It starts tonight, 19-feet 9-inches from the basket. A shot that eventually may be heard around the Southern Section.
The three-point shot, which can turn small teams into offensive threats, games around in the matter of minutes and coaching strategies inside out, will make its debut tonight in Cal State Fullerton's Titan Gym when the Freeway League opens with its Tipoff Classic.
The Freeway League is one of two leagues in the Southern Section using the three-point shot on an experimental basis. The other is the Sunset League, which opens play Friday night. No doubt a majority of the section's coaches will be scrutinizing the results.
League representatives will make recommendations regarding the three-point shot at the Southern Section's general council meeting next spring. Stan Thomas, Southern Section commissioner, said there is a good chance the section will adopt the rule within the next couple of years.
"Anything that improves the game, we're all for it," Thomas said. "Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if the three-point shot was an agenda item next year, and if it's passed, it could go into effect for the 1988-89 season. If the schools want it, heck, let's do it."
Freeway League coaches voted unanimously last March to use it.
Coaches are hoping the shot will give some recognition to a league that has only two playoff victories in the past two seasons. They also think the new rule will be popular with fans.
"I love it," said Ed Graham, Troy's coach. "I think the shot creates more interest, and anything that creates more interest is great for the game of basketball."
Said Ken Bell, in his 18th season at Buena Park: "I think the three-point shot will add a little spice to the game. It will add a little excitement to the end of a game. Of course, I might not feel that way if we get beat by a three-point shot at the buzzer."
Said Sonora Coach Paul Bottiaux: "The outside perimeter shot for three points can be as exciting as a dunk."
Steve Popovich of Marina said Sunset League coaches first voted for a distance of 21 feet, but when the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. decided on 19-9, the Sunset coaches adjusted.
"At first, I wondered why should we change such a great game?" said Ocean View's Jim Harris, who initially balked. "But then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the rule is coming sooner or later. You're going to see a three-point shot in every high school game in the next couple of years."
Dave Brown, Fountain Valley coach, previewed the shot at the Fountain Valley Tournament last month. He said it didn't change the outcome of tournament games, but he was surprised by the interest in it.
"The fans and the players really liked it," Brown said. "I was surprised by the amount of fan interest the shot provided in our tournament."
Popovich has noticed something strange in the Vikings' gymnasium ever since the three-point line was painted on the floor last October.
"Every kid who walks into the gym now has to try a three-point shot," he said. "I don't care if he's a basketball player or a kid in a P.E. class, they're all trying the shot. I guess it's just human nature."
Most agree the three-point shot is a welcome addition, but some think that 19-9 is too close.
"There's a lot of second-guessing on the college level about the distance," Bottiaux said. "But I think 19-9 is just about right on the high school level. A Mark Wulfemeyer or a Leon Wood comes along about once a decade."
Wulfemeyer (Troy) and Wood (St. Monica) are former outstanding high school shooters.
"I think you earn three points if you make that shot in high school," Troy's Graham said. "It might be a little easy for college players, but that's a good distance for high school players."
Regardless of the distance, most agree the shot will change coaching strategy in the final minutes and the style used to defend the shot.
Brown, who has 299 career victories at Fountain Valley, changed his coaching scheme in the final 25 seconds against St. Anthony with the three-point shot dictating the strategy.
The Barons, trailing by three, elected to work for a three-pointer to tie the score.
"Normally, in a situation like that, I would have the team work quickly for a two-point shot, and if it was good, call a timeout to press for a steal or foul somebody," Brown said. "We took our time, got a three-point shot and missed, and then passed the ball back out for another try at a three-pointer."
Fountain Valley had three attempts at a three-pointer, missed all three and lost the game.
Popovich said it will take more than one season for a coach to figure out all of the strategy involved with a three-point shot in the final minute of a close game.
"It should take about 20 games to understand the entire ramifications of the play," he said. "How do you defense it? Do you foul to get back in the game or try the shot? Are you better off fouling a great shooter or daring him to take the shot with the game on the line?"
One thing is certain. The days of packed in, two-three zone defenses collapsing on a center are over if a team has a good outside shooter. Good shooters will be closely guarded as soon as they cross midcourt, and man-to-man defenses will be the norm, coaches said.
"A lot of people thought I had the most to lose with the three-point shot because I have a 6-11 center (Mark Georgeson) and two big forwards," Popovich said. "But the way I look at it, the shot will open up the key area. We've got Mike Meyers outside, and if he's hitting, maybe Georgeson won't see so many zones packed in on him."