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In defense of defense

By: Jim Linsdau Placer Herald/News Messenger Sports Editor
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At a recent varsity basketball game I was again left wondering if prep games were getting too physical. However, some further research into the matter now leads me to believe it is a natural evolution of the game. I can remember when teams began to employ zone defenses to force teams to shoot from outside, before the three-point shot came to be. Perhaps zone defenses were a part of the reason for the change since games were getting boring with teams scoring less than 20 points a game. With the advent of the three-point arc came the run and gun. Teams were breaking the 100-point barrier in a game of catch-and-shoot. It was kind of fun to watch, but it was hardly basketball. Former college coach Bobby Knight once said the three-point rule should actually be reversed. He said three points ought to be awarded to the team that works the ball in and scores from underneath. He felt that was much more the art of the game than was a shot from 20 feet or more away. Also thrown on the scrap heap of old-fashioned basketball were the stall to run down the clock, the jump ball, and having to consistently shoot one-on-ones from the free-throw line after being fouled to stop the clock. The shot clock and three-point shot also help a team catch back up when trailing late in the game – if it can hit them. Then came “Offense wins games, defense wins championships;” that was the advent of a continuous full-court press and double-teaming the player with the ball. That stopped the zone as it proved less effective in these situations. From that came the harassment defense that not only took place in the backcourt, but under the basket as well. It’s the banging under the boards that makes the game appear out of control. After all, a player being hit while in the air can be dangerous. I contacted my friend and former basketball official, Oscar David, on the matter. David now coaches varsity basketball at Foresthill High School. He said his former colleagues in officiating have told him the game has gotten more physical. It’s the style of play being adapted and teams not up to it are getting beaten. He said it’s more about preparing one’s team to handle the mental toughness necessary than it is about teaching physical play. After all, basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport. “It’s not malicious,” David said; “it’s an increased intensity.” David said harder play is more evident among schools in higher division levels, but he is now seeing it in Division VI where he coaches. He said officials told him they now allow the physical play to help maintain the flow of the game – if no team gains an advantage from it. David sent me a document titled “Basketball Terms and Interpretations.” In it was the line “Always remember whiners and criers get no call … .” I once remarked to a coach after a varsity game that the style of play was more like the NBA than high school. It is more like the NBA, he said, because the NBA is where the money is.