Experimental game raises the basket and questions

Updated: June 16, 2007, 11:55 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Brayden Billbe caught the pass on the block. He drop-stepped and turned to dunk, just as he usually would.

Exhibition Basketball
Andrei Pungovschi/AP PhotoBig men playing in Saturday's exhibition game in Seattle had to adjust their positioning to get the ball to the 11-foot rim.

Nope, not this time. Not with the basket a foot higher.

"All of a sudden, I'm like 'oh, no.' So I flip it up there and it rolls off the rim," Billbe said. "I felt like an idiot."

There were a few of those moments on Saturday during an exhibition basketball game featuring 11-foot rims. Organized by former NBA assistant Tom Newell -- son of former coach and acclaimed big-man instructor Pete Newell -- the exhibition surely won't be remembered for the quality of play, but perhaps for sparking a change.

"I think this will open the professional league's eyes, where they may experiment with it, give it a serious look," said Jim Harrick, the former UCLA coach who was coaching one of the teams.

For the record, Saturday's exhibition ended with a 90-60 victory for the "gold" team. Billbe, a 6-foot-11 center who played at American University, scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.

But the goal for Newell was to examine how the game was different with the taller rims. Was there more passing and spacing? Was teamwork at more of a premium and less of a focus on individual play? Was a challenge presented to the players, all of which had some college experience, and could they adapt?

The answer seemed to be a resounding yes.

"They represented the game fundamentally as best as I could have expected," Newell said.

It was sloppy exhibition in the early going, a side effect of the players spending just a week practicing for it.

By the second quarter the quality improved, and effects of the taller basket became evident.

Perhaps the biggest impact was on the interior players. No longer could centers like Billbe catch the ball on the low block, turn and simply extend their arms and lay the ball over the rim.

With the taller rim, if their positioning was too deep, the shot angle was nearly impossible. When they turned, an upward shot was needed. The feel a big man has for their position on the floor was completely altered.

"I can't wait to get back to a 10-foot rim," said 6-8 Adam Zahn, who played at Oregon. "This showed me that I do rely on my athleticism a lot."

The taller rim also impacted outside shooting. Players who weren't square to the basket with their feet set had trouble early on getting the ball over the front rim. Shots improved later in the game, but fadeaways and contested attempts often didn't have a chance.

About a 1,000 fans turned out for the exhibition on the University of Washington campus, including current Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and former coach Marv Harshman. Newell's experiment came from a belief that today's game relies too much on dunking, 3-point shooting and the pure athleticism of players bigger, faster and stronger than the past.

"On offense, a player still has to use their athleticism, you just use it in a different way," said Ryan Rourke, who played at Cornell and now plays in Europe.

Added Andrew Zahn, Adam's brother who plays professionally in Japan, "Kids are dunking now in eighth grade, freshman year in high school. You go back to this, the court is a lot more spread, there are more fundamentals."

Early on, there weren't many fundamentals. The teams combined for 16 turnovers in the first quarter and finished with 43 combined. Yet, the court opened up, proving lanes for cutting and passing. Players who usually would hoist 23-foot 3-pointers, passed up the deep shot to take a couple of dribbles and instead shoot an 18-footer.

Ultimately, Newell was pleased, but realizes any change will depend on public reception to a game that would be less about entertainment and more fundamental.

"I can definitely see this happening again," Andrew Zahn said. "To be involved with the first one is kind of cool."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press