You’ve probably heard it said of babies, puppies and newspaper columnists.

“He (or she) is so ugly, it’s cute.”

Such is the state of high school basketball in 2010-11.

Think of your favorite soap opera or reality show. It’s dripping with drama, but sometimes it’s so cheesy that even the most passionate fan can’t help but wince or recoil in horror.

First, let me cushion the bad news with the digestible.

Competition has never been closer, nor have a higher percentage of games been up for grabs in the final three minutes than I can recall in my lifetime.

Just watched six games in 10-day span, a schedule altered and abbreviated by the present pain-in-the-drain weather pattern. Five of them went into overtime. The other was decided by four points and a wrestling meet broke out.

Also (and yes, this is straining at diplomacy and niceness), because individual star power is, um, beneath the norm, there is a welcome emphasis on the balanced team game that hasn’t been seen in a while.

Throw all that into a blender, hit the button, and next month it probably will give us marathon tournament sessions that are a logistical nightmare for the site directors. So that’s nice.

But let’s not get carried away. The overall product is awful. Hor-ri-ble. Mind-numbing.

Maybe you think you’ve read this treatise once or twice before. Yes, I’ve been pounding my feet in the pulpit for at least five years now, praying that it would lead the transgressors to repentance.

No luck. And the eyesore continues to spread.

We’re seeing overtime games with the winners scoring in the mid-20s and low-30s, when neither team made a concerted effort to slow it down.

Quarters come and go with one or both sides failing to hit a single field goal. This in games involving at least one team that is a lock to make the tournament. Again, not due to any shortage of attempts, many of which aren’t coming within a foot of the rim.

Real, honest-to-goodness varsity teams are struggling to hit double digits. In. An. Entire. Game. We’ve already seen a four and two nines in the loss column this year from one school. Janitors and phys-ed teachers have less trouble filling it up in benefit donkey basketball.

Nothing is more ear-grating than the few apologists, all of whom have either a spawn or some other stake in this mess.

“The coaching and the defense are so much better than when we were in school,” one contemporary, a former Mountain Valley Conference coach, told me during last year’s playoffs.

With all due respect, hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

OK, I’ll concede the coaching point to a limited extent. The ones in our area who haven’t been run out of the game by knucklehead parents and pampered players are tremendous. I’d be honored to have a child of mine play for Mike Adams, Jim Bessey, Ray Convery, Mark Simpson, Scott Graffam, Mike McGraw, Heidi Deery, Chris Bessey, Travis Magnusson, Lucas Turner or Ryan Deschenes, to name a few.

But c’mon. Defense now takes as much game-planning as deciding whether to go with the bouncing-basketball tie or the sweater vest.

Ninety-five percent of the time it’s a zone. The reason: Marksmanship is dead. Even layups.

“You see a lot of kids out in their driveway shooting around when you go down this road in the summer, don’t you?” quipped one former coach and current athletic director, his sarcasm duly noted.

There’s no good reason, therefore, to play man-to-man and allow your opponent to find and exploit a speed or size mismatch.

If the other team has more difficulty dribbling than a dehydrated nine-month-old, you pull out the extended 1-2-2 or 2-1-2, watch the squirming and turn the game into a foul-fest or turnover symphony. If the opposing point guard didn’t just fall off a truck and into the starting lineup, you pack it in with a 2-3 and watch five sets of shaky hands play hot potato at the perimeter for three minutes at a time.

“Why the hell shouldn’t I play a zone if nobody can shoot?” one local veteran coach asked me as I sat in the choir loft after a game earlier this month. “The only thing I regret is not pressing more. I think that team can be pressed.”

The team in question was unbeaten at the time, by the way.

These problems aren’t without solutions, but I’ve cast my pearls in this space multiple times and watched the see-no-evil types trample them to bits.

Since some you asked, again, when I become king of the world …

— No more 3-point line. That’s right. For all the drama it has added at the end of games, here in Maine where the sport is played almost exclusively beneath the rim, it is a temptation that has destroyed the product. Rather than rehearse practical stuff such as 10-foot baseline jumpers and post moves, too many players spend that smaller-than-ever amount of solo practice time launching the low-percentage 3-ball.

— Zone will become illegal defense. Yup, sorry. Get between your man and the basket and learn how to use your hands. Quickness should be part of the game. Penetrating to the basket shouldn’t always end in a collision or a flop.

— Travel teams will be banned at every level below seventh grade. Kids as young as 7 or 8 years old are hitting the road each winter, playing pointless games against other towns when the time would be better spent learning skills and drills in the gym five minutes from home. Also, those teams are riddled with nepotism and discourage potential late bloomers who quit the game forever.

Radical concepts? You bet. Desperate times call for extreme makeovers.

I’m on this annual rampage not to hurt anyone’s feelings but because I care. My motivation is the same as that family on an intervention show, confronting the child who used to earn high honors but now is smoking crack out of a soda bottle.

We remember how beautiful and talented you were and recognize that you are overflowing with the potential to be that way again.

Right now, though, it hurts to look.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]

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