March 2, 2011

Steve Solloway: Gold ball is for winning, not for entertainment

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

PORTLAND — Amid Monday night's celebration, the Cheverus basketball team ran to the school's student section to jump into the arms of classmates, slap hands, pummel shoulders and simply howl their joy. I didn't notice anyone chiding their heroes for lack of style points.

click image to enlarge

John Ewing/Staff Photographer Kristen Anderson of Leavitt is allowed to fire from beyond the NBA 3-point line. Leavitt scores points. And also wins.

John Ewing

Basketball State Championship Games

GIRLS

CLASS A: McAuley (19-2) vs. Hampden Acad. (19-2), 4 p.m. Saturday at Augusta

CLASS B: Leavitt (21-0) vs. Nokomis (19-2), 7 p.m. Friday at Cumberland County CC

CLASS C: Hall-Dale (20-1) vs. Washington Acad. (17-4), 7 p.m. Saturday at Bangor Auditorium

CLASS D: Richmond (20-1) vs. Washburn (19-2), 1 p.m. Saturday at Bangor Auditorium

BOYS

CLASS A: Cheverus (21-0) vs. Bangor (20-1), 7 p.m. Saturday at Augusta CC

CLASS B: Cape Elizabeth (17-4) vs. Camden Hills (21-0), 9 p.m. Friday at Cumberland County Civic Center

CLASS C: Dirigo (19-2) vs. Lee Acad. (19-1), 8:45 p.m. Saturday at Bangor

CLASS D: Richmond (16-3) vs. Central Aroostook (21-0), 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Bangor Auditorium


Cheverus beat Bonny Eagle 30-27 to win the Western Class A championship. The Stags have won all 21 of their games and to the very supportive Cheverus community, that's all that should matter. It's the rest of us muttering about bad basketball who have the problem.

Winning basketball trumps bad basketball. This weekend the gold ball will go to the winning team. Won't matter to the champions if they win 12-10 or 96-92.

Gymnasts and figure skaters must worry about style. Basketball players don't.

Don't misunderstand. I agreed with everyone who walked by on their way to the Cumberland County Civic Center exits muttering about bad basketball. As entertainment, many games in this tournament season and those two or four years removed have been lacking.

In our need to be entertained we forget sport in its most basic form is simply who wins and who doesn't.

As high school basketball evolves to a 12-10 championship game, fans will vote with their feet.

No, I don't have Maine Principals' Association attendance numbers in front of me, but my eyes say there seemed to be more empty seats.

Don't blame the economy. Good basketball is watching the ball go into the basket again and again. Throw in school and community loyality and the itch of cabin fever and you'll pay.

Good basketball is watching the balance between offense and defense. Bad basketball is a grinding tactical struggle between defenses.

Last Saturday, Amy Sisson Eubanks of Portland took her second- and third-grade daughters to watch Leavitt and York play for the girls' Western Class B title. Eubanks, a former player at Ellsworth High and the University of Southern Maine, also brought them to the Class A tournament.

She responded to last Sunday's column on the freedom coaches Tammy Anderson and Rick Clark allowed their Leavitt and York teams. With her permission, here are some of her comments:

"I yearn for (my daughters) to play the game, not to be part of an over-managed chess match. And yet, I can already see where the low scoring, systematic basketball comes from. I have coached (if you can call corralling 8-11 year old girls coaching) rec league basketball for the past few years and watched as the girls are taught to slow down, set up, set a pick, be a robot if you will.

"(I) wonder if this is where it all starts. Do we inherently squelch any natural desire to create, steal, run and shoot? Honestly, I don't know the answer. As I sat with my girls at the Class A games, I found myself longing for more entertainment. Not to take anything away from the amazing players and coaches that we watched, but there just seems to be something missing."

In the first half of Monday night's fourth quarter between Cheverus and Bonny Eagle, the scoreboard was stuck on the same numbers as players from both teams missed uncontested shots.

They were the shots you'd make in your driveway, at the playground, or in your basement shooting tennis balls at a coffee can. Against your friend or against your shadow.

You were Jo Jo White or Larry Bird. Dennis Johnson or Rajon Rondo. Hour after hour after hour you were beating the Lakers, the Knicks or the Bulls with your last-second shot from impossible angles with two defenders draped over you. Celtics win! Celtics win! Years later, sports pyschologists dubbed that visualization.

Who plays driveway or playground basketball anymore?

High school basketball has evolved and for older generations, that means bad basketball, a game out of balance, a game without scoring.

Some advocate a shot clock. That may be a Band-Aid. Would a shot clock just mean more bad shotmaking? Would a shot clock benefit defenses that wouldn't have to sustain their efforts, as they do today? I think so.

Today's players can't miss what they don't know. They were 4 and 5 years old when Valley beat Jonesport Beals 96-92 for the Class D championship in a run-and-gun game that probably was a wonderful abberation.

That's our problem. We can't forget when Maine high school basketball was fun to watch. We shouldn't.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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