Start at the foul line, a point 15 feet from the basket that is so easily negotiated that the shot is called a free throw. OK, now take one step backward. And another.
From here, imagine grabbing a basketball, casting it up and swishing it through the hoop. It is not hard to do.
For this, the NCAA will award three points this college basketball season.
Suddenly, the distance of 19 feet 9 inches has assumed special significance in the college game. It is the new magic number, now that the rules committee has legislated the three-point basket into existence for at least one year.
Oh boy. Just like the pros.
Why major college basketball, circa 1980, has seen the need to keep mimicking the NBA, circa 1986, is one of the true puzzles of the decade. Not very long ago, college hoops were the best show in the land, and the Final Four--never mind Indy, the World Series or the Super Bowl--was the sporting event of the year. You want to watch real basketball, you come to the NCAA.
Once Indiana or North Carolina or Georgetown had cut down the championship nets, you then switched over to the NBA, just for a fix. You already knew how the final series would turn out. Celtics over Lakers. Or Lakers over Celtics.
Lately, however, the NCAA can't do enough to bring itself down to NBA standards. First, it adopted the same watered-down playoff format. Then, a shot clock.
And now, the hated three-point shot.
Only the colleges have taken the blasted thing and gone the NBA one step lower. In the NBA, the three-point circle is set at 23-9--out there far enough where you don't need to pay it much attention. But the NCAA, after years of tinkering in individual conferences, has set the three-point arc at 19-9.
In other words, a gimme. Your basic, textbook, run-of-the-mill, top-of-the-key jump shot now gets you three points instead of two.
UCLA's Reggie Miller, one of the nation's leading castaways, has considered the difficulty of 19-9. He likens it to a layup.
"I figured it would be 21, 22 feet," Miller says. "At 19-9, that's almost an underhand shot."
Steve Alford, Indiana's long-range leader, sees 19-9 as a bonus, money for nothing. "It just seems now that my jump shots are worth three points instead of two," he says. "To a shooter, you've got to love that."
And to a basketball purist, you've got to hate that. The three-point shot is a gimmick, plain and simple, one that was culled from the carcass of the old American Basketball Assn.
It could be regarded as basketball's equivalent to the designated hitter--except that the designated hitter isn't quite so artificial. At least when he hits a home run, it still counts for only one run.
"I think it's a ridiculous rule," Georgia Coach Hugh Durham said. "It's like giving a different number of points in football for field goals kicked from different distances or assigning a different run total to a home run hit over the fence 400 feet away than to one hit down the line 330 feet."
The three-point shot is the baby of the NCAA rules committee. Don't blame the coaches. In a preseason poll of Division I coaches, two-thirds of them voted the three-pointer down.
Even those who like it, such as Jerry Tarkanian of Nevada Las Vegas, admit it is flawed. "Nineteen-nine may be too close," Tarkanian said. "I'd like to see it 21 feet."
Added Ron Palmer of CS Long Beach: "Make it 21 or maybe 22 feet. Make it worth three points."
Even at longer distances, though, the three-point shot is a concept that should never have gotten off the ground.
Three points against the three-pointer:
--Is bigger better? Proponents say the three-pointer means more excitement. All it really means is more jump shots and more points. Offense will come cheaper--and will be cheapened. Is a 90-80 game really packed with so much more excitement than an 80-70 game?
--So much for fundamentals. Whatever happened to such concepts as working for a good shot and getting the ball inside? In the year of the three-pointer, the battle cry will be, "Shoot!"
The three-point rule actually rewards a team for taking the easy way out. Why sweat and drive and pick and roll for two points when a flick of the wrist from the outside will get you three?
--An art form is defiled. Basketball purists say their game is the ultimate test of the true athlete. Basketball combines strength with finesse, running with jumping, stamina with strategy.
Basketball with the three-point shot is "Citizen Kane" with colorization by Ted Turner. This season, the college game has become a carnival. The rules now cater to the specialist. If you can't rebound and don't play a lick of defense, there'll still be a place for you if you can put down the 20-foot jumper.
Supporters of the three-pointer contend that the rule will swing the balance of power back toward the little man. That is an admirable cause, but the solution isn't an extra stripe on the hardwood.
How about widening and lengthening the court, which would put greater emphasis on speed and mobility? Or how about enlarging the key, opening it up for the budding Spud Webbs of the world?
There are better ways to even the scale than the three-point shot. Especially when that shot comes from 19 feet 9 inches.
When Curtis Aiken, a guard at the University of Pittsburgh, took his first look at the 19-9 line this fall, he wondered what had gone wrong. "I thought the janitor had made a mistake," he said.
No, it was the NCAA that made the mistake. Maybe by the end of this season, the NCAA will realize it, too. This is still a one-year trial run.
Maybe by the autumn of '87, real basketball can return to our college campuses.