A season-long trial of ups and downs by local teams makes you question the direction of basketball…and the quality of the upcoming championship process.
Three times in the past three weeks I’ve witnessed it first-hand.
One, a team’s inability to shoot the basketball. In each of the three games I covered the losing teams failed to break the 35% from the floor, and two that finished the game at 24% and 28%, respectively.
Two, teams’ inability to even keep possession of the basketball long enough for a shot. In three other games since Feb. 1 the losing team turned the ball, respectively, 18, 19, and 21 times. That’s an average of 5 lost, or empty, possessions per quarter. And as a coach told me afterwards, “It’s hard to win when you’re that poor with the basketball.”
Another added, “Maybe it’s better to take a bad shot before you throw it away. There’s always the chance it might go in.”
On the eve of the 2017 state tournament trail for both boys and girls…a vision of the future of basketball is squarely on display for those who’ve coached, watched, or just supported the game for decades. Like football, baseball, and other prep sports, there is concern that basketball is becoming watered down in its execution, let alone in its significance.
“I’m not sure that basketball means as much to kids as it did when I was growing up playing, or when I coached,” said former Springfield South coach Wayne Wiseman a few years back during a state tournament interview with this writer.
“Back then we lived to play. We worked all year to improve,” added Wiseman. “Kids would put up a rim in a barn or on the garage and shoot thousands of shots. That’s all they did during free time, was play basketball. Now I don’t see that and it shows when you watch the game. It’s not getting better. Kids can’t shoot, they can’t dribble, and they can’t pass. That’s bad for basketball.”
More than two decades prior to my conversation with Wiseman, the long-time coach at Proctorville Fairland High School, Carl York, shared his own forecast about what he sensed was a decline in the skills necessary to be successful in basketball.
“I don’t think kids work enough at basketball, like they once did,” said York, a legend in southeast Ohio for his years as a coaching icon at Fairland. “You have to have a ball in your hands to become a good shooter, a good ball-handler. You have to work at it, and it has to be fun. Now when you mention working and basketball in the same sentence some kids turn up their nose. Free throws and good passing have taken a back seat to more exciting plays.”
Carl York was a quiet guy who rarely raised his voice or had to question the passion of his players to perform at their highest level. His teams back then weren’t perfect, and weren’t big. But in 1962 they lost one game (25-1), in the state semi-finals at St. John’s Arena, to Ayersville. The following year that same team went 25-2. And over a span of 24 years he won seven Ohio Valley Conference titles, six sectional championships, two district crowns and one regional.
His teams were sound, rarely beating themselves. On nights when they didn’t shoot well from the field they made up for it by getting to the foul line, where it was inexcusable to miss. Possessions were prized, even against pressing defenses and opponents’ best attempts to create turnovers.
“You don’t see that kind of basketball now,” said Wiseman during our time together in 2010. “AAU has a big influence because it’s running up and down and getting as many shots as possible. I think it’s given basketball a black eye. Kids are playing more games, but they’re not becoming good basketball players.”
And that’s the state of affairs that I’ve seen on a number of occasions this season. Wayne Wiseman was a prophet, his words echoed by more than one former and current coach who shakes his head over the decline of sound, rudimentary basketball skills.
Said a coach back in December. “It’s good that they play as many sports as they want, but I’m not sure you can be as good as you want to be in both football and basketball. Where basketball’s concerned, that rim isn’t getting easier to conquer by lifting weights. It’s inexcusable to shoot 50% from the foul line.”
Still another added last week, “We’ve lost nine times this year and in five of our nine losses we shot 60% from the line…and lost by less than six points.”
In a First Person interview taped this week, former Newton High School’s Steve Fisher, who won the state title with Bethel back in 2001, shook his head as he pointed out diplomatically, “I’m sure a lot of people agree that the game has changed over the years.”
But not for the better. Just check the math.