If you’ve attended a high school basketball game this season, you’ve surely noticed a change in the way officials are calling the games.
This change has been a bit polarizing. The feedback I have seen on the new officiating emphasis has ranged from great to garbage.
So which is it?
New changes for this year to the way games are being called include the elimination of hand checking on the perimeter and using an arm bar in the post.
The result? Plenty of fouls being called and games turning into free throw competitions.
People who defend this new officiating emphasis have said it’s “better for the game” and “returns offensive flow” to the game by eliminating a certain sense of physicality from the game.
Murray head coach Darin Wookey disagrees.
“They’ve done just the absolute opposite if that’s what they were thinking they were going to do,” Wookey said about restoring offensive flow to the game. “Tonight (Thursday), we didn’t shoot a lot of free throws, but the last three or four games, we’d been shooting about 30-some free throws. That seems like the game is taking a lot longer getting to the free throw line, clock stopped.”
Of the games I’ve covered so far, it was one of Murray’s games where the new officiating emphasis had the most glaring impact.
Murray defeated Diagonal 62-60 on Dec. 6, but despite it being a back-and-forth battle, what I’ll forever remember about the game is that Diagonal finished with just three players on the floor.
The Maroons were already down to just seven available players for the game because of injury and illness. Four of those players fouled out.
The incredible thing, and Wookey agreed with me on this, was that the game wasn’t even that physical.
“But, they were consistent,” Wookey said about the officials. “That was one of the things we talked about after the game. Diagonal ends with three kids on the floor because they didn’t have much depth. It really took us out of what we wanted to do that game. You’ve got to adjust yourselves to how physical they’re letting you play.”
Back on Dec. 6, after that game, Wookey said it wasn’t fun to be a part of a game like that.
“It’s not fun for either team to be a part of that,” he said following the game. “I know it wasn’t much fun for their kids to have to step off to the side and foul out.”
Consistency became an issue in the Central Decatur vs. Interstate 35 boys game I covered last week.
The game was called tight for the first 28 minutes or so, much like I expected it to be. But then, for some unknown reason, the officials stopped calling the hand checking fouls and let the game turn into an absolute brawl for a span of about two minutes.
Following that game, I-35 head coach Nate Rankin told me he didn’t have a problem with the new rules, but that they needed to be enforced consistently.
His team had grown accustomed to the way the game had been called for the first 28 minutes, and then while attacking the rim late in the game, wasn’t getting the calls it had been getting earlier in the game.
Then, when his team was trying to foul to extend the game, officials weren’t whistling the Roadrunners for fouls.
For better or for worse, whether you like it or not, the high school game is going to be much different than it has been in the past.
Never was that more apparent than in the Jerry Brown Gymnasium Thursday in Murray.
Wookey had his Murray team playing zone defense. Lenox, co-coached by Steve Tussey and Jesse Cox, was also playing zone defense.
“I think what you saw tonight was two teams playing zone to try to stay out of foul trouble,” Wookey said. “I know Tussey, and we’ve gone head to head for several years. And both of us like to play man-to-man, but depth and personnel for both of us probably isn’t as good as we’d like it to be.
“Everyone who knows me, when they see us play, they’re shocked we’re actually playing zone,” he continued. “It’s really changed the game. Kids are going to have to learn to play a lot differently.”
Wookey noted how his team did employ a press in Thursday’s loss to Lenox, but it was a soft pressure. It wasn’t the same in-your-face trapping press seen last year with the likes of Austin Halls, Cody Scroggie and company.
“We used to live off the press, getting kids up and down the floor, moving,” Wookey said. “Watch our guys now. We go down, we stay in a 2-3 zone, we get the ball out of bounds, we walk it up the floor.
“Our crowd’s not used to that. I’m not used to that style of play. For us, it’s not much fun, but we’re going to have to learn to play like that, whether it’s fun or not.”
You could certainly tell Thursday’s brand of basketball being played in Murray wasn’t what the Mustang faithful are used to seeing.
In a gym usually rocking with crowd noise, there were times Thursday you could almost hear a pin drop in Jerry Brown Gymnasium.
Perhaps that silence speaks the loudest about how people feel about the new officiating emphasis.
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