Prep basketball starts…and so does running up the score

Well, the high school basketball season didn’t have to go too deep into this year’s schedule to get its first case of running up the score.  The girls’ team at Phoenix Country Day School got the ball rolling in the first game of the new season, posting an embarrassing 71-14 rout of Veritas Prep.

When is this nonsense going to stop?

The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) tried to put a speed bump in the path of this idiocy a couple of years ago by instituting a new rule that mandated the use of a running clock as soon as either team got up by 30 points in the fourth quarter.  But it evidently didn’t do enough.

The running clock was used in the Country Day v. Veritas game, but it didn’t do anything to discourage the Country Day players from using full court pressure until the final minute of the game, while getting the green light from their coach to keep firing up three-pointers to pile on the points.

Country Day’s head coach, Coco Miller, has to know better.  She played in college and even has WNBA experience.  There’s no good reason to take a 35-6 halftime lead in a high school game and then keep a foot on the gas the rest of the way.

As someone who has coached high school basketball, I can tell you that any coach worth his or her salt knows in the first couple of minutes of a game what kind of  competition they’re up against.  A team that scores just six points in the first half, as Veritas did, isn’t going to be a threat in the second half.  It’s a team made up of kids that are doing their best to work with what talent they have; some are just participating because they want to help out the program.  That’s often the case at the tiny Veritas charter school, where they have difficulty rounding up enough girls to fill out a roster and all too often don’t have enough at practice to create a full scrimmage.

The last thing those kids need is a humiliating beat-down in the first game of the season. That just makes the job of the head coach all the more difficult, as she tries to keep the game fun for the kids and keep them involved through the years to help the program grow. (A little later in this article we offer a 10-point outline for avoiding this problem)

Miller is the fourth head coach in the last four years at Country Day, a private school in Paradise Valley.  There are obviously some problems below the surface.  But the three coaches before her had no issues in competing each season with Veritas.  Last year the Eagles won by 14 points and six the year before.  And the year before that, Veritas won the game, by eight points.  No 57-point spreads.

The Country Day program has averaged just over five wins a season in the last three years.  So it’s OK for a coach to show that she has stepped in to turn the program around and a solid win in the first game is the best way to demonstrate that.  But a merciless exhibition of domination by destroying a much weaker team doesn’t accomplish that.  It just shows the character of the program itself – and, unfortunately, gives the school a black eye at the same time.

For years, the AIA has heavily promoted a program called “Pursuing Victory with Honor.”  There was no honor in the outcome of this game – and certainly no honor in the way it was achieved.

Last year about this time, we offered a set of guidelines to assist those coaches who contend they have no control over running up the score over a weaker team. It’s a set of eight points that we found on a website, with no author attribution.  But we felt they worth worth passing along.  We’ve added a couple of our own to round it out to a total of 10 points.

Perhaps you could pass them along for us.  The article obviously didn’t get to the right people last time.

Here they are:

1. Never press when you’re up by 30 or more points.

2. When you have a 30-point lead, have no more than two starters on the floor at the same time.  (This assumes you have a bench deep enough to be able to do this)

3. Do not take the ball from the ball handler on defense.  The only steal that should be allowed is a pass interception.

4. Establish a minimum number of passes before taking a shot.

5. Shots should only be taken when running a set offense.

6. If you have a 30+ lead going into the fourth quarter, there should be no starters on the floor.

7. No trapping.

8. Fast break only on steals above the free-throw line.

9. Pass up the three-point shots and put some work in on the inside game.

10. Soften your defense and work on playing D with your feet instead of your hands.

If coaches will follow these guidelines, they can still encourage their kids to play hard.  But it keeps the purpose of the game in perspective – and gives the opposing players an opportunity to get better without being discouraged in their pursuit of enjoying the sport.