teams averaged at least 70 points per game, according to quikstats.com, and another eight were just a point shy of putting up 70 a night.

But spend a day at the state tournament and opinions may differ. Of the 32 games during the boys’ tourney, 21 teams scored fewer than 50 points while just six reached 70.

Class 2A state champion Western Christian – the state leader at 76.4 points per game this past winter – was one of the six to hit 70, but the Wolves also gave the scoreboard plenty of time off in a 48-38 victory over West Fork in the championship game.

Fellow 2A state qualifier South Hamilton favors an up-tempo system and it translated into 66.7 points per contest for the Hawks. They fell more than 26 points shy of that benchmark in a 56-40 loss to Cascade – a methodical team that utilized a match-up zone to slow the game – in the state quarterfinals.

South Hamilton head coach B.J. Terrones learned the ropes playing for Dr. Tom Davis at the University of Iowa – a coach with a long history of turning basketball into a track meet. So it’s no surprise that Terrones is also in favor of a shot clock – whether it’s a 35-second limit similar to the college game, or even a longer 45-second clock.

“I think it would add to the game similar to the way it’s added to the college game where you have that certainty,” Terrones said. “I think it would help keep the fan base interested and it’s also going to add to that level when teams go into that stall offense.”

Consider South Hamilton senior guard Matt Hislop a proponent of the change as well. There were several nights this winter when he watched opponents try to take the air out of the ball while the Hawks did everything in their power to keep the game at a quick pace.

“A shock clock wouldn’t have hurt us because we wouldn’t use much of it to begin with,” Hislop said. “But I would have loved to have it just because it would have made teams that wanted to slow us down play at more of our tempo. They wouldn’t have been able to make us play defense for 50 seconds or a minute or however long it was.”

States have already bought in

There are currently nine states that use a shot clock to a varying degree, including neighbors South Dakota and Minnesota. South Dakota implemented it in 2008 in its Class AA, and Class A voted them through beginning next season. However, South Dakota’s smallest classification still plays without a shot clock.

Coaches across the board appear to be in favor of making the move. A 2012 study done by the National Federation of State High School Associations revealed that more than 60 percent of the coaches that took part wanted the shot clock.

“With the NFHS, every year the shot clock thing is brought up and most coaches are in favor of it,” McKinney said. “It makes you wonder.”

The drawbacks

There are plenty.

Iowa High School Athletic Association Assistant Executive Director Todd Tharp told the Des Moines Register last month that his organization sees no need to pursue the issue at this time, and the biggest reason begins and ends with money.

Shot clocks are not cheap. Webster City put shot clocks in its new gymnasium that opened in the fall of 2012 because of the possibility of Iowa Central Community College playing several games in the arena. WCHS Athletic Director Bob Howard said the set cost $3,500.

“Ours were just part of the electronics package that we had put in,” Howard said. “With some of the small schools, if it’s two or three thousand bucks to add shot clocks, that’s going to be a big deal.”

South Hamilton Athletic Director Todd Coy agreed with Howard. That money could be spent on new uniforms or other necessities, he said, and if shot clocks were implemented at all levels that could mean additional cost for other district gymnasiums.

“Is there something else I’d rather do with four or five thousand dollars? Yes there is,” Coy said.

And then there’s the difficulty of finding a competent volunteer to run the shot clock. If you watched the men’s NCAA Tournament at all over the weekend then you probably had to sit through several lengthy breaks as officials sorted out a problem with the shot clock.

Adding more time to a game isn’t an option, that’s something that everyone agrees on.

“The way our board is now you’ve got to have two people sitting there (at the scorer’s table) to put the stats into the board and then run it,” Howard said. “You’d have to add another set of hands on the panel to run the shot clock.”

Again, in larger districts finding someone to run it might not be a huge problem. But in the smaller districts, Coy thinks it could become an issue.

“My main concern is it’s just one more person that I have to find to work and it’s someone you have to educate how to do it,” he said.

OK for some, not for others?

As South Dakota shows, there has been precedence set where some schools use a shot clock while others stay away. Could that work in Iowa? Could the larger classifications, or quite possibly certain conferences, vote to use it?

“It is an adaptation, so if there’s a conference that wants to do it during their non-conference games, if they can get somebody to be interested in it, that would be a possibility,” Tharp told the Des Moines Register. “It’s their prerogative to do so.”

Terrones thinks Iowa would be a perfect case study.

“In Class 4A football, schools have the ability to put play clocks into use, so they could do that with shot clocks in basketball, too,” he said. “It’s an interesting thought. I just think it would be beneficial for the high school game to be in tune with the college game.”

And would girls benefit from a shot clock as well? There are several states where the girls play under a time limit.

WCHS girls’ coach Nicole Muhlenbruch said she really hasn’t given the idea much thought, but she feels her game doesn’t need it.

“For us, I don’t think we ever held onto the ball for longer than 30 seconds anyway, so I really don’t see us being impacted by it,” she said. “The only thing I can see is it might make the last four or five minutes a level playing field where a team that’s ahead by six couldn’t go into a stall.”

Like McKinney, Muhlenbruch is old school. She didn’t necessarily enjoy the transition from 6-on-6 to 5-on-5 in 1993, so making another change just for the sake of change doesn’t appeal to her.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping some of the high school and college and professional stuff separate,” she said. “I really like to see the kids set up offenses and run plays. I don’t like it when they throw one pass and shoot a 3-pointer.”

All of this is nothing more than conjecture though. In reality, the governing bodies – the IHSAA and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union – have made no indication they’re even considering the implementation of a shot clock.

“I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t expect in the next two or three years that it will happen,” McKinney said. “But you never know.”

Muhlenbruch says whatever may come down the pipe with regards to change, eventually it will simply become the norm.

“If they want to do it they’re going to change it and it will just be something we all adjust to,” she said. “But I just don’t see it having a huge impact. I don’t think it’s going to change my game philosophy.”