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H.S. Basketball: The basics get bounced

February 21. 2018 10:39PM

Bedford's Mia Roy throws a bounce pass against Pinkerton at Bedford High School on Thursday. The bounce pass is falling out of favor in high school basketball. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

When you watch as much high school basketball as I do, you tend to notice trends.

The obvious fads within both boys’ and girls’ high school hoops these days are up-tempo play and 3-pointers. You’ll find many voices who are for and against what those two trends are doing to the game of basketball and the general makeup of a player.

Among the lesser-known trickledowns that I and other colleagues have noticed this season is the shift away from using bounce passes. In a time where valuing the basketball is as crucial as ever given the speed of the game, it’s curious to see players opt for chest passes through defenders’ hands instead of trying to reach a teammate more effectively and cleanly on the bounce.

Portions of games simply look sloppier with turnovers creating back-and-forth play and no points. The use of a bounce pass might not end the unsightly play, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

While those taking in a game would need to be clued in to this change, the bounce pass’ vanishing act is not lost on coaches.

“The fundamentals in our league are terrible,” Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said after Tuesday’s loss to Manchester Central. “It’s become a lost art. They want to dribble between their legs and make a fancy pass. That’s just part of it, but the bounce pass has become a lost art in many ways.”

Union Leader colleague Roger Brown and I tried to count the meaningful bounce passes during the games we covered Tuesday night. When I say meaningful, I mean the pass was impactful and not just a simple drop to a teammate right next to the passer. Roger counted nine bounce passes combined between Merrimack and Central while I gathered 13 during Bedford’s win over Spaulding of Rochester.

That’s 80 minutes of basketball and just 22 bounce passes, of which a handful turned into turnovers due to poor execution. You think of how many times a ball moves during a game and the totals we came up with are simply stunning.

There’s really no telling when, where or how the bounce pass became outdated. What is known about its dissipating use is that the bounce pass, among other things, is not being pushed at developmental levels like it used to be.

“It seems that fundamentals aren’t the emphasis at the younger levels right now,” Manchester Memorial girls’ basketball coach Greg Cotreau said. “I think we can all do a better job at getting back to basics, and it starts with the youngest levels. They need to be taught how to play at that young age instead of running set plays. Making basic, simple passes are a big part of teaching kids how to play. The flashy passes look cool but rarely work.”

Cotreau’s correlation between stylish passing and poor execution is spot on, but the choice to use even a simple chest pass instead of a bounce pass wreaks havoc on a team’s chances. Such was the case for Spaulding against Bedford on Tuesday.

The Red Raiders’ big problem was very poor shooting and missing their best player, but turnovers were an issue in the second half. Many of those turnovers came on telegraphed or desperate chest passes. The use of a bounce pass in many of those situations could’ve generated a better outcome. Spaulding coach Tim Cronin agreed that the bounce passes would’ve been nice, but said his team simply isn’t thinking about having such a decision while being pressed to react to situations.

Bedford coach Mark Elmendorf credited the shift away from bounce passes directly to the aforementioned shifts in the way the game is being played.

“The game is so oriented towards the perimeter now that you don’t have many bounce passes,” Elmendorf said. “Nothing around the perimeter happens on the bounce. There are so many teams that have five guys that shoot from 3-point range because that’s what everyone practices now. It’s frustrating.”

Elmendorf pointed to a recent game against Dover where seven players hit treys for the Green Wave. Bedford’s loss to Pinkerton last Friday came while the Astros sunk nine 3-pointers.

The Bulldogs are far less perimeter focused with capable big men, but Elmendorf admitted it’s not just about the personnel.

“We have a true post player in Nolan Anderson, but not a lot of teams do.” Elmendorf said. “Even with Nolan, we always talk about creating the right angle and we never do it as well as we should.

“It’d be nice to see us and the league get back to using the bounce. I’d like to see it more and I know for us, Nolan would too.”

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THE DIVISION IV girls’ tournament got going on Tuesday with Littleton, Hinsdale, Epping and Farmington as the top seeds. You have to respect the combined 37-1 record between Littleton and Hinsdale after winning their first-round games, but there’s no reason to sleep on the Blue Devils and Tigers.

Epping, a playoff team at 9-11 last season, took some big steps forward with its 17-2 mark this season. The Blue Devils opened the tournament with a win against Derryfield on Tuesday, which was their 10th consecutive win. The last loss came by 31 points to Littleton, which Epping would only face in the finals on Jan. 19.

Balance has been an asset for the Blue Devils, who did not have a senior on last year’s team. This time around, seniors like Katie Pelletier and Evelyn Carleton, who missed last season due to a soccer injury, are expected to bring great poise towards a hopefully deep run.

Like Epping, Farmington (17-2) had no seniors when it went 12-8 last season, which yielded its first playoff win in 20 years. Farmington took down Gorham in first-round action Tuesday to keep the good times rolling.

Defense is a big reason for the Tigers’ good fortune as they’ve allowed no more than 38 points to an opponent in any of their 16 wins and kept teams under 25 in eight of those triumphs. The up-tempo offense goes through Katie Martineau, who eclipsed 1,000 points in December, while Chloe Weeks, Shannon Kobbe and Tatyanna Long fill in the blanks.

High School Basketball appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail