COLUMN: Good move to crack down on rough play

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Basketball a game of finesse

By John Herndon

It's about time someone acted to stop the downward slide basketball was taking.

We are talking about the uber-muggings disguising themselves as physical play, especially around the basket, in high school basketball. Apparently, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association has pulled a Roberto Duran in response.

No mas!

(For the under-30 crowd, do a Google-search of that name and you will see why it is germane to this subject. Trust me, it is.)

In case you missed it, my friend Mike Fields penned an article in the high school basketball section of Sunday's Lexington Herald-Leader dealing with the apparent crackdown on overly physical play this year.

All I can say, again, is, “It is about time.”

The article noted how KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett met with officials after the first day of last year's boys' state tournament in response to the grabbing, holding and generally rough play that has plagued the sport for some time. It was most apparent when Louisville Trinity held Bullitt East, a team that has been able to put points on the scoreboard in bunches over the years, to just 32 points.

That, of course, happened in spite of the fact that Bullitt East boasted Derek Willis, who has since signed with the University of Kentucky.

Bullitt East coach Troy Barr, another friend from the days when the Chargers competed with Anderson County in the Eighth Region, was quoted as saying some of his players were literally bleeding after that game and the Sixth Region final against Pleasure Ridge Park.

Folks, if it is blood we want, we can watch boxing. We can watch the UFC. For that matter, we can watch football. Those are sports where it is expected.

Basketball? Even though Dr. Naismith created the game as a winter activity for football players, I just can't imagine him wanting to see such a wonderful game exchanging beauty for beasts.

OK, that might be a bit harsh, but you get the idea.

Growing up, I came to love a game predicated on quickness, finesse and skill. Think Rupp's Runts, the first team I ever followed. Only a handful of their games were ever shown on our old black-and-white TV, but as a kid, I came to love that incredible fast break, usually converted with nary a dribble, ending with an open layup.

Somewhere along the line, things changed. Some blame Bobby Knight and the physical play he introduced when he got to Indiana in 1971. Others point to Joe B. Hall and his Twin Tower set that some critics derided as “King and Kong.”

I don't know about that, but do know that when I recently took a few hours to watch the 1978 Kentucky-Duke NCAA final on DVD – Thanks, Steph! – those guys were like choir boys compared to what we see today.

And the areas where the college game has devolved over time have trickled down to the high schools. It's not good.

I have often felt basketball might be the sport most conducive to guile and creativity overcoming superior athleticism. I still believe that. See Villanova and Georgetown for details. Every year, some team gets to the high school Sweet 16 using that very same formula.

It should always be that way.

While they are at it, I do hope someone also reminds officials that the rules are the same whether something happens two minutes into the contest or with two minutes to go.

When officials allow even more rough play under the pretense of letting the players decide the game, they are doing just the opposite. Players decide the game when infractions are called.

Officials, whether they intend to or not, determine the winner even when those violations are excused.

And like the rough play, it is time for them to say good-bye.

No mas!


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