July 19, 2000
U.S. school and college basketball
(Summary of the Jackie Miranda Article)
Basketball at the school and college level developed from a structured, rigid game in the early days to one that is often fast-paced and high-scoring. Individual skills improved markedly, and although basketball continued to be regarded as the ultimate team game, individualistic, one-on-one performers came to be not only accepted but used as an effective means of winning games.
In the early years games were frequently won with point totals of less than 30, and the game, from the spectator’s viewpoint, was slow. Once a team acquired a modest lead the popular tactic was to stall the game by passing the ball without trying to score, in an attempt to run out the clock. The NBC, seeing the need to discourage such slow-down tactics, instituted a number of rule changes. In 1932-33 a line was drawn at mid-court and the offensive team was required to advance the ball past it within 10 seconds or lose possession. Five years later, in 1937-38, the centre jump following each field goal or free throw was eliminated. Instead, the defending team was permitted to inbound the ball from the out-of-bounds line underneath the basket. Nearly four decades passed before an alteration of like magnitude was made in the college game. After experimentation the NCAA Rules Committee installed a 45-second shot clock in 1985, restricting the time a team could control the ball before shooting, and one year later implemented a three-point shot rule for baskets made beyond a distance of 19 feet nine inches.
More noticeable alteration in the game came both at the playing and coaching levels. Stanford University’s Hank Luisetti was the first to use and popularize the one-hand shot in the late 1930s. Until then the only outside attempts were two-handed push shots. In the 1950s and 1960s a shooting style evolved from Luisetti’s push-off one hander to a jump shot, which is released at the top of the jump. West Virginia University guard Jerry West and Purdue University’s Rick Mount were two players who demonstrated the devastating effectiveness of this shot.
Coaching strategy changed appreciably over the years. Frank W. Keaney, coach at Rhode Island University from 1921 to 1948, is credited with introducing the concept of “fast breaking” basketball, in which the offensive team rushes the ball upcourt hoping to get a good shot before the defense can get set. Another man who contributed to a quicker pace of play, particularly through the use of the pressure defense, was Adolph Rupp, who became the University of Kentucky’s coach in 1931 and turned their program into one of the most storied in basketball history.
Defensive coaching philosophy, similarly, has undergone change. Whereas pioneer coaches such as Oklahoma A;M University’s Henry Iba or Long Island University’s Clair Bee taught strictly a man-to-man defense, the zone defense, developed by Cam Henderson of Marshall University in West Virginia, later became an integral part of the game (see below Play of the game).
Over the years one of the rules makers’ concerns was to neutralize the advantage of taller players. At six feet five inches Joe Lapchick was considered very tall when he played for the Original Celtics in the 1920s, but as even taller players appeared, rules were changed in response. To prevent tall players from stationing themselves near the basket, a rule was instituted in 1932-33 prohibiting the player with the ball from standing inside the foul lane with his back to the basket for more than three seconds; the three-second rule later applied to any attacking player in the foul lane. In 1937-38 a new rule forbade any player from touching the ball when it was in the basket or on its rim (basket interference), and in 1944-45 it became illegal for any defending player to touch the ball on its downward flight toward the basket (goaltending).
Nevertheless, with each passing decade, the teams with the tallest players tended to dominate. Bob Kurland (seven feet) led Oklahoma A&M to two NCAA championships in the 1940s and led the nation in scoring in 1945-46. In the same era George Mikan (six feet 10 inches) scored more than 550 points in each of his final two seasons at DePaul University before going on to play nine professional seasons in which he scored more than 11,000 points. Mikan was an outstanding player, not only because of his size but his ability to shoot sweeping hook shots with both hands.
In the 1950s Bill Russell (six feet nine inches) led the University of San Francisco to two NCAA championships before going on to become one of the greatest centres in professional basketball history. Wilt Chamberlain (seven feet, 1 1/16 inches) played at the University of Kansas before turning professional in the late 1950s and is regarded as the greatest all-around big man ever to play. It remained, however, for seven-foot 1 3/8-inch Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to most influence the rules. After his sophomore (1966-67) year at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), the dunk shot was banned from collegiate basketball, ostensibly because the rules committee felt, again, that the big men had too great an advantage. The rule was rescinded for the 1976-77 season and the dunk shot became an important part of the game, electrifying both fans and players.
Much as the big men were important in the game’s development, so too did the small- and medium-sized performers play a vital role. Bob Cousy, playing at Holy Cross College and later for the Boston Celtics, was regarded as one of the game’s first great playmakers. He was among the first to use the behind-the-back pass and between-the-legs dribble as effective offensive maneuvers. Later, such smaller players as Providence College’s Ernie DiGregorio, the University of North Carolina’s Phil Ford, and Indiana’s Isiah Thomas, proved the importance of their role. Between those two extremes are players like Louisiana State University’s Pete Maravich, who set an all-time collegiate scoring record of 44.5 points per game in the 1969-70 season; Earvin Johnson, the point guard who led Michigan State University to a championship in 1979; Oscar Robertson, a dominating performer for the University of Cincinnati in the late 1950s; and Larry Bird of Indiana State University, who demonstrated versatility.
Nothing influenced the college game’s growth, however, more than television. The NCAA championship games were televised nationally from 1963, and by the 1980s all three major television networks were telecasting intersectional college games during the November-to-March season. Rights fees for these games soared from a few million to well over $50,000,000 by the late 1980s. During the regular season more than 200 Division I basketball games were being telecast nationwide by cable networks, generating both revenue and tremendous exposure.
In the evolution of college basketball the darkest hours have been related to gambling scandals, the most serious of which arose in 1951. But in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s the game was again touched by the problem. Also, as the game began to draw more attention and generate more income, the pressure to win intensified, resulting in an outbreak of incidents of rule violations, especially with regard to recruitment of star players.
New York City basketball writers organized the first National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in 1938, but a year later the New York City colleges took control of the event. Until the early 1950s, the NIT was considered the most prestigious U.S. tournament, but with the growth of the college-run NCAA championship, the NIT became a consolation event for teams that failed to make the NCAA selections. Originally all teams in the NIT were invited to New York City and the games were played in Madison Square Garden. From the early 1980s, however, the first three rounds were played at regional or campus sites before the final four teams were brought to New York City.