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Five game-changers basketball.

Ask Coach John Wooden about the most significant change in basketball during its 115-year history and he'll tell you it was the removal of the bottom from Dr. Naismith's original peach basket. He's probably right but, for our purposes, recounting the most significant changes in the game during Scholastic Coach & AD's 75-year history, it simply came too soon. Herewith, our choices for the top five since 1931:

1 ELIMINATING THE CENTER JUMP

You've got to be pushing 100 to remember, but until 1936, the flow of basketball games was interrupted frequently. After made baskets and free-throws, the teams gathered back at center court and the game restarted with a jump-ball. The move to end the center-jump actually began in local gyms and playgrounds. When there wasn't an official to toss the ball up, the scored-upon team merely took the ball out of bounds--as they do today. One of the problems with the center-jump was that a team with a dominant big man could gain possession constantly. Offenses were designed to score off the center jump. Defenses were schooled on stealing the jump ball.

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Incidentally, Dr. Naismith, basketball's ultimate purist, was indignant when the center jump was eliminated. The game's founder thought it absurd to reward a team with possession after it had been scored against.

2 THE MID-COURT LINE

From the founding of the game until 1932, there was no impetus for anyone to play offense. Stalling was commonplace because teams could set up anywhere on the court. The result was a dull game. That's when the rules-makers intervened. First they installed a line at mid-court. Once a team brought the ball into the forecourt, they could no longer retreat to the backcourt. And when that rule didn't create sufficient action, they added the 10-second count, which required teams to advance to the frontcourt relatively rapidly.

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3 THE SHOT CLOCK

Oregon and Yale coach Howard Hobson first discussed the usefulness of a shot clock. But it was Danny Biasone, owner of the early-NBA Syracuse Nationals, who actually implemented the idea to combat dull, low-scoring, ball-controlling games. No one argues that the clock saved the league. Why 24 seconds? Biasone added up the number of shots in an average NBA game (120), divided by the number of seconds in a game (2,880), and came up with 24. Like the 90-foot distance between bases in baseball, it turned out to be absolutely perfect. In its first season (1954-55), NBA per-team scoring zoomed from 79.5 points per game to 93.1.

These days, everyone above the high school level uses a shot clock. It's 30 seconds in the women's game, though the WNBA will switch to 24 seconds this year. In the men's college game, it's a 35-second clock, though early on it was as long as 45 seconds. Internationally, men and women all use a 30-second clock.

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4 THE THREE-POINT LINE

Ironically, it was Howard Hobson who also initially suggested the three-point line. It took a couple of innovative pro leagues, the American Basketball League and its successor, the American Basketball Association, to make it part of the game, starting in the 1960s. The NBA finally installed its own three-pointer in 1979, with the NCAA joining the following year, as a season-long experiment in the Southern Conference. (Ronnie Carr of Western Carolina made the first one, behind an are then set 22 feet from the basket.)

The three-point shot was designed to do two things: create more fan interest by providing a new come-from-behind opportunity and open up the foul-lane area which had become horribly occluded with big bodies. It certainly fulfilled the first goal though the paint-clearing objective has never been realized.

These days, the line is 19-9 from the basket (in both men's and women's high school and college games). Internationally, the distance is 20-6 and the pro distance remains at 23-9.

5 WIDENING THE FOUL LANES

Even baby-boomers have no idea that the area from the foul line to the baseline was once called the keyhole. The reason: though the circle around the free-throw stripe was always 12-feet wide, the lane was only six feet wide. That allowed pivot men to set up just a few feet from the basket. With the arrival of bigger and more mobile centers like George Mikan and later Wilt Chamberlain, the existing lane was rendered practically useless. So the NBA created the 12-foot lane for the 1951-52 season and the colleges followed four years later. The NBA went to the current 16-foot wide lane in 1964-65. The international lane widens from 12 feet at the foul line to 19-8 at the baseline and, with the growth of the international game, a change in America is possible.

In basketball, as in most sports, big games have played a major role in its growth. Madison Square Garden hosted most of them when the game was growing up. The Garden began bringing the best teams from all over the country to New York. The NIT started in the Garden in 1938, the year before the NCAA tournament began. It remained the bigger tournament for many years thereafter.

In fact, starting in 1943, in addition to the NIT, the Garden was home to seven of the next eight NCAA Finals. The growth of the international game also began at the Garden. Foreign coaches knew that they had to learn the game in America and the Garden became the Mecca of basketball coaches worldwide.

But there were other big games too. When UCLA and Houston met at The Astrodome in Houston in 1968, more than 50,000 fans and a national TV audience were on hand. Elvin Hayes' Cougars ended a 47-game win streak for Lew Alcindor's Bruins but, more importantly, proved that college basketball was highly marketable nationwide. Interestingly, two of the other biggest games in basketball history took place at the U. of Maryland's Cole Field House. The historic 1966 NCAA Final between Texas Western and Kentucky has recently been immortalized in the film, Glory Road. And perhaps the turning point in high school basketball history was the match-up of coach Morgan Wootten's DeMatha team and Lew Alcindor's Power Memorial squad. DeMatha ended Power's 71-game winning streak in front of nearly 15,000 fans who sold out the place three months in advance!

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Selected by Morgan Wootten, Hall of Fame Coach, DeMatha (MD) High School
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Author:Weber, Bruce
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:1069
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