|Bob Mainhardt for the River News
In this March 4, 2016 file photo, Antigo’s Matt Arndt holds the ball at half court during the first half of a WIAA Division 2 boys’ basketball playoff game against Rhinelander High School at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium in Rhinelander. Antigo employed a stall tactic, holding the ball for minutes on end, to upset Rhinelander 14-11 that night. The days of the stall in Wisconsin high school basketball are numbered after the WIAA Board of Control on Thursday approved the implementation of a 35-second shot clock for varsity games beginning in the 2019-20 season.
By Jeremy Mayo &?Nick Sabato
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association dropped a bombshell Thursday sure to reverberate through high school gymnasiums across the state.
river news sports editor
The WIAA Board of Control reviewed a number of proposals for winter sports and the most glaring change to the rulebook is the implementation of the 35-second shot clock in varsity basketball games starting in 2019-2020.
Wisconsin will become the ninth state - following California, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, North Dakota and South Dakota - to begin using a shot clock.
The decision has its supporters and its detractors. Some feel giving kids a timeframe on when to shoot can compromise fundamental basketball by causing them to rush to get a shot off.
"At the high school level, I believe you have a lot of skill work that still needs to be taught and I feel like there's going to be more bad shots, more junk basketball, just throwing it up and down," said Rhinelander High School activities director Brian Paulson, a former high school basketball head coach.
"Part of me is not over enthusiastic about it," RHS boys' basketball coach Derek Lemmens added. "I think it takes away some elements of high school basketball that are really what kind of separate it (from the college and pro game)."
Proponents of the shot clock feel it will make basketball more enjoyable for players, fans and coaches.
"I think it's great. I think it'll add some fun to the basketball game," Lakeland head coach Rich Fortier said. "It'll add some more nuances like the NBA's 2-for-1 where you have to plan for the shot clock. It forces teams to play basketball. Sometimes I like to take the air out of the ball, but I think it just adds another level of excitement to the game. It'll speed up the game a little bit and it should reward the more talented team by making teams play against each other. I'm all for it."
For coaches, the stall is no longer an allowable strategy. Some coaches have had a tendency to hold onto the ball when they have a slim lead, or in hopes of limiting offensive opportunities for a superior opponent.
In some cases, stalling was taken to the extreme. In March 2016, Antigo held the ball in a stall for more than seven minutes during one point in the first half of a WIAA Division 2 tournament game at Rhinelander. The Red Robins ended up winning 14-11 but drew state-wide attention due to the unusually low score.
"It also favors the better team," Jesse Shaw, the mastermind of Antigo's stall tactic that night told the Antigo Daily Journal in a text message. "There will not be as many upsets when you increase possessions and therefore it will take away from the purity of the high school game."
"We have teams in our conference, not just the Antigo thing, that play very deliberate," Lemmens said. "They'll work the ball for a minute, a minute-thirty and this forces them to find a way to attack it. If we can keep selling our pride in defense, I'm excited about that."
The move to a shot clock was far from a slam dunk. Though the proposal passed through the WIAA's Coaches Committee, Sports Advisory Committee and Advisory Council, it was approved by the Board of Control on a slim 6-4 margin.
"I think, when you watch the state tournament and you see people standing at half court, I think it's a good argument for a shot clock," said board of control vice president and Great Northern Conference commissioner Scott Winch, who voted against the measure. "But I also believe there's more than one (style of basketball). The Dick Bennett, deliberate style of basketball, I think there's still a place for that in the high school sports and probably in college for that matter, too."
Bennett, the former head coach of the University of Wisconsin men's team and a legend in Wisconsin basketball, is known for his dedication to a slow, patient offense.
One thing everyone can agree on, the shot clock is going to force coaches and players to change their thinking and increase awareness.
"I think you'll adjust to use that to your advantage," Rhinelander girls' basketball coach Ryan Clark said. "We'll be a pressing team next year, but I can see utilizing the press to eat up some seconds on the shot clock. Offensively, we're going to push the ball, reverse the ball. Probably the disadvantage will be when you're going against a better team, you can't shorten the game. That would probably be the one negative."
Players must now exhibit better time management skills, making sure they are aware of how much time is on the shot clock in order to take the best shot possible.
"I think it'll force players and coaches, but coaches probably more so, to come up with end-of-shot clock situations just like they do with end-of-quarter situations or end-of-game situations," Fortier said. "You get a set of plays or stable of things that you want to do at the end of the shot clock and you practice that. It's going to affect what we have to do to get ready for that because we'll have to face that a few times a game. As far as players go, they're going to have to get better at seeing things on the floor. They're going to have another thing they have to look at on the floor. I hope it'll be positioned right above the backboard like it generally is, but it'll force them to pay attention to that and it'll force them to work on end-of-shot clock situations, which generally includes going to the hole, which everyone is working on now anyway."
The change is the latest in a series of rules passed by the WIAA and/or the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) designed to bring the high school game more in line with its collegiate cousin. Prior to the 2015-16 season, the NFHS tightened the rules on defenders' ability to touch ball handlers in the open court. A year later, the WIAA switched from eight-minute quarters to 18-minute halves for varsity basketball games.
"My fear in this is we do all these things where we're trying to make our game more like the college game," Lemmens said. "College keeps talking about making their game more like the NBA. I cringe at that thought."
Extra burden on schools
Winch noted the Board of Control amended the proposal to go into effect for the 2019-20 season, opposed to the 2018-19 season. He hopes extra time will allow schools time to purchase the equipment and train the personnel required to have the shot clocks ready to roll by November 2019.
"I do worry about the cost for schools and the training of a person, but I think given that extra year of planning that can be solved, too," he said.
The vast majority of schools across the Northwoods will have to retrofit shot clocks into their existing scoreboards or install new scoreboards capable of handling shot clocks. Paulson said he was already on the phone Friday with representatives from Daktronics, the manufacturer of the scoreboards inside the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium, requesting a quote to install shot clocks.
Many districts, such as Lakeland and Rhinelander, have made budget cuts to their athletic departments, so the cost of a shot clock, which can be thousands of dollars, could make an impact.
"I've cut our athletic budget by 20 percent in the last three or four years and money is continuously being taken away, but every time the WIAA implements a change like this it ends up costing the schools more," LUHS athletic director Don Scharbarth said. "Not only do I have to buy the equipment, I probably have to pay someone to run the equipment so that's always something that we have to consider. When it's forced on us, the WIAA doesn't give us any real breaks, they just expect it to happen."
Paulson said Rhinelander would "absolutely" have to bring on an extra worker to operate the shot clock during varsity contests.
"It kind of needs to be someone who knows about basketball," Winch said of the shot clock operator. "I think you can train just about anybody to train a scorebook if you want, but a shot clock, you've got to be a little bit more on the ball, I think. That will be an interesting transition."
Schools acrosss the state still have two full seasons to prepare for that transition and the start of the shot clock era.