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On the clock: High school coaches weigh in on the shot clock debate

On Tuesday night, a playoff-basketball-game-turned-filibuster caught the attention of the state. Facing Waseca in a section playoff game, the Marshall girls basketball team took it upon itself to stall on offense in an attempt to limit the amount...

All eight teams at the Bremer Holiday Classic play using the 35-second shot clock installed at Willmar High School. Curt Hogg / Tribune
All eight teams at the Bremer Holiday Classic play using the 35-second shot clock installed at Willmar High School. Curt Hogg / Tribune
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On Tuesday night, a playoff-basketball-game-turned-filibuster caught the attention of the state.

Facing Waseca in a section playoff game, the Marshall girls basketball team took it upon itself to stall on offense in an attempt to limit the amount of possessions in the game and pull off the upset.

The strategy didn't work. They scored twice, losing 17-4.

The game took it upon itself to fulfill the role of being the single game every winter that spurs on a statewide debate: Should the Minnesota State High School League adopt a shot clock?

A group of area basketball coaches have spoken and the results are in.

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They are in favor of adding a shot clock to Minnesota high school basketball-and it could be implemented sooner rather than later.

"It's just a matter of time," Willmar athletic director Ryan Blahosky said.

Support from the five coaches, as well as Blahosky, was unanimous.

"I'm a huge proponent of the shot clock," Willmar boys basketball head coach Matt Williams said. "High school basketball needs to have it."

The sentiment of shot clock support was shared, but the reasoning behind it varied from coach-to-coach.

For Williams, the added drama that having a shot clock can add to the end of a game is worthwhile.

"It really makes end-of-game scenarios much more interesting for everyone involved," Williams said. "The strategy of holding onto the ball for two minutes with a five, six point lead just isn't good basketball. That's not the way we teach kids how to play."

Willmar's gymnasium is one of the few in the state with shot clock capacities, which Williams likes to use as often as possible during non-conference games and the Bremer Holiday Classic.

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"We use it whenever we can," Williams said. "Probably from the 20 times we've used it, during the course of a game it comes into play twice per game. The reception to it has been positive from other teams."

Jake Brustuen, the BOLD boys head coach, is also intrigued by the change it would bring to the conclusion of games.

"The second half, you would see the way teams have to play change and it would lead to some more competitive games down the stretch," Brustuen said. "Having to get stops down the stretch is a lot more interesting than having to foul and hoping they miss free throws with three minutes to go."

While a shot clock could have an impact on the way teams play beginning all the way at the tip-off, its late-game effect was a recurring theme for coaches.

"I think it gives teams that are down on the scoreboard a little better chance to come back in the final six, five minutes of a game," Willmar girls coach Dustin Carlson said. "It's more exciting for fans to watch when the teams are up and down, and I think that the girls also would rather play like that."

Hancock boys head coach Cory Bedel echoed that notion.

"At the end of games now, at times you'll often have to foul to get yourself back into it," Bedel said. "With a shot clock, now you can play and let that clock run out a little bit."

John Nolte, the Lac qui Parle Valley girls head coach, was the most hesitant of the group, and saw a possible late-game downside of a shot clock.

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"I think it does hurt the team that has worked harder to get a lead in the final minutes," Nolte said. "There is some strategy to being able to hold onto the lead that you built without the shot clock."

The first-year head coach of the Eagles expounded on another concern.

"The only thing that I would worry about is it encourages a lot more teams, especially, girls, to play a pack-it-in defense," Nolte said. "That's kind of boring to watch, frankly. It encourages a lot of zone defense because sometimes the girls game doesn't have the number of outside shooters and slashers as the boys game."

Still, Nolte favors making the switch.

"I'm from South Dakota, so they started with it my second year there," Nolte said. "I was not very excited about it, but that definitely changed. I like the idea of a shot clock."

Talk to many coaches, and they will tell you that they believe a shot clock would make the game more entertaining.

"It's not pro sports or college sports where you're going mainly for that entertainment factor, but people are paying to see you and so you want to put on a good show and play good basketball," Brustuen said. "It just keeps games flowing better."

Putting himself in a fan's shoes, Bedel agreed.

"Even if we weren't a run-and-gun team, I think about if anyone wants to watch slow, stalling basketball," he said. "I wouldn't."

One of the most common objections to the annual "Should we implement shot clocks?" debate is the cost around installing them for school districts and athletic departments.

Blahosky presented a solution for that.

"I think if they told schools that they have until, say, 2022 for AAA and AAAA schools, and then maybe another year or two for A and AA schools, they could do it," Blahosky said. "A lot of schools, even the small ones, have great booster clubs and some of the smaller ones even have bigger budgets than I do. So the initial cost of equipment is the big barrier, but given that amount of time, everyone could find the money."

How much would it cost, exactly?

The Cardinals' shot clocks, which were state-of-the-art cost between $10,000 and $12,000 between equipment and labor.

"Once you install them, after one year people wouldn't even notice," Blahosky said. "It's a positive for the game."

Another counterpoint that gets brought up: offenses would struggle to get shots up. All five coaches interviewed said they weren't worried about that.

"You could do 35, 45, even 55 seconds," Williams said. "That's enough time to run an offense and get a shot no matter who you are."

Carlson, whose team is known for stifling opponents on the defensive end, said teams could still get quality looks up in the allotted time.

"I can't see the argument against installing a shot clock from a coaching standpoint," Carlson said.

Out of all the theories and possible scenarios surrounding the talk of adding a shot clock, one is a certainty: there would be no more 17-4 basketball games.

"It's just not good for the kids playing. That's what we're in this for at the end of the day," Williams said. "We can talk about the strategies and things involved, but it comes down to do you think those Marshall seniors will have a good memory from their final game ever?

"I don't think so."

All eight teams at the Bremer Holiday Classic play using the 35-second shot clock installed at Willmar High School. Curt Hogg / Tribune
All eight teams at the Bremer Holiday Classic play using the 35-second shot clock installed at Willmar High School. Curt Hogg / Tribune

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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