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An Extra Point Isn't the Only Benefit of Shooting From Afar : Boys' basketball: Philosophies have changed since Southern Section adopted three-point basket in 1987 and strategies have evolved. The fans love it.

January 23, 1991|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim Reames, boys' basketball coach at Foothill High School, didn't like the idea of that line on the court, 19 feet 9 inches from the hoop.

To him, it represented meddling, an attempt by the powers that be to turn the game he loved into a three-point circus.

Three points for one shot wasn't basketball, it was the Hot Shot Contest. Why didn't they just put a five-point circle at the top of the key?

There were many who felt that way in 1987, when the Southern Section adopted the three-point field goal. High school basketball would never be the same, Reames and others argued.

And they were right.

What many coaches feared has come to pass: Basketball has changed forever and the three-point shot is responsible. The odd thing is that Reames and the other original opponents don't seem to mind now.

"I was a traditionalist, I admit it," Reames said. "I didn't think the rules should be tinkered with. But I've changed my mind. There have been a lot of good things about the three-pointer. It sure is a different game today."

No rule change has affected basketball at this level the way the three-point shot has, not since peach baskets were replaced, anyway.

The shot has done more than give a team an extra point for a jumper beyond the 19-9 line. Philosophies have changed, strategies have evolved and some players have even become specialists.

And the fans are eating it up.

"When a player shoots a three, you get fans standing on their feet with both arms in the air," Capistrano Valley Coach Mark Thornton said. "The Estancia crowd even has a Three-O-Meter. They keep track of the number of three-pointers their team makes. The fans love it."

But the three-pointer is more than a crowd stimulant.

During its initial season, it was more of a novelty, a sideshow to the game. But some coaches soon found it was a way to compensate for their team's lack of size. It also was a rally tool, something used to chop away at big deficits or a desperation ploy in the final minutes.

But the shot has matured and now is as much a part of the offensive strategy as the pick-and-roll.

"The first couple of years we ignored it," Irvine Coach Steve Keith said. "We had one guy who was designated to shoot it if we needed three points, but that was it. Now our offense starts out at the three-point line. We don't live or die by it, but we want people to worry that we might shoot it any time."

If anything, the three-pointer has improved inside play. Teams no longer can pack in on defense, giving post players more elbow room.

The number of teams that use zone defenses has decreased. The shot has even made the 2-3 zone, a defense designed to stop post players, all but obsolete.

"There are a lot more teams playing man-to-man defense," Century Coach Greg Coombs said. "If they do play a zone, it better be something where you can get pressure on the perimeter. A couple three-pointers and you could be out of it."

This is something La Quinta Coach Jim Perry knows all too well.

In a recent game, Perry's team made the same number of field goals as Rancho Alamitos, and each team made 10 free throws. But the Aztecs lost, 68-59, because Rancho Alamitos had a 10-1 advantage in three-pointers.

"If you can't dunk the ball, you have to be a three-point shooter," Estancia Coach Tim O'Brien said.

That philosophy has given many shorter players a niche, coaches say.

Before the rule change, the trend was to get the ball inside, something that required bigger players. With the three-pointer, the shorter player can be a factor.

"The three-pointer has allowed guys my height and weight back into the game," said Josh Borella, a 6-foot, 170-pound guard for Laguna Beach. "We went out when (6-9) Magic Johnson came in. He ruined it for us."

Last season, Borella was second in the county in three-point field goal percentage (53.7%). He was one of four players who made 50% or more.

As of this week, five county players are above 50%.

"It gives the little guy a chance to bring the crowd to its feet," Thornton said. "It used to be the big guy would dunk the ball and the crowd would go wild. Now the little guy can do it, too."

Tom Airey, a 5-11, 150-pound junior guard for Capistrano Valley, has taken the shot to an extreme this season. He has made 105 of 231 three-point attempts and set the single-season school record before league play started.

The county single-season team record is 179 by El Toro in 1988-89.

"It's given players who are not great athletes a chance to be a star," Keith said.

El Toro Coach Tim Travers said: "You can have a 12-point lead, and all it takes is two possessions to cut it to six. It's haunted us this year. We've had two games tied and lost another at the buzzer because of three-pointers."

Two weeks ago, Canyon led Foothill by six points with 40 seconds remaining. But the Knights tied the score by making two three-pointers, including one by Mike Busalacchi with six seconds left.

Foothill won in overtime, 60-59.

"The first year it was used, I didn't like the rule," Reames said. "The next year, I had three guys who could make the shot and I loved it."

ALL THE DIFFERENCE If not for the three-point rule, this Jan. 7 boys' game between Rancho Alamitos and La Quinta would have gone into overtime:

Scoring RA LQ Two-point baskets 14 23 Free Throws 10 10 Three-point baskets 10 1 Total points 68 59

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