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High school hoops’ love affair with 3-pointer celebrates 30th anniversary

January 9, 2018 FieldsColumn

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Richie Farmer was a senior at Clay County when the three-point shot was first used in high school hoops. (Herald-Leader photo)

BY MIKE FIELDS

The big news broke the fourth week of March, 1987, during the 70th Boys’ Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena:

The National Federation of State High School Associations announced that the three-point shot part would be part of high school basketball for the 1987-88 season.

College basketball had already adopted the three-pointer for the 1986-87 season, and underdog Providence, coached by Rick Pitino and led by sharpshooter Billy Donovan, weaponized it so well it reached the NCAA Final Four.

It was no surprise that the high school game wanted to share in the “bombs away” excitement generated by the 19-foot, 9-inch stripe.

Thirty years later, it’s hard to imagine high school hoops without the three-pointer.

Scott County Coach Billy Hicks thinks the three-point has been good for the game.

Just about everybody agrees it’s been a positive change for the game by giving outside shooters as much influence as inside dominators.

“Before we had the three, the game was usually a slugfest, and the team that was the biggest and strongest usually won,” said Scott County’s Billy Hicks, the state’s all-time winningest coach.

Scott Davenport, who guided Ballard to a state runner-up finish in 1987 and a state championship in 1988, agreed. “The three-pointer is a great thing because it kind of eliminates the strongest, fastest, quickest (team) always winning. It’s a skill. It’s an art. It’s a great equalizer.”

Davenport, now in his 13th season as coach at Bellarmine University, said he clearly remembers the 1987 state tournament when the KHSAA announced the three-pointer would be part of high school basketball the next season.

Scott Davenport coached Ballard when the three-pointer was first adopted.

He recalled that after his Bruins lost to Clay County in overtime in the ’87 finals, “among all the tears and consoling in the locker room,” one of his players, junior standout Mark Bell, “asked Jim Reuther, our athletic director, about the three-point line. True story. There was a three-point line down in the Ballard gym that Monday morning.”

While some players had to stretch their games to take advantage of the new rule, others, like Clay County’s Richie Farmer and Paintsville’s Keith Adkins, already had the long shot in their arsenal.

Farmer said he didn’t change his style for his senior season (1987-88). He made 70 of 138 threes (50.7) and averaged 27.1 points, but his first thought wasn’t to launch bombs.

“Our whole offense under Coach (Bobby) Keith was predicated on me getting to the head of the circle and inside the free-throw line, drawing the defense then kicking it out to open people or shooting a jumper,” Farmer said.

“If we had had the three-pointer my freshman year, when I played the 2-guard, most of the shots I took that year would’ve been threes.”

Richie did sign off his high school career with a three-point flourish, though. He hit 9 threes on his way to a state-finals record 51 points in Clay County’s loss to Ballard in the 1988 championship game.

Adkins led the state in three-pointers by making 133 of 264 (50.4%) while averaging 32.2 points a game his senior season (1987-88) at Paintsville.

Keith Adkins led the state in three-pointers his senior season (1987-88) at Paintsville.

“That’s the one thing I did best,” said Adkins, now the coach at Life University in Marietta, Ga. “I could really shoot the basketball. It was kind of natural for me. I really never had to concentrate on ‘Hey, where’s the (three-point) line?’ because a lot of my shots were further back than that to begin with.”

The only regret Adkins has is that the three-pointer wasn’t part of the high school game the season before.

“We had that loaded team in ’87, with (John) Pelphrey, (Joey) Couch, Mike Minix and myself. If you threw the three-pointer into play with that group, it might’ve changed things.

“We lost in the final four to Ballard (61-54) in ’87, and somebody said I hit six or seven shots that would’ve been threes. I guess the three came just a year too late.”

Adkins said his long-range shooting ability increased his stock as a college recruit. He wound up signing with Notre Dame. He played two year for the Irish before transferring to North Carolina-Wilmington.

Bardstown coach James “Boo” Brewer had to stretch his game to include the three-point shot when he was a player.

James “Boo” Brewer, whose senior season at Bardstown also coincided with the introduction of the three-pointer, said he became more attractive to college recruiters when he showed he had a perimeter game, too.

“All through high school I was very athletic, so my thing was running, jumping, dunking … stuff like that. Then the three-point line went into effect before my senior year, and I didn’t have that shot. So I had to spend the whole summer working on shooting threes.

“It took me a while to get used to it, but I did. It became another weapon for me. That’s when my recruiting picked up, when Louisville, Kentucky, Syracuse and Arizona State started getting more interested in me.”

Brewer made 44 of 128 threes (34.4%) that season and averaged 20.5 points. He wound up playing at Louisville, and is now in his eighth season as Bardstown’s coach.

It’s probably safe to say Kentucky’s high school girls had a tougher time adjusting to the three-point line in those early days. The KHSAA  didn’t adopt a smaller basketball statewide until the 1988-89 season.

“The smaller ball made the three-pointer so much more accessible for girls. It helped their confidence,” said Nell Fookes, whose teams won almost 700 games in her 30 years at Boone County.

Nell Fookes coached Boone County’s girls for 30 years.

“Even today, you see some girls who are set-shooters, and I understand that. Some don’t have the strength to shoot threes off the dribble or off a screen; some do. As a coach I wanted to encourage players to use the weapons they had.”

High school girls have come a long way in 30 years, though.

Let’s compare some numbers:

— In the 15 games in the 1988 Girls’ Sweet Sixteen, the teams were a combined 30 of 111 from three-point range. In seven of those games, one or both teams didn’t even attempt a three.

— In the 15 games in the 2017 Girls’ Sweet Sixteen, the teams were a combined 149 of 459 from three-point range.

On the boys’ side, the same comparison:

— In the 15 games in the 1988 Boys’ Sweet Sixteen, the teams were a combined 96 of 277 from three-point range.

— In the 15 games in the 2017 Boys’ Sweet Sixteen, the teams were a combined 125 of 400 from three point range.

So the girls attempted and made a lot more threes than the boys did in last year’s state tournaments.

The proliferation of three-point bombs has had one negative side effect on the game: hardly anybody shoots mid-range jumpers anymore.

“That part of the game has almost disappeared,” Adkins said. “You go watch a high school game now, and the kids either jack up threes or drive ’til they run into something. The mid-range game is a lost art.”

Brewer sees it the same way: “The pull-up jumper doesn’t exist anymore. Everybody wants 3 instead of 2.”

Farmer used to love making 12-foot bank shots. “But I haven’t seen anybody do that since Tim Duncan,” he said with a laugh.

But if fans were asked if they’d rather see players firing up 20-footers or banking in 12-footers, they’re going to go with the three-point thrill.

“It’s fun, it’s entertaining and it’s exciting,” Fookes said. “People love it.”

And that love affair is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season.

THREE-POINT RECORDS

BOYS

Individual (Regular season)

  • GAME — 17 by David DeMarcus, Sayre (vs. MMI) 1989
  • SEASON — 168 by Mason Blair, Johnson Central 2017
  • CAREER — 462 BY Dylan James, Sheldon Clark 2010-17 

Individual (state tournament)

  • GAME — 9 by Richie Farmer, Clay County (vs. Ballard) 1988 state finals; 9 by Chris Lofton, Mason County (vs. Ballard) 2003 state finals

Team (regular season)

  • GAME — 41 by Jackson City (vs. MMI) 1992
  • SEASON — 370 by South Oldham 2017

GIRLS

Individual (Regular season)

  • GAME — 17 by Rebecca Greenwell, Owensboro Catholic (vs. Whitesville Trinity) 2013
  • SEASON — 143 by Demetria Brents, Caverna 1999
  • CAREER — 539 by Jaime Walz, Highlands 1991-96 

Individual (state tournament)

  • GAME — 8 by Maci Brown, Henderson County (vs. Male) 2015

Team (regular season)

  • GAME — 21 by Moore (vs. Seneca) 2007
  • SEASON — 313 by Clinton County 2005
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