American high school and college basketball

October 5, 2022

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High school and college level basketball have evolved from an early structured, rigid game to a game that is often fast-paced and high-scoring. Individual skills improved significantly, and while basketball was still seen as the ultimate team game, individualistic one-on-one performers were not only embraced but used as an effective means of winning games.

In the early years, games were often won with a total score under 30, and the game’s pace was slow from a spectator’s point of view. Once a team has gained a modest lead, the popular strategy is to stop the game without trying to score to run out of time. NBC saw the need to prevent this slowdown and instituted some rule changes. In the 1932-33 season, the line was drawn in midfield, and the attacking Team had to advance the ball within 10 seconds or lose possession. Five years later, in 1937-38, the mid-jump after every shot or free throw was eliminated. Instead, the defensive Team is allowed to receive the ball from the boundary line below the rim. Decades on, another change of a similar magnitude has occurred in the college game. The NCAA Rules Committee installed a 45-second shooting clock in 1985 (reduced to 35 seconds in 1993), limiting the time teams could control the ball before taking a shot. A year later, the 3-point rule was apply on how far away the basket could be—over 19.75 feet (6.0 meters).


The more noticeable changes in the game are at the game and coach level. Hank Luisetti of Stanford University was the first to use and popularize one-handed shooting in the late 1930s. Until then, the only perimeter attempt was a two-handed push. In the 1950s & 1960s, a shooting style evolved from Luisetti’s one-handed push shot to a jump shot that was released at the top of the jump. West Virginia guard Jerry West and Purdue’s Rick Mount were two players who showed how devastating the shot was.


Frank W. Keaney basketball

Coaching strategies have changed significantly over the years. Frank W. Keaney, who coached the University of Rhode Island from 1921-1948, is credited with introducing the “fast break” basketball, in which the offense rushes the ball up the court, hoping to get a strike before the defense gets a strike. Another person who contributed to the game’s speed, primarily through pressure defense, was Adolf Rupp. He became the coach of the University of Kentucky in 1931 and turned his program into one of the most legendary in basketball history. Over the years, one of the rule-makers main concerns has been to offset the advantages of taller players. The 6-foot-5 (1.96 m) Joe Lapchik was considered very tall when he played for the original Celtics in the 1920s, but the rules changed as taller players emerged. A rule was instituted in 1932-33 that prohibited players with the ball from standing within the foul line with their backs to the rim for more than three seconds; the three-second rule later applied to any offense on the offensive line player. In 1937-38, a new law prohibited any player from touching the ball while it was at or on the rim (rim interference), and in 1944-45, any defensive player who could handle the ball while it was flying down became illegal under the basket (goal).


However, with every passing decade, the Team with the highest player tends to dominate. Bob Kurland (7 ft [2.13 m]) led Oklahoma A&M to two NCAA championships in the 1940s & led the nation in scoring in 1945-46. During the same period, George Mikan (6-foot-10 [2.08 m]) scored more than 550 pts in each of his final two seasons at the University of DePaul, after which he played nine career seasons with more than 11,000 points point. Mikan is a great player, not only because of his size but also his two-handed hook shot.


In the 1950s, Bill Russell (6-foot-9 [2.06 m]) led the University of San Francisco to two NCAA championships before becoming one of the most excellent centers in professional basketball history. Wilt Chamberlain (7-foot-1 [2.16 m]) played at the University of Kansas before turning pro in the late 1950s and is considered the most incredible all-around big man of all time. However, Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), also 7-foot-1, had the most significant impact on the rules. After his second year at UCLA (1966-67), the dunk shot was banned from college basketball, ostensibly because the rules committee once again deemed the big man’s advantage too significant. The rule was dropped starting in the 1976-77 season, and the dunk became a considerable part of the game, exciting fans, and players alike.


Small and medium players also influenced the development of the game. Bob Cousy, who played at Holy Cross College and later the Boston Celtics, is considered one of the game’s first great playmakers. Bob was among the first to use the back pass and the two-legged dribble as an effective offense. Later, smaller players like Providence College’s Ernie DiGregorio, North Carolina’s Phil Ford, and Indiana State’s Isiah Thomas proved the importance of the roles they played.


However, nothing has influenced the development of the college game more than television. The NCAA championship game was broadcast nationally from 1963, and by the 1980s, all three major television networks broadcast interdisciplinary collegiate games during their November-March seasons. By the late 1980s, royalties on these games had ballooned from a few million dollars to over $50 million. As for broadcasting the NCAA finals, TV contracts that began in 2003 gave the NCAA TV rights worth an average of $545 million a year; the exponential growth in broadcast fees reflects the importance of these games to networks and advertisers.


Profits like these inevitably attract gamblers, and the darkest moments in the evolution of college basketball have been associated with gambling scandals. But as the game began to receive more attention and revenue, the pressure to win grew, leading to an explosion of irregularities, especially in recruiting star players.


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The most visible phase of college basketball in the United States is the playoffs in March — commonly known as March Madness. Interest in the NCAA Tournament kept pace with the evolution of the game. The first basketball championship was held by the Amateur Athletic League in 1897 and won by the 23rd Street YMCA in New York City, which later became a professional touring team known as the New York Rangers. Although the YMCA was known for the sport in its early days, it didn’t host its first national championship until 1923, and it wasn’t until 1962.


New York basketball writers organized the first National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 1938, but New York City’s colleges took control of the event a year later. The NIT was considered the most prestigious tournament in America until the early 1950s. Still, as the college-run NCAA tournament grew, the NIT became a consolation event for teams that failed to make it to the NCAA.


The first NCAA was held in 1939, and its development occurred in three phases. From just eight teams in 1939, it had expanded to 25 by 1963, all of whom were champions of their respective conferences, plus several successful independent teams. After that, the NCAA tournament gradually surpassed the NIT.


The second era began in 1964 as the UCLA Bears, coached by John Wooden, began their period of dominance over the NCAA field. In the eyes of many, UCLA’s dynastic period may have had a retrograde effect on the game’s growth; a sport with such high stability lost some of its appeal.


The third phase of growth comes with the end of UCLA’s dominance. Champions began to emerge from all over the country. The NCAA Tournament expanded from 25 in 1974 to 64 in 1985, 65 in 2001, and 68 in 2011 (with corresponding “playing in the game” increases in 2001 and 2011, respectively) to include not only conference championship balls Team but so are other great teams from the same conference. The three-week game culminated in the Final Four weekend, an event that now rivals the Super Bowl and World Series in general public interest and media attention. Interest in Division II, III, and NAIA Division tournaments also continues to grow, gaining some influence from the popularity of Division I.


About seventeen thousand high schools in the United States have basketball teams. All 50 states host statewide championships each year.

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