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In the middle of the road are such coaches as John Benington of Michigan State, Don Donoher of Dayton, Vic Bubas of Duke, Jack Kraft of Villanova and Bill Foster of Rutgers. They want some experimentation before they decide. "We're all too slow to change," admits Benington. "I guess because it changes your own thinking and habits. But I think it is worth experimenting with." Donoher, whose Flyers were grounded by UCLA and Big Lew in last March's NCAA Final at Louisville, has one happy thought anyway. "Maybe it will bring back the two-hand set shot." (It undoubtedly would.)
The idea of a 12-foot basket is hardly new. As far back as 1932, Coach Forrest (Phog) Allen of Kansas was arguing that the baskets should be raised. "In the early 1930s," he says, "I foresaw that the influx into the game of more and more big men would ultimately make a travesty of basketball. Actually, I had a 7-footer in 1927. I was convinced that eventually 12-foot baskets would be necessary." Allen does not agree with those who claim shooting would be less accurate. "The muscles of the eyes accommodate easily to changes in height," he says. "Once this accommodation is made it is just as easy to shoot at a 12-foot basket as it is at a 10-foot one."
Allen also contends that some rebounds are likely to bounce out from the backboard or rim as much as six feet farther than at present, thereby eliminating congestion underneath and opening up the game. "The worst position on the court would be directly under the goal," he says.
Allen, Newell and McCloskey have staunch supporters in Ralph Miller of Iowa and Ray Meyer of DePaul. Miller has used 12-foot baskets in practice for 15 years. "It helps our players shoot better," he says. "They can't just throw the ball at a 12-foot basket. Now, many players shoot hard, flat shots, like pegging to second base. They would have to learn correct form." Meyer is confident it would aid the little men. "They usually are better shooters, and once the basket is raised they would quickly adjust by putting a higher arc on their shots," he says. "Then the big man would have to come out to try to block the shot. If he doesn't come out, the shooter has a clear shot. If he commits himself to the block, he no longer has good rebounding position. Also, the ball handling would be better. You'd see better passing under the basket. The 12-foot change is inevitable."
Henry Iba of Oklahoma State and Ned Wulk of Arizona State would like to see a change, but they are a bit more conservative. "Somewhere between 11 and 11� feet would be all right," says Iba. "It would give us a better outside game." Wulk votes for 11 feet. "Twelve feet distorts the game too much," he says. "Eleven would be better. It would solve the goaltending problem and make the big guy shoot at—not into—the basket."
There have been several experimental games played with 12-foot baskets. Allen staged three at Kansas in the early 1930s and Newell played one at California in 1961. When he coached at Michigan State, Forddy Anderson experimented with the idea in 1962. However, the most comprehensive study was conducted by Stan Morrison, a former Cal player who is now an assistant coach at San Jose State. Morrison played in Newell's game and was so taken with the change that he wrote his master's thesis on it at Sacramento State. For research, he gathered a group of college players in Sacramento and played six games, three with 10-foot baskets and three with 12-footers.
Morrison's findings indicate that with 12-foot baskets the tip-in would be instantly obsolete and blocked shots infrequent. There would be less fouling, particularly underneath the nets, and shooting percentages would not vary much. Half of the small men actually shot better at raised baskets.
In the most recent test, early in November, Coach Ray Mears of Tennessee co-operated with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED by playing his Orange-White preseason intrasquad game with 12-foot baskets. Raising them was simple. University maintenance men built a two-foot pipe extension and installed it at the base of the stand. The job took about three hours and cost less than $50.
Mears divided his squad into two teams, splitting up his first stringers with 7' Tom Boerwinkle on the Orange team and 6'10" sophomore Bobby Croft on the White. The players practiced on the higher baskets for only about 40 minutes the afternoon of the game and again in the pregame warmup. In the contest, played before 5,100 curious people in Tennessee's Stokely Athletics Center, the Oranges missed their first eight shots, the Whites their first nine, and the overall shooting was poor—20% for the Oranges, 25.7% for the Whites, who won 43-36. Poor shooting was not surprising because none of the players had had enough time to become familiar with the new dimensions, but all agreed that they could achieve former accuracy with practice.
What surprised many was that the biggest man, Boerwinkle, who is fairly agile and quick, had the most difficulty. While he had 15 rebounds, a little above his average, he had trouble getting them, although most of the missed shots fell within a 12-foot radius of the basket. He had no chance at all to get the shots that hit the front of the rim. The rebounds usually caromed over his head and were taken by one of the smaller men. On many shots the ball took longer to come down, giving the other players time to crowd into the lane and fight Boerwinkle for the ball. Several times he had the ball stolen away when he came down with it. He failed to block a single shot and did not score on a tip-in. He made only one basket in 16 tries, a jump shot from the foul line.