Hopkins' Kamali Chambers (2) held the ball when the score was tied for most of four overtimes. (Marlin Levison, Star Tribune)
Basketball fans, both hardcore and casual, witnessed a hardcourt version of chicken. One team’s player tucked the ball under his arm, literally, refusing to try to score. The other team just waited and watched, refusing to defend the ball and press the action.
It went on and on, from one overtime to the next, until a spectacular halfcourt shot finally ended the drama, giving Hopkins a 49-46 four-overtime victory over Shakopee and a spot in the Class 4A championship game Saturday at Target Center.
But even an ESPN Top 10 highlight was overshadowed Friday by lingering strong feelings about the strategies that played out in the game’s final minutes Thursday night.
A swirl of social media aimed criticism at both teams — storied Hopkins for its stand-still offense, underdog Shakopee for not being aggressive. The Minnesota Basketball Hub website drew nearly 300 comments, a testament to the nerves the game touched. Many called for a shot clock as a way to put an end to an undesirable, albeit legal, practice.
“I’m actually in favor of a 35-second clock,” Hopkins coach Ken Novak said after that game. Shakopee coach Bruce Kugath, whose team plays a markedly different style than Hopkins, said, “I’ve been in favor of a shot clock for 10 years.”
Even Minnesota State High School League Associate Director Kevin Merkle indicated that he would welcome a shot clock.
“I think it’s inevitable,” said Merkle, a former basketball official. “We allow it on an experimental basis now.”
So what’s the holdup?
“Coaches have voted on it and they’re in favor of it, but it’s not overwhelming,” Merkle said. “It’s about a 60-40 split, roughly.”
A game like the one Thursday night is relatively rare. It doesn’t make sense, Merkle said, to make changes based on a few high-profile occurrences. His support for a shot clock is more about rewarding the effort of the players.
“I like the shot clock not because of what you saw but because it gives the defense the incentive to stop somebody,” he said. “You play good defense for 30, 35 seconds, you’re going to get the chance to get the ball back.”
The ultimate responsibility belongs with the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association. A recommendation from them carries a lot of weight with the high school league, which would have to approve such a change.
The subject came up when association representatives convened their yearly meeting Friday.
“The consensus was to do another survey of coaches and let them decide,” said New Life Academy coach Doug Linton, the Region 4AA representative.
The most-cited reason for resistance to a statewide 35-second shot clock is cost. Setting up a workable system can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, Linton said.
“A lot of schools have tight budgets. It’s hard to justify spending $3,000 to $5,000 dollars on a shot clock system when some are cutting teachers,” Linton said. “And then you have to pay to train people and run them.”
Norman County West coach Ron Ohren said his team plays often in North Dakota, one of seven states that use a 35-second shot clock. He said he has heard no complaints from coaches in that state. Other states using a shot clock are California, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington.
“I like it,” Ohren said. “It seems like it works. Even in the last two minutes, you still get at least three or four possessions.”
Linton said the adoption of a shot clock will hinge on one very basic premise: making sure any system developed does not give any team an unfair advantage. “Just like everything we do, it has to work for everybody,” he said.