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About Time

Boys' basketball: Use of a shot clock for the first time has brought mixed reactions.


Proponents say it's about time.

Detractors argue that doesn't make it right.

For the first time, a shot clock is being used statewide in high school boys' basketball games this season.

The NBA was the first to implement a shot clock in the mid-1950s. A 30-second clock was adopted in 1971 in women's college basketball, and high school girls' basketball followed suit in 1976. The NCAA approved a 45-second clock in 1985. In 1993, the men's clock was reduced to 35 seconds.

It took a while for high school boys to catch up.

Last February, the California Interscholastic Federation council passed--by majority vote of the 10 sections--a proposal to use a 35-second shot clock, making California the first state to use a clock in all divisions.

"It was the right decision," Trabuco Hills Coach Rainer Wulf said. "The overriding thing is, every level in the world used a shot clock except high school boys in America. It was like having a different game."

Based on the first month of the season, many coaches say the shot clock has made little impact.

"The shot clock has not affected our team one time," Loyola Coach Alex Acosta said.

Al Bennett, coach at Van Nuys Birmingham, agrees.

"I don't see any difference in the game," said Bennett, who remains opposed to using a clock.

Bennett, whose team once went to a four-corner stall for seven minutes in a game, said a clock limits strategy.

So did Westchester Coach Ed Azzam, who has one of the strongest and most athletic teams in the state.

"It takes something away from a team that is at a disadvantage--the use of the clock," said Azzam, who was against the clock's implementation. "We're really fortunate this year in terms of the talent we have, but when I first started we tried to take a minute or two off the clock each possession just to be in the game."

Other coaches say the clock actually adds elements of strategy. Wulf, for example, said a press becomes even more effective when coupled with a 35-second time frame.

"Even if your opponent breaks the press, it puts them under a little more pressure to make a decision quickly on offense," Wulf said. "And hopefully for us, that decision turns out to be a bad one for them."

The shot clock has already affected the way some teams play defense. Less-talented teams are using more zones against more athletic opponents. The clock becomes almost like a sixth man on the court.

"Often, the teams that are the most talented are not the most sound fundamentally be cause they rely on their talent so much," Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani said. "The clock can force them to take a shot they would otherwise pass up while waiting for an opportunity to drive to the basket."

Still, many proponents of a high- pressure man-to-man defense have not changed their schemes. Like their colleagues who favor the zone, they see the clock as an ally rather than a nemesis.

"It's an advantage because we know we have to play tough man-to-man for 35 seconds," Etiwanda Coach Dave Kleckner said. "If a team didn't have to shoot, they could wear us down for another 30 seconds or more. It rewards you by saying to the other team. 'Hey, you guys have to shoot now. You can't wander around passively on the perimeter without doing any thing.' "

At Los Angeles High, passivity is not an issue. Nor is the shot clock. John Brooker, the Romans' coach, said 35 seconds is more than enough time to get an open shot. His players usually shoot not more than 10 seconds after taking possession.

"Some coaches don't like the clock because they like to control things--but it's the kids' game," said Brooker, whose team scored more than 100 points four times in its first six games. "If you work them in practice and they know what they're doing, they'll make the right decisions most of the time."

Overly decisive victories, however, are becoming increasingly common because teams are unable to slow the pace. In the past, a team winning or losing in a rout could hold the ball as seconds ticked off the clock. Now, the team has to shoot.

Palmdale Coach Garry Phelps used that fact to his advantage earlier this season against Granada Hills. Palmdale trailed by three points with about two minutes left in overtime when Phelps realized his team would have plenty of chances to catch up.

"I thought, well at least we don't have to go out and foul somebody, because we had the shot clock," he said.

Palmdale got the ball back several times and outscored Granada Hills, 13-4, in the final minutes and won, 93-87.

Phelps, who considers himself a conservative coach, doesn't count himself among advocates of the clock. Like so many coaches, though, he has learned to go with the flow.

"I'll probably get used to it," he said, "just like I got used to the three-pointer."

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