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It's time to put Iowa on the clock

I grew up in a sports family. We watched sports, talked about sports, played sports. Essentially, we lived sports. And while I could never quite figure out how to hit a baseball or stomach the physicality of tackle football, I reveled in the rare combination of intensity and grace presented in the sport of basketball. I took to the Duke Blue Devils and Chicago Bulls, two teams that defined the ‘90s. The talent and execution of those teams made me fall in love with the sport.

It’s a sport I understood quickly. Although I was never a gifted athlete by any stretch of the imagination, I started playing it at five years old, and it’s still far and away my favorite thing to do to this day. It’s a stress reliever on several different levels for me.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that growing up in California, I’ve only ever known one style of play. That style of play involves the single greatest addition to organized basketball since Dr. Naismith hung up the peach baskets in Springfield, Massachusetts all those years ago — the shot clock.

The shot clock was first incorporated into organized basketball in 1954. Then Syracuse Nationals owner Danny Biasone experimented with a 24-second clock in his teams’ scrimmages. The NBA then adopted that clock for the following season, and it changed the game of basketball forever.

In the 1953-54 season, the last without a shot clock, NBA teams averaged 79 points per game. In the first season of the clock’s incorporation, that shot up to 93 points per game. And by the time teams were used to the clock and how to use it to their advantage, the league average shot up yet again to 107 points per game in 1957-58.

The NCAA took another 20-plus years to adopt the clock to the women’s game. They eventually settled on a 30-second clock for the women’s games in 1970-71. Fifteen years went by before the men adopted a 45-second shot clock in 1985-86, following a string of embarrassingly low scoring games and slow, unentertaining play. That clock was taken down to 35 seconds in 1993-94, which is where it remains today.

OK, so back to California. California is one of eight states that currently mandate a shot clock in high school basketball. In my experience, this creates for originality on offense. Teams are required to design plays for quicker scores, making the game more entertaining for spectators and more action-packed for the players.

When players are pushing the pace and forcing the issue to score quickly, it also forces their development. It’s no coincidence that five of the eight states with a mandated shot clock — California, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington — produce some of the most highly recruited, efficient high school basketball players in the country. The shot clock plays a huge role in developing a player’s ability to create and make shots in a more pressurized environment.

Call me naïve, but at halftime on the night I covered my first Iowa basketball game, I asked a nearby parent, “Where is the shot clock?”

I was dumbfounded when he responded, “There isn’t one.”

This is a concept that I had never even had a second thought about. And as I watched the Newton girls’ basketball team forced to start fouling down only two points with over a minute and a half remaining, I pondered why they would allow this to continue. This should have been the point in the game during which the Cardinals turned up the defensive intensity and forced their opponents to make a play, but instead, they had to foul because the only alternative was to let the clock run out.

I spoke to Newton coach Brandon Sharp about the matter. He is only a couple of years removed from playing at the college level, and it’s clear that playing with a shot clock is something he is comfortable with.

“I’m used to having a shot clock after playing at the college level, and I’m definitely in favor of it. I think it requires more strategy, and it would make the end of games, in particular, much more interesting,” Sharp said. “We play a lot of disciplined teams who like to hold the ball and wait for their shot. I love the idea, and I think it would force teams to pick up the pace on offense. It’s something that would absolutely favor us.”

Sharp is the youngest coach of a Class 4A team in Iowa history, which might imply there is a generational divide when it comes to the issue.

However, the notion of a shot clock also received support from longtime Prairie City-Monroe coach Fred Lorensen. Lorensen basically built the PCM basketball program from the ground up, and his 20-plus years of coaching high school basketball give him a unique insight into how the game is played. His teams have had incredible success without one. Yet, he still supports the incorporation of a 35-second clock.

“I would love to see a shot clock put into use. I’m not big on teams that hold the ball and slow down the pace of play. I think teams do rely on slowing the game down too much,” Lorensen said. “Basketball is a game in which your players need to get into a flow, and holding the ball halts that to a certain degree. I think it would require teams to use more strategy at the end of games rather than being able to count on fouls with 2-3 minutes left. So, I definitely think it would have a positive affect on the game.”

On the other hand, there are issues standing in the way of a state-wide shot clock mandate. It would cost some money to bring in shot clocks to so many different schools. Also, there would be added pressure on the clock operator to operate the newly introduced technology.

Lynnville-Sully girls’ basketball coach Jerry Hulsing has run a largely successful program since he inherited the team in the early 1990s, winning several state championships and essentially establishing a high school dynasty. He expressed opposition to the idea of a shot clock.

“I don’t see a strong need for a shot clock in our game. I don’t see a lot of teams taking too long on offense or holding the ball too much. I think it promotes the players taking worse shots, quicker,” Hulsing said. “It also places added pressure on the players and requires coaches to alter their styles to draw up more ‘quick hitters’ on offense. There’s also the added financial burden of getting the clock and having to teach someone how to use it.”

My contention to coach Hulsing was that a shot clock, most importantly, takes the game out of the coach’s hands and puts it more on the players. Despite his opposition, Hulsing did agree that a shot clock would alter how coaches affect the end of games.

“That is definitely something to consider,” he said. “Late game situations would change in terms of strategy and how a coach might operate at the end of a close game.”

I understand coach Hulsing’s concerns, and to a large degree I agree that most teams do not hold the ball longer than the 30 or 35-second clock. However, my argument remains the most important thing about the clock is it requires teams to strategize more at the end of the game.

I covered plenty of games this season in which a shot clock might have changed the outcome. Those games could have been more exciting right up to the end.

A shot clock promotes excitement and places more emphasis on in-game skill. That exhilaration and exhibition of skill is what made me to fall in love with the game. I would be surprised to hear any basketball coach, fan or player dispute that.

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