- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

Duke guard J.J. Redick will arrive at Comcast Center today to face Maryland on the verge of breaking the NCAA’s career record for 3-pointers made.

It is the indefatigable senior’s latest milestone, a product of a rule in place for only two decades. Yet Redick’s sweet stroke and proficiency serve not only as a reminder of his prolific play but also just how different the game has become since the 3-point arc was permanently instituted for the 1986-87 season.

Coupled with the addition of the shot clock — also a product of the 1980s — the 3-point line led directly to the likes of Georgia Tech’s “Lethal Weapon 3” backcourt of 1990, the Loyola Marymount run-and-gun teams of the same era and Kentucky’s resurrection under Rick Pitino a few years later.

In recent seasons, few teams have been as predicated on the 3 — both exploiting it on offense and stopping it on defense — as Duke. Redick has been one of the primary weapons, making 408 3-pointers to close within five of former Virginia guard Curtis Staples’ career record.

In college basketball, size used to matter as much as anything. The 3-point line took care of that, giving small teams a chance to become March nightmares, much like Saint Joseph’s was two seasons ago, West Virginia was last season and Villanova — with its four-guard set — appears likely to be next month.

“It was put in as the great equalizer,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas says. “And now it’s taken over the game.”

So much so there is constant debate about moving the line back, a heated discussion among coaches and aficionados alike. Arguments fly about the rule’s impact on scoring, passing, shooting, everything.

The line, though, will not go away.

“Almost all coaches realize at the college level that it’s an important part of the game,” CBS analyst Billy Packer says. “If you’re not utilizing it at both ends of the floor, you’re not going to be successful. It has probably been the greatest change as far as rules are concerned.”

Triple impact

The 3-point line sits 19 feet, 9 inches from the basket, increasingly what Bilas describes as a “chip shot” compared to the NBA’s line of 23 feet, 9 inches at the top. The international line, which the college game has toyed with in early season tournaments in recent seasons, is 20 feet, 6 inches from the hoop.

There is a groundswell of support among coaches to move the line to match international rules, particularly among purists. The wash-rinse-and-repeat formula of drawing help with dribble penetration only to kick it outside for a 3 rankles many, in part because it doesn’t involve everyone on the floor and also because it seems like a shortcut from the sport’s roots.

“Basketball was invented with the idea the skill you have in handling the basketball [matters],” Maryland coach Gary Williams says. “You’re rewarded for your passing ability, your dribbling ability, being able to run plays. The 3-point line kind of gets away from that. If I can catch and shoot, we only have to make one pass, and we get three points. Well, how about if I run a play that requires eight passes, and we dunk it or shoot a layup. I only get two for that. Maybe I should get three for a dunk and two for a 3-point shot.”

There is also the ripple effect the 3 has on other parts of the game. Teams reliant on outside shots tend not to drive into the lane as much. In turn, opposing frontcourt players don’t pick up as many fouls and tend to play more minutes and remain on the floor at the end of the game.

Williams supports moving the arc back to the international line (“It’s been experimented with,” he says. “I wonder when the experiment’s over. How many years do you keep experimenting with the 3-point line?”), but proposals to do so in recent years have been paired with suggestions to adopt the wider trapezoid lane, a rule the international game uses to discourage congestion around the basket.

That idea has received only tepid approval, and North Carolina coach Roy Williams is one of many who want to see the lane and the 3-point line issues separated. Much of the problem stems from the constant stream of quality post players out of the college ranks. Elite centers and power forwards rarely stay in school for four years as it is, and Bilas says a wider lane “would be essentially legislating big guys out of the game.”

Yet some coaches — even those with staunch defensive credentials — rather would leave the game alone even if it means players who have grown up shooting 3-pointers (and become increasingly proficient at it) rather than midrange jumpers continue to do so.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton looks at his team’s 97-96 overtime loss at Duke last week as a perfect example of the 3-point line’s impact. The Seminoles had the choice of providing help defense on Blue Devils center Shelden Williams at the risk of leaving Redick open on the wing when the ball was reversed or leaving Williams in a one-on-one matchup in the paint to remain glued to Redick even if he was on the off-ball side of the court.

Redick finished with 36 points (though only three 3-pointers), but Williams had 27 points and eight offensive rebounds. But even with such decidedly pick-your-poison scenarios, Hamilton still thinks the line should be left alone.

“If we want the 3-point shot to be a part of the game, the reality is that distance really puts a lot of pressure on our defense,”Hamilton says. “I’m amazed at how we’re always trying to tinker with a game that’s already a good basketball game. It’s like, ‘How can you improve on a 10?’ ”

‘Almost chaos’

If nothing else, the 3 has created possibilities almost no one would have dreamed about before its inception. And while things like the four-point play receive some attention, it’s the chance of trading three for two (or less) in the latter stages of a game that creates hope for a trailing team more than anything else.

Unless, of course, the chance for a 3 is taken away at the other end.

“It has made the end of games almost chaos,” Bilas says. “Twenty years ago, you could not have imagined a scenario where if you were ahead in the game where you would foul. Now you have scenarios where you think, ‘We’re ahead, and we have to commit a foul in order to win.’ It’s almost stunning.”

And then there’s the philosophical shift in molding rosters. Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser recalls looking for athletes, athletes and more athletes while serving as an assistant under Pete Gillen at Xavier in the 1980s. More and more, though, a pure shooter can receive a look even if his skill set includes nothing beyond making open jumpers.

“Everybody is looking for shooters,” Prosser says. “The best teams have the best blend of athletes and shooters. I think it has changed recruiting a bit. There’s certainly a place in the game for a 3-point shooter on every team. Whether you’re playing man or zone, you have to account for that.”

Chasing a record

Championship-caliber teams usually aren’t built around a potent outside shooter. Of the 14 players to make at least 360 3-pointers in their careers, only Redick (2004) and Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara (2003) played in a Final Four.

Redick, though, is the centerpiece of this year’s Duke team not just because of his shooting but because an all-around game developed during a four-year career. Once simply a pure shooter, Redick gradually became a better (if underrated) defender and passer. He also learned to put the ball on the floor, forcing defenses to remain honest.

“He’s never going to be a great finisher, but he can take the ball to the basket to be considered a threat to be guarded as more than someone who just shoots,” says Packer, who will call today’s game for CBS. “Last year he used the drive to get to the foul line; now he uses this to score. He gets the finish sometimes, even if it’s not the same variety as some other players.”

Redick’s constant motion and his ability to leave opponents breathless with his ceaseless running and uncanny ability to bounce off screens to find an open look have added greater depth to his game.

It’s easy to suggest Redick’s greatness is a product of the 3-point era, but that argument is filled with fallacies. He wouldn’t be the player he is if he hadn’t worked to improve his game the last few years, and even if all of his 3-pointers counted as 2s this year, he still would be averaging a healthy 24.5 points a game.

“He would have been just as good,” Bilas says. “He wouldn’t be breaking the scoring record, but he would have been like Reggie Miller. Reggie Miller was still an unbelievable player, and he played most of his [college] career without the 3-point shot.”

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