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Midvale Journal

Shot clock added to high school basketball; Hillcrest coaches weigh in on its impact

Dec 02, 2022 02:40PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High girls basketball coach Alyssa Nielsen expects strong team defense as seen by seniors Kay Erekson and Abigail Slama-Catron defending a Brighton player’s shot. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This season, high school basketball will add a 35-second shot clock.

Even though the decision was made by the Utah High School Activities Association last January, it has had some schools scrambling to purchase and install the clocks—or even find them amongst supply chain issues.

However, Hillcrest will be ready when the girls host their home opener Nov. 22 against Provo High and the boys, Nov. 30 against Herriman High.

“We had the foresight to install the shot clocks when we built our new gym,” Hillcrest athletic director Scott Carrell said.

Coaches across the state have different opinions about the shot clocks, but girls’ head coach Alyssa Nielsen thinks “overall, it’ll be good.”

“It’s going to be a bigger impact than then people realize,” she said. “It'll speed up the game, especially on the varsity level, and it will be effective to keep the game going at a steady pace and give each team more opportunity to get shots up. As far as the JV and freshman level go, it might be a little bit tricky to get effective shots up in that amount of time, but I think with a little bit of practice and getting used to it, it'll be just fine.”

Nielsen, who served as interim head coach last year, said that the shot clock will level ball possessions.

“In the past, teams were able to hold the ball if they do have a lead, but with the shot clock, it will make it more even,” she said. “It may favor a quick-tempo teams just because you can get out, run and get effective shots up before the clock goes off, and if the other team can't, then you may have the advantage there.”

Huskies boys’ head coach Brandon Sluga, who played with a shot clock at the University of Utah, isn’t sure how much impact the shot clock will have on the high school game.

“It's still to be determined just how much the shot clock will impact everybody, but I feel like it's not going to be a really big deal for most high schools,” he said. “From what I've seen, players don't hold the ball a lot. I know that that's been an argument in the past that with certain programs they would hold the ball in a big game situation, hoping they could keep the possession down and the score down, and maybe give a little bit less talented team a chance to win. I really haven't seen that in the last few years. I don't think it would be a big deal on any strategy that we have. We hope to be a lot better program where we might get our opponent deep into the shot clock so maybe that could be to our benefit.”

Most teams, Nielsen said, likely get a good shot off before the clock expires.

“I think the rare occasions would be not hitting the rim or the backboard for it to reset the shot. Maybe it may be when not the best shot was put up, but then you fight to get offensive rebound,” she said. “We've done OK as far as getting good shots up within the time frame. It definitely will help with the transition to college ball. I remember playing in college myself (at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig), coming from high school with no shot clock. The clock just makes for a faster paced game, so it was a transition for me, for sure. It would help to have it now in high school.”

Sluga agreed most possessions are “significantly less” than the 35 seconds.

“I think the length of a possession in a lot of games in high school is determined by the talent of the team and the opponent they're playing. So, the bigger the disparity is in talent between the two teams, the easier it is to get a shot up,” he said. “One thing I’m concerned about is from an officiating perspective is they're asking the officials to do more. There might be some situations that could be controversial if someone gets the shot off before the buzzer sounds and they wave it off or if they don't get it off, but they still count it. I don't know that there's going to be a bunch of situations like that, but you are adding more to the game than just the end of the quarter now where players need to get the shot off. That can be a factor that's challenging for officials.”

The shot also needs to hit the rim to reset the clock.

“If it hits the rim, that could be another issue for whoever's doing the timing and determining if they think it hit the rim, but it didn't hit the rim,” Sluga said. “In the rules, it says it’s the officials call and that could be challenging. It’s not college or the NBA where you can go back and look at video footage. There could be some challenges there, asking the officials to do more in a critical stressful part of the game with a shot clock.”

There also is training involved for the person running the shot clock, which is the school’s responsibility, he added.

Prior to the season, Sluga said more than 80 boys showed up for open gym and he has 40 who are in his basketball class. They played in a spring and fall league, and also, in three summer tournaments, where there was a shot clock.

“For us, it didn't make a huge difference,” Sluga said. “I think initially for high school, mostly, unless you have very skillful players, you're going to have a turnover before you have a shot clock violation or you're going to have a shot go up. In most cases for most teams, they’ll get a shot up; it may not be a perfect shot, but a good shot. It may be more interesting in the state tournament. That may be where the shot clock comes into play the most. And I think that's probably a good thing. Most state tournament games after the first round or two are lower scoring and longer possessions. It’s going to be an adjustment at that point.”

Sluga is excited about his program.

“We have a pretty talented senior class, and we have really good players coming in that are sophomores and freshmen. This is the most solid the program's been in my three years here and we have more talent at more levels through the Bantam program and some kids moving in from out of state or different schools. We have a stronger foundation building into our program now,” he said.

Sluga’s strategy will be both a quick tempo and patience with the ball.

“We've really emphasized running the floor this year, but also are trying to understand and incorporate what a really good shot is for our team,” he said. “Our kids have gotten better at that over the last six months. It's been a big emphasis for us to run and try to go get easier baskets and then when we don't have it, playing together on offense, sharing the ball and being patient.”

Nielsen’s team is young, after having most of the starters graduate or move. She has 270 total minutes of varsity-level playing time from this year’s returners, 331 minutes less than the team’s leading scorer last year.

However, “this year actually surprised me quite a bit. I was planning on doing a huge rebuilding year, but from what I've seen, and the players coming in, they’ve worked hard, and they're committed,” said Nielsen, who said they had about 20 consistent players at offseason open gyms. 

The team will be led by seniors Abigail Slama-Catron, Kay Erekson, Tiana Brown, Sadie Hutchins and Ashtyn McVey. Nielsen also said they’ll have a group of younger players coming in that will help build the program.

Joining her on staff is Laura Roth and Nikki Orreli.

“Defense is going to be a huge emphasis for us this year; pressing, high-tempo, in-your-face defense is how we’re going to be able to stop teams from scoring more effectively and that translates into the offense. If we're able to get steals and stops, then it'll just be easier for our offense to flow,” she said. “We have the girls and the speed and the ability to do it. I really think anything that they want to do, they can do.”