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Scott Mansch: Shot clock ruling draws mostly favorable responses

The Minnesota State High School League is instituting a 35-second shot clock for varsity basketball beginning in the 2023-24 school year. Generally, area coaches are favorable to it.

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Play clock runs down as Minnesota West Tyvorus Lawton a guard for the Blujays makes a layup during a game with Vermilion Community College. Tim Middagh / The Globe

When Marshall High’s girls basketball team used stall tactics against heavily favored Waseca nearly three years ago in an effort to keep the game close, the aftermath turned into a runaway that sounded the call for a shot clock.

The Minnesota State High School League heard the outcry. And recently the organization did something about it, instituting a 35-second shot clock for all varsity basketball in the state starting with the 2023-24 school year.

“Man, I think it’s great for the game of high school basketball, advancing it into the 21st century,” said Windom girls coach Jacob Johnson. “This aligns so well with the next level, because college and the NBA both use it.

“It will really clean up end-of-game situations.”

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True enough. No more holding the basketball for a minute or more to secure the last shot. And no more holding the ball against a heavily favored team in hopes of staying close. The tactic didn’t work for Marshall, which took only nine field-goal attempts and lost 17-4 to Waseca in a playoff game during the winter of 2018.

What the strategy did do was attract attention throughout the country, thanks to Associated Press and USA Today stories.

The body that governs high school athletics in America, the National Federation of State High School Associations, recently approved shot clocks — but stopped short of a mandate — with final approval left up to the individual states.

Only a handful of states, including both North and South Dakota, have previously used the rule, which provides for a fixed time that a team may control the ball without attempting a field goal. In less than two years, Minnesota will join the list.

It appears to be a popular decision among many of southwest Minnesota’s basketball coaches.

“You know you’ve got to play 35 seconds of good D, and you can force a lot of bad teams into turnovers or terrible shots,” said Worthington’s Eric Lindner, a highly successful girls coach. “I really do think it’s a good thing overall.”

Lindner believes in fast-paced offense and pressure defense. His teams rarely run offense more than 30 seconds before shooting. While Lindner respects thoughtful game plans and admires disciplined play that stall tactics demand, he isn’t a fan of that style.

“I just don’t think it’s good for the game of basketball,” he said. “Even though it might be a (sound) strategy thing, I don’t think it’s good for the game of basketball.”

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While everyone has an opinion, not all are totally invested in one side or the other.

“I’m actually very neutral on Minnesota adding a shot clock,” said Hills-Beaver Creek boys coach Kale Wiertzema. “I don’t think you’ll see too much change in the way the game is played in this part of the state.”

Wiertzema, who had a successful run with the H-BC girls before taking over his father, Steve, with the traditionally powerful Patriot boys program, agrees with Johnson in one way.

“I think it may come into play with strategizing end-of-game situations in tight contests,” Wiertzema said.

Luke Drooger is a former star athlete at Edgerton High who is in his first season coaching the girls at Southwest Minnesota Christian. He’s on board with the MSHSL.

“The shot clock will be great for players and fans,” Drooger said. “Players will get to shoot more and only have to play great defense for 35 seconds at a time. Fans like a faster pace and scoring, so they better like the change.

“No more holding the ball for all five minutes of overtime.”

But change doesn’t come for free.

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James Wajer, the athletic director at Murray County Central, is among those who worry about the cost of implementing the electronic shot clocks, which will be mounted atop backboards at either end of the court.

“For us it will be about $10,000 — $5,000 per court — which is an unforeseen fee,” said Wajer, whose MCC facilities include an auxiliary gymnasium. “But the main thing is, will it make the game better? I think it will in certain aspects. Certainly teams won’t be able to hold the ball. They’ll have to play. But there’s a cost, and it’s a continuing cost. Because when it’s already tough to find officials, you’re going to have to find somebody who’s committed to running this. And you’ll have to pay them.”

Running a shot clock is not exactly like keeping score, either. It requires an especially attentive person who is not watching the scoring. Instead, they’re looking for change of possession.

“That’s all they can watch. And they can’t get distracted,” Wajer said. “It’s going to be a vital part of the game. And it will be nerve-racking, to fill that seat and be able to run the shot clock.

“For schools our size, when you’re looking at that added expense over time you’re just always taking away from your gate and your concessions. Those are funds that we use for everything, not just basketball.”

Even at the high school level, of course, the business of basketball is just as important as the final score.

“It’s going to be added expense,” said Wajer. “No doubt about it.”

What is also certain is that change is coming soon. The shot clock era for Minnesota prep hoops will officially arrive in less than two years.

“Financially it won’t be great for small schools, and they’ll have to find extra people to run it,” said Edgerton’s Drooger. “But I think it’ll be something where we will look back in 10 years and be shocked that we ever didn’t have one.”

Scott Mansch is a part-time writer at The Globe and appreciates tips and story ideas. He can be reached at smansch5rockets@gmail.com

Scott Mansch photo
Scott Mansch

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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