Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why Vermont high school basketball needs a shot clock

We have heard the arguments over the last few years as to if high school basketball in Vermont is in need of a shot clock. Some say the need is there to speed up the pace of the game and prepare kids for the next level. Those who are opposed say a shot clock will ruin the game and diminish the emphasis needed on fundamentals. After covering Tuesday night’s Rice/Essex game for the Vermont Guardian and ESPN Radio, I have very strong opinions on the subject.

Tuesday night’s semi-final game had to be one of the most boring games I have ever seen. Rice came out hard, got a big lead, and then sat on it. At one point of the game, I started clocking the time of Rice’s possessions, and I believe it was three times they held the ball for over a minute. One possession in the third quarter, Rice held the ball for a minute and 45 seconds. Yes, there was an Essex foul in there, but that came at the one minute mark of that trip down court. It was so bad that during a 30 second time out, one of the officials came over to me at the press table and said, “I have two words for you Chris ‘shot clock’”. We were all looking at each other wondering when the game would end and if we could stay awake for the entire game.

Here is why I believe there should be a shot clock in the high school game. First of all, I don’t agree with the argument of “it diminishes the skills of the players”. With a shot clock, players have to think quicker, they have to be able to find the open look, and passing has to be sharper because there is a time limit to shoot. On defense, players are encouraged to pressure more. There is the added incentive to force the offensive team into a turnover and to play the shot clock and not just the game clock.

Secondly, we had the discussion in last month’s issue of Varsity Magazine on how Vermont student/athletes have not been able to attract college recruiters for scholarship opportunities. I believe one of the reasons for this in basketball is because college recruiters and coaches don’t know how kids will react with a 30 or 35 second shot clock. They don’t know if a potential recruit can shoot under pressure, they don’t know if they can run an up tempo type of game, nor do they know if a point guard can manage the clock on a possession by possession basis.

For a coach, their way of coaching would change. Coaches would not be able to play stall ball starting in the second quarter. When it comes to the end of a game, teams also would not be forced to start fouling with three to go so they can get the ball back. Teams would have to shoot, creating rebound chances, and a greater chance to come from behind. This would add more excitement to the game.

The prime example of needing a shot clock goes back only a couple of years when on January 12, 2005, Milton and BFA-Fairfax faced off in a boys game in Milton. The final score was a mind numbing 5-2 BFA victory. Here is the thing; that was the halftime score! Neither team scored in the second half, nor did either team go to the free throw line. This was a deliberate attempt by Milton’s coach to slow the game down as he felt he did not have the offense to hold down BFA. Bob Johnson of the Vermont Principals Association was quoted as saying, “It had to have been one of the most boring games in the world.”

More excitement in the game, better skill development, and more of an emphasis on coaching is why I believe there should be a shot clock in Vermont high school basketball. Being a former coach, I would have welcomed a shot clock because of the reasons I mentioned. I also think their fundamentals would have developed more, and I as a coach would have had to think on my feet more. We need the shot clock to avoid yawners like Tuesday’s Rice/Essex game and the infamous Milton/BFA game.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rinks and courts of dreams

The Aud in Barre, Patrick Gymnasium, Krietzberg Arena, and the Gutterson Fieldhouse. These are the places Vermont high school athletes dream of in their sleep, and even in their daydreams in the middle of history class. These are the arenas where the Vermont high school hockey and basketball title games are held. It is the dream of winning a state title, and certain immortality in their hometown. The hits are harder, the slapshots have a few more miles an hour on them, and all of a sudden a kid who has a 15 foot range on her jumper can all of a sudden hit from 20 with a player in her face. It is tournament time in Vermont.

Not only is this an incredible time of the year for the fans and the players, but for those of us who write about and broadcast the games, there is a certain amount of magic for us as well. Most of us are former athletes who never played in a playoff game, much less got off the bench in our high school careers. We see things from another point of view. The crowds are booming, and we feel the electricity in the arenas to the point we are convinced that if the energy was bottled up, the City of Burlington could be powered for a month. Our calls seem to get better, phone lines myseteriously have amazing clarity, and our voices aren’t shot at the end of the night. In fact, forget Ernie Banks saying of “Lets play two”; we want to broadcast three. Yes, this is special for us as well.

The games I have seen during this year’s tournaments have been nothing short of amazing and spectacular. In the boys Division One hockey semi-finals, unbeaten Rutland needed an Alexander Porrier backhanded goal in the second overtime to end BFA Saint Albans dream of another title in a 3-2 Rutland victory. In the girls Division II semi-finals, Missisquoi and Montpelier had to go to overtime, but in part due to some horrendous officiating, the Solons lost 2-1. In the opener, Burr and Burton needed double overtime to defeat Northfield. How can I forget the boys Division II title game where Colchester came from two down in the third to tie the game, then seeing their dream of a second straight title come crashing down in the second overtime as Burr and Burton took out the Lakers 3-2.

There are so many stories that are yet to be written in this year’s tournaments. Down at Lamoille, the Lady Lancers basketball team wants to win a title for their captain Mackenzie Pratt who is out for the rest of the year while she undergoes cancer treatment? How about the 12th seeded Milton boys team who want to win for Jeff Cota, their 6’7 big man who has a rare form of bone cancer? Burlington’s boys team wants to send Tyrone Conley to UNH with their second consecutive title, but of course Rice could stand in the way as Pat Bergmann wants to avenge Burlington ruining the Green Knights chance of a perfect season. When it comes to the Barre Auditorium, who cares what the matchup and storyline is? This is the Aud!! Sports Illustrated rated the Aud as one of the best venues in all of high school basketball. There will be cowbells ringing, and entire towns showing up to cheer their teams on. So many stories to tell, more to come during the next ten days.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I know, I know, I have been slacking......

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I haven't posted in almost two weeks, and please forgive my sins of the blog world. I do have a good excuse, I have been sinking my brain cells into the dream world of Vermont broadcasters--The state hockey and basketball tournaments. I have called two double overtime hockey games, one that went a mere single overtime, and saw Montpelier's girls hoop team get upset by Milton last night. So, I do have an excuse, and there will be more to come on the tournament later on in the week. Now, I need a day off....

Friday, February 09, 2007


There is a guy named Chuck Miller who is one of the biggest basketball junkies I have ever talked to. With all that is going on in the ABA, (Which is a MESS!!! More on that in another post) Chuck has written a parody on the league complete with a ficticious team and tidbits from soon to be ousted CEO Joe Newman. Check it out, you will DIE laughing.

Shot clock guy......

Thursday night I had another night without a game to call, and well, I was in the mood to go to a game instead of calling a game. Being the fan I am, staying out of an arena is like keeping a fat person away from the gravy fries at Nectars. So, with the Frost Heaves in town to play Bellingham, I made the trip down I-89 to the Aud in Barre.

When I got to the arena, I was honestly prepared to sit in the stands, maybe jot down a few notes and yap with the throng of fans bearing "Free Kerry Lyons" shirts that sit behind the Vermont bench. Kerry is a guy who made it through the open tryout, worked his way through vet's camp, and was offered a contract. Kerry is one of the world's nicest guys who signs autographs, talks to the kids, and is having a blast just being on a pro team. When I asked him how things were going, he said, "Chris, I had my ten minutes of fame when I played in the first game, and the rest is gravy for me. I am just loving this whole dream." By the way, Kerry hasn't played since, and during blowouts the mob yells "We want Kerry" in hopes he will get some PT. I am convinced Kerry would wax the floor of the Aud on his hands and knees if he was asked to. He is one of the guys who will literally do anything to hang on to the dream of playing pro ball.

So, as I was meandering around and checking things out, Mike Healy of the Heaves asked me if I was working or watching the game. When I told him a little of one and more of the other, he asked if I knew how to run the shot clock. When I answered in the affirmative, he asked if I would be willing to run the thing. Hmmmmmmmmm, courtside seat, get to listen to the players, listen to Coach Voigt work the officials; it didn't take me more than a quarter of a second to say yes.

Mike gave me the rundown of the rules, which buttons to press, which switch to hit to light up the 3-D lights, and I was ready to rock. I played with the 3-D lights and ran the shot clock to make sure I knew how to press buttons, and I was officially a shot clock operator. Before the game started I was given final instructions by the refs who said not to reset quick; wait a half second to make sure there wasn't another change of possession, or that something else had not happened that would make them stop play to reset the clock. Once they did that, I was ready for a night of hopefully not having cowbells thrown at me because I couldn't press a button.

More or less, I managed to get through the game without any problems. There was once the refs had to stop the game because I reset the clock when I shouldn't have, but other than that, and a few times I didn't even start the thing, it wasn't a bad night. My main problem was seeing the action. Yes, I was in the best seat in the house, but when subs came into the game, I couldn't see a darn thing. Man alive those guys are tall!! Even when they are sitting they are two feet taller than I am when I am standing on a chair, so I had to wiggle my way around so I could see if a ball had in fact hit the rim or not. Finally, one of the ladies doing the scorebook politely asked the guys to sit so we could see. Man, I should have thought of that, but I was a rookie, so I knew my place.

The most fun I had in the whole experience was listening to the coaches and the players. Coach Voight was riding the refs hard, mainly because they didn't have a clue. "Be consistent!! Just be consistent!! That is all I ask!!" is what I heard about 200 times. The best was when a Vermont player got nailed for a foul, that in the NBA would be a continuation foul, no free throws and no basket. There was one small problem; there is no continuation in the ABA!! Oh yeah, Will was livid at that one, and I actually thought he would get a technical because he was red in the face and screaming. Oh yeah, he was a good two feet on the floor too, but who cares about that detail? By the way, the refs were just awful and that is being nice. At one point I was convinced it was going to take a visit from the medical examiner in order to have a foul called. Yes, it was that bad.

The game itself was a blast. 1,500 fans were in the building, ringing cowbells, and screaming their lungs out. The stat guy/webmaster/PR guy/everything guy from Bellingham said he hadn't seen anything like this in the last couple of years. He said his team was looking forward to the long trip from Washington because they knew it would be a packed house, and the fans would be loud and into the game. During the games that take place during timeouts, he kept on saying, "Man, why didn't I think of this?" He simply raved about the game, the rules, and the total class of the Vermont organization. He said, "We haven't had to worry about a thing except playing since the minute we got here."

Hey Mike, if you are reading this, let me know when you need a shot clock guy again. Next time I promise I will get the 3-D lights right and will start the clock when I am supposed to. Folks, the ABA itself is in trouble with the CEO being ousted, along with countless other issues, but don't let that keep you away from Heaves games. The atmosphere is as the guy from Bellingham said, "This is like a Duke game at Cameron Indoor!!"; the fans know their stuff, and it is great basketball. Tickets are cheap, parking is free, and the players sign autographs until they are kicked out of the arena. Good show Alex, keep it up.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Middlebury at Norwich

I have to admit that I am a fan at heart. I know that being in the media, people seem to think those of us who cover the games do it because we have to. The reality of it is we don't get paid jack, our hours are long, and our wives look at pictures of us to remember what we look like. We do this because we are fans, and we love covering games like Middlebury and Norwich.

When I arrived at Kreitzberg at 1:00 for a 3:00 game, the parking lots were packed. When I found a parking spot somewhere close to Randolph, I walked up to the guy who was directing traffic and said, "Man, and I thought I was early". He shrugged his shoulders and then looked at the line of cars coming up and said, "I think they thought they were early too." When I got to the doors, there were already people lined up for tickets. Luckily, I have this cool thing known as a press pass and walked my way into the arena so I could get ready for the game.

When I walked in, I could already feel electricity in the air. I dropped my stuff off and sauntered across the arena so I could say hello to George and John from WDEV, and John and I started talking about radio stuff, then the discussion came to the game itself. John told me that for only the second time this year, the students would be around for a game. In other words, the cadets would be loud; especially since ESPN U was televising the game live. We both sat back a bit, looked at the pristine ice, and said that it doesn't get much better than this.

These are two teams who have healthy respect for each other, yet beat the daylights out of each other on the ice. To say the fans were into it is like calling the Grand Canyon a hole.....It is understating things just a bit. Scott Miller, who is the Sports Information Director at Norwich, and doubles as the PA guy got the crowd going early when the Cadets took the ice. Scott was frantically flying around the arena before the game trying to get everything done, and I offered to do PA for him so he could do other things. Scott said, "Chris, I am too much of an ego-maniac to give up the mic." Scott, who is one of the better SID's around, then got the crowd fired up and ready to go. (It turns out he is a pretty good PA guy as well.)

When the puck dropped, the crowd was even more nuts. With every Norwich hit, the crowd roared. When the crazies in the corner knew the ESPN cameras were on them, they went even more insane. When Nikita Kashirsky opened the scoring with a jaw dropping, falling backhanded goal with 51 seconds to go in the first; the place EXPLODED!!! When he started off the second with another one, I thought my eardrums were going to pop. The joint was going insane, and I was loving every second of it. Yes, I would have loved to see a Middlebury victory, but I was having such a blast just being there. The fans know their stuff, they love their team, and they love the game. Games like Cal/Stanford; Harvard/Yale, and of course Norwich/Middlebury is why I love sports as much as I do. (Throw in Campolindo/Miramonte from my high school days, and Rice/Burlington as well.) It is the rivalries, the passion, and the respect and handshakes after the game that make covering sports so much fun.

On a personal note, I would like to send my best to my father-in-law who was rushed to the ER late last night. Hang in there, and get well soon.