THERE IS THE wonderful scene in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers” when coach Norman Dale’s Hickory High team arrives at the spacious Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis for the Indiana state basketball championship.
To help his small-town team avoid fright on such a cavernous stage, Dale first asks for help in measuring the distance from the basket to the free-throw line. It is 15 feet. Then he orders Buddy to put Ollie on his shoulders and uses a tape measure to verify the basket is 10 feet off the floor.
“I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory,” Dale said, sheepishly admitting moments later out of earshot from his team that the arena “is big.”
Sixteen head coaches from around the state will find other ways to help their respective teams deal with playing in a larger-than-life building with unnerving surroundings when the state high school basketball championships are played tonight and Saturday at Colonial Life Arena.
Even in an age when most high school players — usually through summer AAU programs — have participated in just about every setting, stepping onto a court surrounded by 18,000 seats can rattle the most composed of the bunch.
Newberry High found out the hard way a year ago when it was making the school’s first appearance in a championship game. Newberry was star struck, according to its coach, and fell behind 18-0.
Newberry recovered but never could catch North Charleston in a 49-48 loss.
“It definitely has an effect, but hopefully we’ve been there and experienced it and that will help us,” said Newberry coach Chad Cary, whose club meets Lake Marion on Saturday in the Class 2A championship with 13 players who participated in last year’s title game.
In addition to playing in front of crowds that reach into the thousands instead of the hundreds they see in the regular season, most teams also must adjust to playing on a larger court.
The Colonial Life Arena court is the same 50-foot width as all high school courts, but its length is the standard 94 feet for college basketball. High School courts are required to be between 84 feet and 94 feet, and most in the state are the shorter of those distances.
For a team such as Newberry, which takes advantage of its 89-foot court by applying full-court pressure and using as many as 15 players in each half to wear opponents down, the lengthier Colonial Life Arena floor can be as hurtful as it is helpful. The extra 5 feet makes it more difficult to apply pressure on defense but also forces opponents to run a greater distance on each possession.
Of greater concern to most coaches is the lack of a shooting background. Most high school gyms have a wall behind each goal. It often takes a shooter many repetitions to gain proper depth perception in an arena without background walls. So, pregame warm-ups are important for shooters to get acclimated.
Tim Whipple, whose Irmo High team takes on Goose Creek tonight for the Class 4A championship, said the lack of a solid shooting background can affect players in free-throw shooting as well as long-range shooting.
“It’s different,” Whipple said. “It’s so spacious.”
Whipple has a simple formula for dealing with the different shooting background.
“We don’t talk about it,” he said
Debbie Stroman, whose Lower Richland girls face Orangeburg-Wilkinson in the Class 3A championship Saturday, said her biggest concern is calling on eighth- and ninth-graders to enter the game as reserves.
“I was saying to one of my assistant coaches, ‘Boy, we’re just throwing them in that boiling water and saying, hey, let’s just go out there and swim,’” Stroman said.
Faye Norris, whose Dutch Fork girls go for a second consecutive Class 4A championship against Spartanburg Dorman, said she will address the size of the court with her team.
“Stay in there,” Norris said she will tell her team. “That’s all you need to focus on. Keep your focus within that rectangle.”
Because the Colonial Life Arena rectangle is a different size than Dutch Fork’s home court, do not expect Norris to carry a tape measure to tonight’s championship game.