In high school basketball, shooters gotta’ shoot

 

Scenes like this one of youths playing basketball at Fairmount Park in Bangor a few years ago seem less common these days. (BDN File Photo by Bridget Brown)

Scenes like this one of youths playing basketball at Fairmount Park in Bangor a few years ago seem less common these days. (BDN File Photo by Bridget Brown)

Former high school basketball players of a certain age can recall them vividly.

They’re the backyard hoops and anywhere else you could find to shoot around or play pickup games in the days before the sport’s offseason became more organized.

In this case, that map included the second stories of several barns around town, indoor hoop havens just big enough for epic two-on-two battles complete with enough unusual obstacles — such as an inconveniently placed beam — to bring out the creativity in the more successful shooters.

While competition with buddies was the primary motivation, a substantial by-product of those after-school shootouts was the chance to shoot and shoot and shoot some more.

And I have to believe it worked for me, at least to a modest extent.

After all, my first varsity basketball coach, Skip Hanson, nicknamed “Ernie No D” in homage to former Providence College and Boston Celtics guard Ernie DiGregorio — which at that age was a far superior moniker to walk around with than “Ernie No O.”

There were larger courts that enhanced a wider skill set, like the full-length outdoor court behind the Congregational Church or the gyms at the former Charleston Air Force Base or Monson Academy.

And who could forget Sunday nights playing against the teachers at Foxcroft Academy, where much of my time was spent being awestruck as my math teacher, Wayne Champeon, displayed the Cousy-esqe moves that made him a star at Greenville High School and the University of Maine and will land him in the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame come August.

As I did little more than watch, he’d loft a lengthy hook shot over my head or scoop a layup under my arm and into the basket. Hey, nobody ever said coach Hanson’s nickname wasn’t accurate.

No doubt similar scenes are played out in gyms, barns and backyard courts around the state in 2015 but I’m fairly certain not as often, as free time for pickup games and just shooting around has given way to more organized offseason programs run by parents and other folks with good intentions.

For sure there aren’t nearly as many backboards affixed to garages on Maine side streets as there were a generation ago. Even when you spot one, rare is the time it’s being used.

And largely lost amid the game-after-game repetitions and trophy ceremonies of weekly tournaments during the late winter and spring, I think, are the individual repetitions that make for a more accurate shooter or a more ambidextrous ball handler.

I have no wide-ranging statistical evidence to back that up, but I do chart 50 to 75 varsity games each winter and the shooting statistics are trending off the rim and out.

Surely the game has changed since Wayne Champeon or Dave Clement took advantage of what they correctly diagnosed as a mismatch waiting to be abused back at the alma mater on Sunday nights.

The 3-point arc has done much to eliminate the midrange game. Post play designed to generate high-percentage shots is disappearing quicker than the polar ice cap. More physical and sophisticated defenses have served to shrink the amount of open space around the court, leaving a more congested area from which to shoot.

All of that makes a good shooter even more valuable to a team — and to a game that becomes all the more beautiful to play and watch when the ball flows through the net.

So make the time to take more shots, and your basketball world will be better for it.

 

 

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.