The countdown. Humans are conditioned to associate it with chaos, confusion, scrambling to pull everything together in those final few seconds before the buzzer sounds. The countdown before launch. The countdown before the New Year. The countdown before Jack Bauer’s time runs out in 24. But what if these countdowns did not exist? What if the clock ran seemingly indefinitely? How would we coordinate the launch? When would we know the precise moment to embrace our loved ones and friends on New Years? What would Jack really be working against?
Sports are not immune to this countdown, most notably football with its play clock and basketball with the shot clock. Basketball is even more of an outlier than football in that time plays a key role in a variety of rules within the game: backcourt violations, time spent in the key (also known as the three-second area), and multiple five-second violations are tied into the counting of time. Time is an integral part of the game.
Of the aforementioned rules, none are removed from gameplay at nearly any level save for the shot clock. These rules are in place to serve as learning tools for young players coming up who are hoping to understand and perfect the game. No league removes traveling because it is hard to remember that you need to dribble before beginning to move or the double dribble because it is far easier to dribble with two hands or with your hand below the basketball. Imagine telling a player after years of not playing by the truest rules that he or she will now need to abide by a set of guidelines COMPLETELY foreign to him or her. If this is such an unimaginable scenario, why then is the shot clock not used at the high school level in Connecticut?
The shot clock was widely adopted over six decades ago in order to avoid perpetuating the type of game play that was plaguing professional leagues at the time: extremely low scoring games with very few attempted shots which were intended to limit the effectiveness of one or two opposing players. Similarly, many high school coaches set out to create this type of strategic advantage and to the detriment of the development of players. Players can glean little from a game if a majority of the strategy employed entails keeping the ball in as few players hands as possible for as much time as possible. Proper spacing is not the four corners offense.
Some will argue that including a shot clock along with all of the other rules is too much too soon, and I agree. But by the time players reach high school, soon has become the present and players need to begin developing beyond dribbling minutes off the clock before attempting a wide open jumper or uncontested layup made only possible by a whirling dervish of a guard hell-bent on finding his or her way to the rim after dribbling the air out of the ball and lulling the defense into a stupor. This is not good basketball and it is not good for development. This type of play is acceptable only at the youngest of recreation league levels when the priority is teaching basic fundamentals and where the aforementioned whirling dervish would be lauded as ahead of her peers, or in the driveway at the family picnic against Uncle Rich who swears he started varsity in his day.
The idea behind implementing the shot clock in Connecticut high schools is simple: players are forced to become efficient. Coaches at every level are desirous of efficiency, whether that is at the free throw line, from the field, or with the game clock. When allowing an indefinite amount of time for a shot to go up, each of those efficiencies suffers and the players’ ability to develop in turn suffers. Taking 500 jumpers from the wing or 1,000 free throws after practice helps a player to learn form, but nothing can replicate game speed and game conditions. If coaches are very simply able to allow their players to take the air out of the ball, there is no opportunity for players to truly develop that wing jump shot or to get to the rim and draw a foul to get to the free throw line.
A notion will persist that the shot clock will do the opposite: players will rush into shots, force plays, and the hectic nature of the rocket launch will play out for thirty-two minutes. Like Jack Bauer, we all need to have some faith that the will of those involved conquers all. The lack of a shot clock actually benefits sloppy play and poorly run offenses rather than its use causing those issues. Think of all of the frustrating times that teams are able to score after the opposition has played solid defense for forty-five seconds. No penetration, maybe a few tipped balls but no steals, and suddenly a batted pass trickles to an open big man on the block who lays it in. Situations like this exist due to the fact that shot clocks are not being used. It gives a false sense of accomplishment to the offense which in turn reinforces bad habits while penalizing the defense. While there will undoubtedly be a transition, players will make an adjustment and the level of play will benefit immensely.
There have been numerous outspoken critics of the direction of youth basketball in America and that our European and South American counterparts are passing us by. This perception is largely fueled by the AAU culture of showboating and self-promotion. Implementing a shot clock would go a long way to begin dispelling this notion and improving the quality of play at the high school level. Instead of just a few players on the court being the controlling INTERESTS, a team game designed to get a good look within the thirty seconds permitted by the clock would prevail. Regardless of this implementation, the best players will still thrive and many will get better faster, a scary yet intriguing notion.
Take for example Connecticut high school basketball alums Andre Drummond and Ryan Gomes. Imagine Drummond being able to develop a post or pick-and-pop game or Ryan Gomes becoming not just a great scorer but also a great facilitator. Neither scenario was able to play out because opposing coaches were permitted to hold the ball on offense and reduce Drummond’s touches, and Gomes was simply able to score at will no matter how long it took. Gomes went on to play at Providence where he was a highly effective scorer for four years but never developed as a passer. When it came time to move onto the NBA, Gomes was seen as a tweener forward without enough skill as a small forward but without the size to guard power forwards. His score-at-will tendencies that were encouraged by the lack of a shot clock came back to bite him as his journeyman NBA career recently ended. Drummond has the size which Gomes lacked which has enabled him to thrive as a shot alterer and rebounder both in his year at the University of Connecticut and now in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons, but he is still struggling to find himself offensively. There is no denying his growth has been stunted by the ability for coaches to utilize a lack of a shot clock against him during his developmental years.
No more showboating, no more self-promotion, no more four corners offense for four quarters. Efficient team games ensue and thus players, even the best, are ready to plug into nearly any system. With the implementation of the shot clock in Connecticut high school basketball, the true chaos of sloppy play and bruised basketballs currently at hand subsides. Besides, we could all use a few more buzzer beaters.
By: E.J. Bachinski