For every action in sports, there is a swift, exaggerated overreaction. You can thank the glut of cable networks, talk radio outlets and social media platforms for that.

As a wise man (Winston Churchill? John Lennon? Bugs Bunny?) once said, if you can’t beat them, join them. My highly caffeinated Twitter feed attests to my newfound ability to read, react and bloviate to nobody in particular.

Every so often, I like to bring that flavor to this space. And since we’re all of nine days into a high school basketball season that won’t end until these 50-degree temperatures morph into a 50-inch snow pack, what better time to spout off the conclusions that are jockeying for position off the top of my head?

Portland and Deering are the best teams in Class AA North boys’ basketball. While the gap certainly doesn’t boggle and numb the mind as it has since football reclassification, it exists and stands out to the naked eye. Things just happen a blink of the eye more quickly and fluidly when the Bulldogs and Rams do them. The only way to prepare for that pace is to play against it regularly, not merely see it on film, so here’s hoping the new crossover schedule prevails for many years to come. More on that later.

Andrew Fleming of Oxford Hills is the real deal. I wasn’t completely convinced of this a year ago, but the evolution of his strength and his offensive game between his junior and senior campaigns is a sign of his dedication and tireless work ethic. He also has the court sense to match, along with a high degree of unselfishness that can’t be taught. All of the above makes his teammates better, now and in the future. The University of Maine is getting a good one.

In an era of budget cuts and a political climate in which people bristle at footing the bill for anything in which they are not a direct stakeholder, the construction of that beautiful, new gymnasium in Lisbon does the heart good. Congratulations to the community for this wise investment in your children. It is no wonder the Greyhounds are off to their most impressive start in boys’ basketball that I can remember. Being able to practice and play in what visitors already have described to me as “the best gym in the MVC” is immeasurable incentive to work and play hard.

Nobody, and by nobody I mean no team, even a relatively good one, can shoot free throws anymore. I haven’t sat down to do the math, because I don’t like to depress myself right before Christmas, but I am certain that the collective efficiency from the line in the seven games I’ve covered thus far is below 60 percent. It’s embarrassing and inexcusable. Neither the height of the rim nor its distance from the stripe has changed since they did away with peach baskets. It is part of an overall decline in offensive skills that underscores a sad truth: Other than organized practices with their team, too many kids don’t spend time shooting on their own.

I’m non-committal about the shift of regional tournament semifinal and finals from to the world of streaming video. Perhaps I would be more concerned if I were strictly a fan and not blessed with a press pass. There is an element of the unknown involved, because we will have to see the quality of coverage to know how it stacks up against time-tested public television. Also, while the vast majority of Maine homes are equipped with computers and high-speed internet, some of us poor folk have a plan with a data limit. Deep down, I’m rooting for this change to bump attendance at the gate, which has visibly decreased since the 1980s and ‘90s.

Love, love, love the new schedule and the tasty matchups it has produced now that conferences have been encouraged to leave the gates open. Even after Edward Little and Lewiston departed the SMAA for the KVAC, there was never a good reason for the Eddies and Devils to stop playing the Portland teams that were 30 minutes away. Likewise, Poland-Maranacook, Spruce Mountain-Mt. Blue and Oxford Hills-Leavitt are matchups we should have seen all along. I am disappointed that the MVC did not see fit to follow suit in this scheduling cycle. The top teams in that league could use the opportunity to test themselves against stronger competition, and a conference with its geographic obstacles could stand to eliminate some four-hour, round-trip bus rides on school nights.

At the risk of making a back-in-my-day proclamation, I remember when technical fouls were reserved for the most egregious violations. You had to swear or shove somebody to get one. Now they’re given out like parking tickets. This past week I was privy to two T’s (given to “star” players, I would argue not coincidentally) assessed for not returning the ball directly to an official after another foul was called. That would appear to be a good spot for an official who isn’t trying to play traffic cop to issue a stern warning instead of blowing the whistle and dramatically changing the game. Although in fairness to the refs, they likely are responding to directives from elsewhere. The invisible sportsmanship police who govern our children’s games, in response to a few bad apples, have dropped us off at the corner of absurdity and overcorrection.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 and like his Facebook page at www.sunjournal.com/kalleoakes.sj.


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