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Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt argues a call during the Section 8AAA championship game against Fergus Falls on March 6. Witt said he would welcome the implementation of a shot clock in the high school game in Minnesota. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Is it time for a shot clock?

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Is it time for a shot clock?
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This year’s Minnesota boys’ state basketball tournament featured a handful of memorable moments that made it stand out in the history of this event.

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Most of those had to do with some incredible accomplishments by the student athletes. There was a 60-foot buzzer beater from Hopkins’ Amir Coffey that ended a four-overtime Class AAAA semifinals game. A night later, it was Lakeville North’s JP Macura who stole the show with an all-time great 43-point performance that helped beat Hopkins for the big-school title.

But maybe the moment that caused the biggest stir had nothing to do with anything the athletes did on the court. Instead, it had everything to do with what they didn’t do.

The AAAA semifinal game between Hopkins and Shakopee will be remembered as much for the way the Royals stalled through four overtimes as it will be for Coffey’s shot. Each time Hopkins won the tip in overtime the Royals stood near half court with the intention of holding for the last shot.

The Sabres weren’t willing to come out of the zone defense that had held Hopkins in check all night. As a result, the seconds ticked down as a TV audience watched two teams stand around.

Fans erupted on Twitter with a popular refrain – “This is why we need a shot clock in high school basketball.” It is an issue that has been talked about among coaches and athletic directors in the Minnesota State High School League for years, and this game brought it to the forefront among fans.

“I started hearing about it a good five years ago already,” Osakis athletic director Brad Hoffarth said. “It seemed to come and go in waves. Honestly, earlier this year I hadn’t heard much of anything until the boys’ state tournament.”

“WE THINK IT’S THE FUTURE”

It’s a topic that the MSHSL knows will continue to come up after last week.

The argument against implementing a shot clock in Minnesota has to do with money. Each school would be responsible for installing them in their gym at a cost that Alexandria athletic director Dr. David Hartmann said ranges from about $3,000 to $5,000.

Hartmann has an idea because Alexandria is installing shot clocks in the new high school with money that was donated separate from the bond referendum that was passed to build the new school.

“We think it’s the future,” Hartmann said. “It’s what’s going to happen. It’s not if, it’s just when. I do think there will be some challenges with lower levels and how many courts do you equip with it. People say, ‘We need another operator just to run the clock.’ That is accurate.”

Hartmann said Alexandria is fortunate that it has people willing to volunteer to run the clock and track stats at their games. That won’t be the case at every school, and even finding people to take those jobs can be a challenge at smaller programs. Those are the challenges, but Hartmann pointed to other changes that have been made in high school sports that programs found ways to conform to.

“I think the Hopkins game kind of symbolized what frustrates people,” he said. “Basketball is a fast moving, intense game, and if you create those shot clocks, coaches and kids will adapt and it will create more opportunities.”

Hoffarth agreed that if adding a shot clock meant creating a better opportunity for the athletes, then it is worth pursuing. Osakis has fluctuated between the Class A and AA level in different sports over the past few years. It’s schools of Osakis’ size and smaller that would likely feel the effects of trying to come up with the money to install shot clocks the most.

“I would think it presents a challenge, but it wouldn’t be insurmountable,” Hoffarth said. “If it’s something that proves to be necessary, then I think people will find a way to make it happen.”

MANY AREA COACHES IN FAVOR

The majority of the area varsity coaches on both the boys and girls sides said they would welcome the implementation of a shot clock in Minnesota.

Alexandria coaches Wendy Kohler and Forrest Witt and Osakis coaches Pat Kalpin and Matt Hoelscher were all in favor of the move. Kohler’s Alexandria girls’ teams love to force the tempo with their defense and get up and down the court already. Rarely do they use more than 35 seconds during a possession.

“I think it would be great for the game,” Kohler said. “We love to play fast, so I think it would have very little impact on us…Some coaches think the game will become sloppy. I think the game will become more precise. When the game’s on the line and there’s two minutes left in a four-point game, your kids will learn they have to execute.”

Setting up those specific plays for end-of-clock situations was something that excited a lot of coaches around the area.

“Our game is getting to be more ball screen and roll action, one-on-one stuff,” Hoelscher, a second-year head coach for the Osakis boys’ program, said. “With a shot clock, you might have an offense that’s 15-20 seconds long; then all of a sudden you have to run a set play.”

“I WOULD VOTE NO IF ASKED”

Longtime Brandon-Evansville girls head coach Dick Simpson said that he is intrigued by the idea of coaching in that type of system, but that he would vote no if asked whether or not to implement the shot clock.

Simpson has been on the sidelines for 40 years and seen a lot of changes in the game. He understands where proponents of the shot clock are coming from, but said he still likes that a team can use the clock to its advantage.

“This just probably shows you my age,” Simpson said. “But at our level, that’s one possible strategy you would have against a super team is holding the ball if they let you.”

Simpson pointed out that the other team has to let a team stall to the point that Hopkins did in the state semifinals. Shakopee could have forced the issue by sending out one defender to pressure the ball.

Those situations where a team holds the ball for minutes at a time all game have happened but are rare.

Where the shot clock would likely come into play the most is at the end of games. Instead of having to foul during a close game in the closing minutes, teams would have the option of relying on their defense to get a stop and get the ball back.

“I can see the point where people say you got to keep attacking,” Simpson said. “I’d like to play fast too, but when it gets to the end, we’ll take our chances shooting free throws. I’d just rather have the option that you could do that.”

Simpson would rather the game stays the same without the use of a shot clock, but he admits he is likely in the minority.

“I’m sure it’s probably inevitable,” he said.

There are currently eight states that use a shot clock at the high school level. Neighboring states North Dakota and South Dakota are among those, along with California, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and Maryland (girls only). Is Minnesota next?

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Eric Morken
Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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