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The debate rages: Is it time for a shot clock in Illinois?

A group of prominent basketball coaches has started a campaign to bring the shot clock to high school basketball.

Evanston’s gym packed for a game against New Trier in 2019. The Wildkits’ gym already has a shot clock installed.
Evanston’s gym packed for a game against New Trier in 2019. The Wildkits’ gym already has a shot clock installed.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

The National Federation of State High School Associations continually discusses the addition of a shot clock to high school basketball. But this past spring, the NFHS again rejected a proposal to mandate the use of a shot clock.

The Illinois High School Association follows the rules the NFHS adapts.

But that hasn’t stopped individual states from adding a shot clock within their own state athletic associations, and the idea is really beginning to pick up steam and support in Illinois throughout the basketball community.

“The IHSA has not deviated from NFHS rules historically, as doing so forfeits our voice in the national rules writing process,” IHSA spokesperson Matt Troha said.

There has been dialogue and discussions regarding the addition of a shot clock in Illinois in recent years. But there has never been as organized of a plan to implement it as there is today with a group of coaches who have put together a grassroots effort.

With Young coach Tyrone Slaughter front and center in at least bringing it to the forefront, both boys and girls coaches across the state have been actively engaged in recent weeks, meeting via zoom calls to discuss and explore the possibilities of bringing the shot clock to Illinois high school basketball.

The effort includes conducting a massive statewide survey among high school coaches, which went out on Monday for coaches to complete by Sunday, July 26. There’s even a hashtag on Twitter, #IHSAShotClockNow.

“I think this early process has been great and intelligent in how it’s being done,” Loyola coach Tom Livatino said.

The IHSA surveyed basketball coaches around the state on the shot clock (and many other issues) in 2018. The coaches were narrowly against the shot clock, 222-221.

But support for the shot clock appears significant in the Chicago area. Livatino is one who says he “doesn’t see any negatives.”

The IHSA is aware of the movement and has a system in place for rule changes.

“If a large contingent of coaches were in favor of adopting a shot clock, they could propose it to the IHSA Basketball Advisory Committee,” Troha said. “Assuming that committee supported the change, it would run through our normal committee process for feedback, and the IHSA Board of Directors would have the ultimate say on if, when, and how the shot clock would be implemented.”

Evanston coach Mike Ellis is also a major proponent for the addition of the shot clock to the high school game. Ellis has coached in central Illinois while at Peoria Richwoods and in the Chicago area over the past decade at Evanston, playing different styles and utilizing various approaches for opponents. That includes having teams that average 70 points a game and one that played a 31-29 overtime loss to Simeon and Derrick Rose in the 2006 state championship game.

Ellis knows that those opposed to the shot clock assume that with fewer possessions the less talented team has a better shot at the more talented team. But he believes the shot clock benefits the coach.

“The shot clock puts more coaching into the game,” said Ellis, who has guided four teams to Peoria and brought home four state trophies. “You are going to employ more strategy into those possessions. The quality of coaching in using shot clock strategy takes some of the value of the talent away.”

Ellis also points out that the average number of possessions, statistically, in a high school basketball game is 65. That comes to about 15 seconds per possession on average.

“We are actually asking to double the time of an average possession in a high school game by 15 seconds,” Ellis pointed out. “When you look at the big picture, there are so many benefits from the addition of a shot clock.”

Maine South coach Tony Lavorato has done nothing but win in Park Ridge, averaging 21 wins a year over the past 11 seasons, winning five regionals and a sectional title while playing in one of the state’s toughest conferences.

Under Lavorato, the highly-successful Hawks play a system at both ends of the floor that, to the average fan, would make one think a shot clock would be detrimental to their success. Maine South has averaged 51 points a game over the past three seasons. The 28-win team in 2012-13 averaged 50 points a game.

“I am 100 percent in favor of a shot clock,” said Lavorato. “I would be thrilled with a shot clock. We haven’t had a major rule change since the three-point shot which I think came in 1987. This would be a breath of fresh air for the game.”

Veteran coach Al Biancalana agrees.

Biancalana, who has had high school head coaching stops in California and in Illinois at Stagg, Downers Grove North, York, DeKalb and now Glenbard East, loves the idea of a shot clock. And this is coming from a coach known for the elaborate and large amount of individual offensive sets he runs over the course of a game.

“I know many people think the shot clock is an advantage for the more talented team,” said Biancalana. “I think the opposite. The more prepared, the more organized team has a bigger advantage over the more talented team. I think teaching programs will have an advantage and it puts coaches at the forefront.”

Biancalana, who spent 10 years as a college assistant coach at Bradley and UIC, has a lengthy list of reasons why he thinks that is true. He personally loves all the strategy involved, believing the hidden parts of the game become more free-flowing, such as forcing guys to transition offensively and defensively better. He’s excited about all the opportunities the shot clock creates for coaches.

Lavorato believes the shot clock adds fan interest as well, while adding to a player’s understanding of the game and making the pace of the game easier.

“It makes for a more pure game and it keeps the game true,” said Lavorato, who believes the shot clock can work to anyone’s advantage.

Lavorato also believes it makes the game so much more interesting –– for the players and philosophically.

“All you have to do is watch the after-timeout-plays that are run in college and the pros,” Lavorato said. “Those situations are amazing in what you see.”

Livatino thinks it benefits everyone –– from the players to the fans to the coaches.

Loyola, in particular, is a prime example. Most everyone, based on their success and the scores of games they play in, would initially believe Livatino would be steadfast in his dissent for the shot clock.

Another defensive-minded first program with a distinct, patient offensive style, Loyola won 30 games and the Chicago Catholic League this past season. But the Ramblers allowed just two teams to score 50 or more points all season in 34 games played.

“Against probably popular opinion, I think the shot clock benefits us,” said Livatino. “I think as a coach it gives you more control of what happens in a game, both offensively and defensively.”

The shot clock was just recently adopted in Georgia with a phased-in approach. In total, with the addition of Georgia, there will be 10 states in the country that now play with a shot clock, a rule in place to increase the pace of play. California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Washington are the other states.

The NBA has been using a shot clock for over half a century, while the NCAA adopted the shot clock in 1985. The NBA’s shot clock is 24 seconds. The NCAA plays with a 30-second shot clock.

The argument for a shot clock is simple: faster pace, more possessions, better game flow and increased strategy, particularly in the final minutes of a game.

Some Public League coaches are concerned about the cost of installing and operating the shot clock. A study done in Ohio three years ago found that the average cost of installing and running a shot clock is between $5,000 and $10,000. There are more than 100 schools with basketball teams in the city.

“The thing to consider is schools like ours,” Clemente coach Adam Hoover said. “Currently, one of my biggest game day stresses is finding a qualified student to run the clock. Adding a shot clock to that responsibility would be tough. No teachers or adults love doing it since they won’t be paid. I’d love the shot clock but not sure how we can make it work functionally.”

Taft coach Jason Tucker has recently changed his mind on the shot clock.

“At first I was worried about the funding,” Taft coach Jason Tucker said. “We are in the White-North and I think maybe 2 out of 10 teams in the conference have real scoreboards in their gyms.

“But I’ve been convinced after talking to some of my colleagues. I’ve won some games by holding the ball but I know it is boring basketball and it is cheating the kids. We need the game to be faster to catch up with other states in the country. Chicago is the mecca of basketball and we need to catch up with the times.”

Contributing: Michael O’Brien