TACOMA — Thirty years since the 3-point shot was introduced to high school basketball, its importance has never been greater.
Outside shooters did exist before the stripe was painted a uniform distance of 19 feet, 9 inches from the hoop on thousands of high school courts in the fall of 1987.
Neah Bay girls head coach Tony McCaulley played his high school ball alongside Clallam Bay’s John Wilson.
“He took a ton of shots and scored 1,000 [career] points for Clallam Bay,” McCaulley said. “If we had the 3-point line, he probably would have scored 2,000. He loved the corner shot and shot from there all the time.”
Port Angeles girls head coach Michael Poindexter coached junior varsity hoops before the 3’s introduction.
“Kids still shot from outside,” he said. “We had a girl at Mark Morris, Laura McInnis, that scored 1,500 points or so in her career without the 3-point line.”
The 3 has revolutionized the game, changing how it is coached, how players train — and in maybe the most radical switch — blurring the previously-existing barrier between perimeter players and posts.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s you knew what a perimeter player was and what a post player was,” Poindexter said. “I think the advent of the 3-point shot made everybody a perimeter player. You have to know who you want taking those 3s, but everybody has to be a threat out there.
“I think it’s helped the game, helped taller players become more versatile players, better ball-handlers, better shooters. You get smaller players scoring inside, taller players scoring outside. I think everybody is a more complete basketball player now, no more limited roles, no being put in this limited box.”
Port Angeles’ posts have embraced growing their game and extending their shooting range out to 20 feet.
“You see Devin Edwards hitting a 3 to beat North Kitsap [in the district playoffs] the other day, and her nice 3 in the corner against Burlington Edison [in the regular season] or Aeverie Politika hitting some 3s against Kingston. Nobody is going to be scared of them as outside shooters, but they are a threat and you have to get out on them. It opens up the floor and ironically, the better 3-point shooting team you are, the more the inside opens up.”
Poindexter said his team aims for a balance of inside and outside looks.
“[Before the 3-pointer] I think there was that old-school coaching emphasis on getting the ball inside, you must establish your inside game first and it’s still not bad advice,” he said. “We talk about balance — inside and out. One time in a win against North Kitsap we had almost a 50/50 ratio of scoring outside and in the paint. And then a 40/40/20, a little bit of mid-range [shooting] is beautiful. But you hear so many coaches these days talk about layups, or 3s, layups or 3s.”
McCaulley said that focus has turned some schools into perennial powerhouses.
“We get 3-happy a lot,” he said. “We shoot a lot of them. Colton has won multiple championships by hitting layups and shooting 3-pointers. A lot of analytics of it show that one step inside the 3-point line is a bad shot because you step back and you get that extra point. I don’t really buy into that, but a lot of coaches do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Colton win at state by shooting nothing but 3s and layups. It’s worked out well for them.”
Roughriders boys coach Kasey Ulin is Forks’ all-time leading scorer, a slashing sharpshooter who thrived on layups and 3s for the Spartans from 1996-2000. He can’t remember a time without the shot but wants his team focused on shooting from the inside-out.
“Everything transitions down from the NBA, so now its a pace and space game, 3-pointers or layups,” he said. “We like to have our shooters shoot, but I still like to get our guys high-percentage shots at the rim, inside of 5 feet. And we have posts, so we try to play inside out. In the next two or three years we are going to make even more of an effort to go inside.”
McCaulley feels the biggest impact the 3 has made has been on the defensive end of the floor.
“I think the biggest change is how we defend the outside shot, we defend it differently,” McCaulley said. “The offenses are all set up around it to stretch the defenses all the way out to the 3-point line. Before, teams would let you take that shot because it’s only two points and its a lower percentage. You’re more aware of it, and I think kids shoot it well now because it’s all they practice.”
The shot also provides an extra layer of excitement as teams with good outside shooters can make large dents in leads with a quick succession of 3s.
“We’ve been up and down 15 with 4 minutes or so in games, if you are down, you have to look at it like we hit a few 3s and we are right back in it,” Ulin said. “When you are up, you have to look at it like we have to extend our defenders and try to defend every shot.”
With the NBA still enthralled with the 3-ball, and colleges running plenty of pick and roll action to screen off defenders and provide space for shooters, Ulin belives high school hoops will be impacted even further going forward.
“In two years, high school basketball will be even more in that direction than now,” he said. “You watch, over in the city [Seattle-Tacoma], those schools run a lot of spread the floor, drive and kick games and that will continue to spread.”