How About Those Connecticut Huskies?! And How About A High School Shot Clock?

Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas … These are among the states that have been practically synonymous with big time college basketball for decades. Oh, and then there’s our state, tucked away in the Northeast corner, where major league baseball and professional football, hockey, and basketball were more popular than college hoops for many years. But things have changed in the past decade-plus here in the Nutmeg state.

The University of Connecticut won both Division I NCAA tournaments this week, with the men getting past another of those better-known bball schools — Kentucky — and the women defeating previously undefeated Notre Dame.

The UConn men have won titles four times since 1999 (that first one was a nail-biting triumph over favored Duke, another of the NCAA’s long-tenured standouts). The Connecticut women have captured nine championships — NINE — since 1995.

Legendary Coach Jim Calhoun finally hanging up the clipboard didn’t prevent the UConn men from getting it done again. One of his former players, Kevin Ollie, picked up right where Calhoun left off. The switch from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference this year, and loss of those great rivalries with Syracuse, Georgetown, and others didn’t prevent the Husky men from again being the top dogs. The men’s team overcame a recruiting violation and poor academic standing, the latter of which resulted in a ban from the postseason tourneys (conference and NCAA) a year ago.

This raises the rhetorical question, is there too much emphasis put on winning than say, the supposed real reason for attending college — academics?

Say what you want about these players being student-athletes but they are athlete-students and, really, employees. We have to face the fact that, in many ways, even collegiate sports is pretty much a money-making business first. In 2009, UConn officially became a Nike-sponsored school, signing a ten-year, $46 million contract.

Then there’s the whole burning and breaking things approach to celebrating that student fans thought was necessary.

But this is no time to rain on Connecticut’s parade(s).

The women, led by Coach Gino Auriemma are shoe-ins to at least be in serious contention for a title year after year. In 2002, UConn became the only school to have four women drafted among the top ten of the first round of the WNBA Draft.

In 2004, UConn became the second school, and the first in Division I, to win the men’s and women’s basketball title in the same season. Now it’s happened twice.

In 2006, UConn became the third school to have four players drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft, and the first school to have five players selected in the second round draft.

All of this history is great, and the most recent victories are, hopefully, evidence that the winning ways will continue. All of this said, it’s still going to be hard to get accustomed to rivalries between the UConn and the likes of conference foes Memphis, South Florida, and Houston. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it as UConn-St John’s and UConn-Syracuse. It’s because of the business first, money talks factor. Blame football — pigskin play draws better ratings, more money, and ultimately caused schools with bigger football programs to bolt from the Big East and shake up the conference.

The good news for Connecticut is the winning ways continue, and with the Huskies back on top, interest will remain high for players to go to Storrs, and runs deep into March Madness appear to be in the state’s future.

Shot Clock Anybody?

On the subject of basketball and change, one that would do Connecticut high school basketball some good would be the implementation of a shot clock. As it stands now, teams can hold for that last shot with possession and say 1:39 remaining on the scoreboard clock. This is the case in most states, although some do use a shot clock. A little research online reveals that eight states use a shot clock.

I enjoy covering all school sports, and certainly can’t fault coaches for milking the clock and playing keep-away if it means ensuring a win. If I were directly involved — as a coach or player — I would no doubt support this tactic. But as an outsider with an unbiased connection to school sports, I would much prefer seeing actual action — players driving to the hoop, making passes, and defending shots — than dribble, dribble, stand, wait, pass, dribble, dribble, dribble some more. High School hoops quarters are only eight minutes long as it is.

The NBA has a 24-second shot clock and college basketball uses a 35-second clock before a shot must be taken. It wasn’t always this way. There used to be no shot clock. But there also used to be no rims with nets. (Peach baskets were the actual baskets at the start of organized basketball, more than a century ago.)

Some reports online indicate scoring doesn’t differ much between states that do and don’t use shot clocks. The fact is some teams will play an up-tempo style and others will not, whether or not there is a timer. A shot clock will mainly only improve the high school game at the end of quarters. It’s not going to change the game dramatically, but just might give us a few more dramatic finishes than we might otherwise have.

Newtown High School Athletic Director Gregg Simon, who has nearly two decades of coaching high school hoops under his belt, is a proponent of the high school shot clock, since it helps prepare athletes for college ball.

“The discussion of the shot clock has been going on for years,” said Simon, adding that he is understanding of the resistance it gets from coaches and officials at school sports meetings.

Simon said that, in addition to the upfront cost of installing the clocks (they cost a little more than $1,000), there would be the expense of hiring shot clock officials, possibly not only for varsity, but also junior varsity and freshman games. There will be a learning curve, and the process — if there ever is implementation of shot clock — won’t be without some bumps along the way, Simon anticipates.

All of this said, the athletic director speculates that it will happen, and he guesses within five or so years.

“As a basketball coach I think you have to have a shot clock,” Simon said.

As a basketball fan and reporter, I do too.

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