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It Can Be Fun for Players, Fans; Coaches Aren't So Sure

February 05, 1988|CHRIS DE LUCA

SAN DIEGO — David Lee, on high school basketball's three-point shot:

"It excited me when I heard about it. I wanted to go out and shoot. I just knew it would bring out a lot. It would make the game a lot better, the games closer and more interesting. It really means you are never out of a game with the three-point line."

Ron Loneski, on high school basketball's three-point shot:

"If I ever had to get back in a high school basketball game, and I was 14 or 15 points behind and had to rely on the three-point shot to get me back in the game, that is what I call desperation."

Guess who is the player, and who is the coach?

Lee, of Mira Mesa High, represents the players who say the new rule has allowed them to sharpen their shooting skills from all areas.

Loneski, of Lincoln, speaks for many coaches who argue that players are developing bad habits and slowly moving away from the basket. Loneski, among others, also says too much importance is being placed on the shot.

In the first year at the high school level for the new rule, which awards three points for shots beyond a line 19-feet 9-inches from the basket, both sides agree on one thing: It adds excitement to the game.

"As a fan, as a player, you have got to love it," said Tim Cunningham, Mira Mesa coach. "As a coach . . . you're going to really not like it. You can dig and claw and fight to get that lead, then in a quick instance, a kid with a hot hand can basically eliminate that lead."

It will take a full season for everybody to become accustomed to this, but they should have been prepared. When the three-pointer was introduced in professional and college basketball, it became clear that the painters soon would be adding another arc to high school courts.

After half a season, it has been accepted with mixed emotions. Naturally, coaches who can point toward victories because of the bonus shot are the ones who endorse it the most.

Morse Coach Ron Davis speaks more glowingly of the three-pointer than does Mira Mesa's Cunningham. Perhaps that's because a three-pointer had a major impact on a Morse-Mira Mesa game. Morse's Willie Davis hit a 25-footer with seven seconds to play to send the game into overtime, and Morse eventually won, 65-63.

"There wouldn't have been that much hope (to win the Mira Mesa game) if we didn't have the three-point play," Davis said. "I think it is good, the fact that high school kids would be able to develop the outside range, just like they are going to have to do in college."

Said Cunningham: "As coaches, we are always trying to get that safe margin where you know you have breathing room. Now you just know you are not going to have that. (The three-pointer) is a lead eliminator. Nothing is safe."

Cunningham concedes that he likes some aspects of the shot. No wonder. In the same game, his team was trailing by nine. But in the span of about 20 seconds, two three-pointers by Lee put Mira Mesa back into it.

"It was unbelievable how the game changed," Cunningham said. "Here you are looking at a struggle the rest of the way and now, all of a sudden, you are right there."

And that's part of the lure for players such as Lee, point guards who not always were considered scoring threats.

When Lee learned last season that the shot would be allowed, he spent more time in the weight room, improving his strength, and in the gym, working on his long-distance shooting.

"It's a good shot in high school, but what I needed to do was lift weights because, before, I was inconsistent from long range," said Lee, who is 5-feet 11-inches tall. "Now I'm earning three points with the shot."

Lee has improved his average from 14 points a game last season to 21.9 this season.

Loneski, who says he is not entirely against the shot, said the one-point payoff isn't worth the risk of shooting from 19-9 or beyond. His Lincoln teams over the years have developed a respected reputation for fast-paced offenses that highlight fast-break layups and other short-range shots.

"I would rather see a kid come down the floor and jam the ball with two hands than I would see a kid shooting a three-pointer," Loneski said. "You know, everybody always raves about the three-point shot, but there aren't many teams who can shoot 45% or 50% from that range. It's a low-percentage shot for most teams.

"Anytime we play anybody who wants to shoot 30% from the field, then we will give them that shot all night long. Teams never beat you from the outside, they beat you from the inside. They beat you shooting layups and 4- and 5-foot jump shots."

Even coaches who have had success with the three-pointer are apprehensive about endorsing it. Christian Coach Randy Wright says his team is shooting 50.7% (75 for 148) from three-point range. But he isn't convinced.

"We're 9-9. We'd be 4-14 without it. But I really don't like the rule because kids get into bad habits," Wright said. "Well, maybe I like it this year.

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