The Hot Corner: A roaring start, no shot clock necessary

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There’s no objective way to measure it, of course, but I humbly submit that we just experienced the best opening weekend of a Maine high school basketball tournament in at least a decade.

Overtime games. Multiple-overtime games. Drama. Controversy. Upsets. The christening of a new regional site. The two inches of snow that held us hostage Saturday night and created this upcoming Manic Monday, sure, we probably could have done without. Otherwise, though, magical stuff.

But can we just take that and run with it and be happy? Noooooooooo.

Sometimes the squawking and yeah-but-what-iffing happens while a game is in progress. The first game of the whole doggone party, even.

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I heard the murmur late Friday afternoon, even as the Oxford Hills and Skowhegan girls were still swapping haymakers in the belly of the beast at Augusta Civic Center. It emerged from every imaginable corner, from in-person whispers to a dull roar across social media.

“See? This is why we need a shot clock.”

To which I reply, see, this is why we can’t have nice things.

The cry for an artificial device to police time of possession is, and always has been, a kneejerk. It has gained volume in the past decade. One factor: We now have an entire generation that has never known the college game without one.

Joining the chorus are old-timers who compare the score of the average high school game in the 1970s and ’80s to today’s product and suddenly award themselves an advanced degree in statistics. Or if it were worded on the SAT, 74-72 is to 48-45 as lack of government interference is to there needs to be a law.

Their selective memory states that fewer points are scored today because fewer shots are being taken. That simply isn’t so. More shots are being missed, badly, and if you think a 24- or 30- or even 45-second shot clock is going to fix that, you’re barking up the wrong basket stanchion.

Seriously, try an experiment for me. Maybe next season in December, because it will wreck the hell out of your viewing enjoyment at a playoff game. Take a stopwatch and track every possession between tip-off and the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter that drones on more than 30 seconds without a single shot. I’ll buy you a beverage if you can’t count them all on one hand.

Of course there are exceptions. We all know that coach in every conference who micromanages the living daylights out of a game. His players are afraid to shoot and petrified by the possibility of making a mistake and being yanked off the floor in a red-faced rage. So naturally that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Those fools weed themselves out. We don’t need an extra LED with a weighty price tag to fix them.

Nothing would change with a shot clock other than players rushing jump shots they’re already missing. It would have a damaging effect on both offense and defense. Selling it as a band-aid solution for whatever you see as wrong with the high school game is stunningly short-sighted.

And here’s the real deal: It’s not about you. Or me. High school basketball isn’t a commodity. It’s a child’s game being played by children that doesn’t need to be given NBA or even NCAA treatment to create phony entertainment value. It’s doing a fine job on its own.

To wit, Friday’s Class A East girls’ quarterfinal opener, the one that awakened all the pundits who would have us reduce the romance of this game to speed dating.

Yes, it’s true, neither the Scandinavian Plunderers nor the Native Americans were in a hurry to jack up jumpers or pound the paint in overtime. Or the second extra session. Or the third.

Oxford Hills was content to chest-pass the ball from corner to corner and drain the clock. Skowhegan showed no reluctance to play along, settling back in its zone, hands in the we-surrender pose, waiting for the Vikings to strike.

That chess match was what made the game so compelling. It also represented what both coaches, Nate Pelletier of Oxford Hills and Bob Witts of Skowhegan, felt was their teams’ best chance to win the game. The Vikings were in a world of foul trouble. The Indians weren’t any better off in that department and likely were near the ‘E’ on their emotional gas gauge after pushing one of the pre-tournament favorites to the brink.

And frankly, standing with one hand on a hip and the other dribbling time away is often a team’s only recourse in a game that is officiated with far more of a fine-toothed comb than any December or January contest. That’s another reason we don’t need a shot clock. Ninety percent of these games don’t have anything resembling a flow anymore.

Enjoy sampling all the flavors. Saturday morning’s run-and-gun Class B West boys’ battle between Spruce Mountain and Poland was one to watch if your preference is playground ball. Heck, a 20-second clock wouldn’t have produced more than a violation or two in that one.

As for games that emerge from the starting block at a more pedestrian pace, basketball is no different than life. Better off doing things well than doing them quickly.

We’re coming off a 32-hour stretch in which our young athletes did their job as well, in context, as any I remember before them. Let’s not tinker with it.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.

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