One modification in basketball has this scribe wondering ‘what if?’

The game of basketball has seen a lot of changes since Dr. James Naismith tacked up that peach basket on the wall in Springfield, Massachusetts. Many of them were simple, with little impact on the game. Others were major, such as the advent of the 3-point shot.

That change came about in the 1980s, but what if it had taken place earlier? The thought frequently has crossed my mind. Today I am going to give you a few reasons for you to wonder the same thing: what if?

My starting spot for the game of basketball goes back to 1930. Considering that I would not be born for another 20 years, the previous sentence might have you questioning my intelligence (more than normal). Give me a chance to explain.

When I was a small boy, I ran across a newspaper clipping from 1930. It had a basketball box score and a little write up that involved my father. His Attica High School team defeated Jackson-Liberty in the league championship game by a score of 17-16. Seriously, that was the FINAL score!

My dad scored eight of those points and his teammate, center Bart Chilcote – who would later become the local undertaker — scored the other nine. The fact that only two people scored was not necessarily uncommon, as the rules back then did not allow all five players to participate on offense.

If you think that was weird, how about this: After each basket the teams returned to center court for another jump ball. Today you only get one tip at the beginning of the game. After that it’s alternating possession.

I started taking the game of basketball seriously in the late 1950s. One such game I attended with a neighbor was in Shelby. The game was going to feature a high school star by the name of Larry Siegfried. I’d like to tell you he put on a show that evening, but the truth is I don’t remember anything about the game.

Siegfried went on to star for the Ohio State Buckeyes, along with a couple of other names you might be familiar with — Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek!

Though I can’t tell you about Siegfried’s high school prowess, I did watch some exciting high school players in the late 50s and early 60s. One of the differences in that era compared to today’s game was that the set shot was very common. I remember Attica’s Bill Swartzmiller taking a two handed set shot on many occasions. His was launched with two hands from the top of his head.

If you were going to use that shot, it was going to come from well outside the lane area. Those shots were taken from “downtown,” but were worth the same value as a layup or short jumper. The 3-point line had not yet made its way to the game.

One high school game I remember vividly while in elementary school was a high scoring matchup between Attica and Bettsville. The Bobcats Paul Steffani and the Eagles Buzzy Keaton put on quite a show. Firing away from long range Steffani outscored Keaton 49-42 though Attica won the game 99-90.

If that lofty score amazes today’s high school players, I can assure you games with a lot of points happened and that it occurred before the 3-point line. What if those bombs had been worth three points instead of two? Each team’s final score would likely have been in triple digits.

Paul Steffani shot the ball from distances that would have been well beyond today’s three-point line. I wonder what his career scoring average would have been if the line had been in effect back in the day.

In the same time period Tiffin University had three long ball shooters in Fritz Smith, Skip Bozarth and Jack Wickert. The trio played for Coach George Janson and lit up the scoreboard from deep. What would TU’s scores have looked like had those shots been worth three points?

By the time I reached high school basketball was a big part of my life. In the old Seneca County League high scores were common. Despite the fact that there was no 3-point line, scores were high, in part because we played in cracker box gymnasiums.

Bloomville, Hopewell-Loudon, Old Fort and Thompson had stage floors. New Riegel’s stage was so close to the playing surface that kids sitting cross legged often impeded opposing players while dribbling down the sideline. Attica, Bettsville and Republic had larger floors, but scores did not drop off much compared to the smaller floors.

There were a lot of long distance shooters in the league my senior year. The most prolific scorer in 1968 was Thompson’s Dave Dreher. He averaged more than 30 points a game and many of his points came from downtown. He also used the occasional set shot which had largely disappeared by then.

His running mate at guard, Jim Moyer, averaged more than 20 points per game. Thompson’s gym was the scene of many NBA-type scores. Attica beat Thompson 111-99 my junior year and 116-96 my senior year. While Dreher and Moyer were filling up the stat sheet, I think I had a total of 6 points in those two games!

Old Fort’s Ron Rau and Doug Pence could fire from long range as could Hopewell’s Denny Crum. Republic’s Tim and Tom Bogner as well as Ron Depinet were talented scorers as were New Riegel’s Paul Gnepper, Steve Lucius and Larry Gase. Bloomville had some deep threats in Paul Miller and Dan Thallman.

Yes, I am aware that Thallman was 6’6″ tall and I’m telling you that didn’t prevent him from dropping in long range jumpers.

One thing that might have been difficult in implementing the three point line in the late 60s was the size of the courts. If you remember those tiny floors, the center circle and foul line circles overlapped. There might not be room for a corner 3 because you wouldn’t have room for your feet between the three point line and the sideline!

Still it’s worth wondering what it would have been like to have that line back then. Unfortunately the two biggest stories I have will have to wait for next week as I’m out of space (kind of like that corner 3).

Next week I will give my take on what my Attica team would have been like with a three point line. Then I will give you a college player who may well have done something near impossible had that line been adopted sooner.

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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