Double-bonus in a heartbeat

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    They experimented with it as far back as 1875, but football in its infancy was about carnage, bloodshed, and mayhem. It took the actions of President Theodore Roosevelt to change the game in 1906. After a particularly deadly year in 1905 that saw 18 young men die on the gridiron, with thousands of others suffering permanent brain damage, and life-altering injuries to their arms, legs, and necks, “Teddy” intervened, calling for huge reform, or the total elimination of the sport.

    Even with the dangerous rate of injuries, the game was played within the rules of its day, no matter how brutal they were.


    The following year, the first legal forward pass was completed under the new rules. Contrary to popular belief, the forward pass had been in use for several decades already, but an incomplete pass was a turnover, giving the other team the ball. The idea of an incomplete pass was revolutionary.

    Jump forward to the just completed small school basketball season and you’ll find incessant whining from parents, fans, and others who just don’t understand what’s going on right in front of them, rather than some grand reorganization of the rules.

    If you play fast, and hard, hand-check every ball handler, and run into opposing players on screen plays you’re going to get called for fouls. Play hard? Sure, but playing beyond the realm of the rules of the game and you’ll find the other team shooting a lot of free throws.

    The style prevalent in Fremont County among smaller schools is no longer unique in Wyoming. It started when head coach Alfred Redman and his legendary Chiefs teams changed the game with their thrilling, sometimes wild, run-and-gun style. It revolutionized basketball in the Cowboy State, and not just at the Class 2-A level but throughout the various leagues, no matter the enrollment.


    Before Alfred’s teams arrived, the prevalent style was slow it down, work it inside and play half-court defense. With the new style came a lot of fouls.

    As an opposing coach to Alfred, we had several press breakers we ran to combat the relentless full-court pressure his teams placed on us, and we shot a lot of free throws in anticipation of what was to come. The Wranglers back in the day were not alone. If you didn’t have those weapons sharpened in your arsenal you needed to brace yourself to be blown off the floor with the Chiefs regularly scoring over 100 points in the days before the Mercy Rule.

    The rules haven’t changed to reflect the run-and-gun, full-court assault-style play that Redman started back in the early 1980s, a foul remains a foul.


    In the 1970s, head coach Jack Draxler at Wind River implemented the UCLA 1-2-1-1 three-quarter court zone press with great results, but the Cougars dropped back into a standard man or zone if the trap didn’t produce turnovers. The Cougars, Chiefs, and Eagles of today don’t, they keep the pressure on in the half-court too.

    Legendary head coach Aleta Moss of the Lady Chiefs is often accused of pressing opposing teams from the time they get off the bus until they get back on to leave Ethete. Her pressure remains the best in Class 2-A and aside from Douglas and perhaps Thunder Basin and Cody is the best in the state regardless of classification.

    With pressure come fouls, lots of fouls. In the just completed state 1-A/2-A basketball tournament, the Wind River boys shot 12 free throws compared to 73 by Pine Bluffs and Tongue River combined in their final two games of the season.


    Unfair, biased officiating in action you might ask? Nope, it reflected the chaotic, pressure style that has taken the Cougars to the top of the Class 2-A ranks the last nine years under head coach Justin Walker.

    Walker’s Cougars come at you like a freight train. If you’re unprepared they’ll blow you out in the opening minutes of a game and continue to roll over you for the duration of the contest. They beat many teams with better talent that way, and when they’re loaded as they’ve been the last few years it is a very effective way to play basketball. But it generates fouls, lots of fouls, and with the emphasis on player control fouls this season the aggressive offense has taken at least 10 and sometimes as many as 20 points off the board in each game as Cougar baskets are negated by charging calls.

    The same is true at Ethete and St. Stephen’s. All three programs have good reserves waiting on the bench, a testament to good coaching. But you need a good bench if you’re going to play that up-tempo, foul-laden style of basketball.

    Take a look at Shoshoni, a team with two scorers in Alex Mills and Trey Fike and you won’t see them rolling out at 90 miles per hour to rip open games using that aggressive style. Lose one or both of these boys and the Wranglers were sunk.

    Shoshoni didn’t get into foul trouble. Head coach Jonathan Wakelin used a different approach, working the perimeter for open shots or open lanes to the basket. The duo still garnered their fair share of player-control fouls when colliding with opposing defenders, but they rarely if ever fouled out.

    I’ve heard many fans, most of those new to the game as their sons or daughters entered that brief span from seventh grade to graduation, claim that they only like full-throttle basketball, well, to each their own. It’s the same mindset that will eventually outlaw all defense in the NFL.

    As many a veteran coach knows, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.”

    I’m firmly in the dinosaur ranks. My favorite football score is 7-3, with a couple of goal line stands thrown in.

    Riverton head coach Beau Sheets sets a scoring target of just 45 points per game for opponents. It’s a strategy that works well for the Wolverines. They play stellar half-court defense and run when the opportunity arises. For those that think only wide-open, 101-98 style scores are exciting, I invite them to watch the Riverton boys, they are an elite team this season.

    But back to the football introduction from the early days of the 20th century. You play within the parameters of the game, or you don’t play long. Fouls are part of the game to prevent the brutal, injury-laden style of play that Roosevelt eliminated over a century ago from football to creep onto the hardwood.

    If you want to play assault-style basketball, that’s fine, just have a deep bench, and understand the other team will always shoot more from the line, it’s within the parameters of the game.


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