SHERIDAN — In the early 1960s, basketball promoter Abe Saperstein had an idea: add an arc 25 feet from the hoop on each side of the court. Any shot made behind it would be worth an extra point.
More than 50 years later and with a few tweaks, Saperstein’s 3-point invention has fundamentally changed the sport. Spurred by the success of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, NBA teams launch 3-pointers today at a higher rate than ever, and the emphasis on outside shooting appears to have trickled down to the college and high school levels.
For the most part, local coaches extolled the virtues of the 3-pointer, which was officially adopted by colleges in 1986 and high schools in 1987. T
he coaches generally called the 3 an evolution of the sport that has made games more exciting, forced defenses to adjust, allowed taller players to expand their skills and potentially helped more kids pick up a basketball in the first place.
Sheridan High School boys basketball head coach Jeff Martini began seeing an increase in 3-pointers around the time the Warriors won their first championship in 2015 thanks in large part to excellent outside shooting from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Among Wyoming high schools, Martini has noticed a gradual increase in shots from behind the arc, which is 19 feet, 9 inches from the hoop. He largely encourages players to shoot from deep if they are open and said the 3-point shot allows for free-flowing games that usually lead to more excitement.
“I think it can be a huge momentum thing,” Martini said. “It can get teams back in games, and I think it’s great if our team makes them, and if the other team makes them it’s infuriating, because we talk about it all the time of trying to contest (opponents’ 3-point shots).”
Tongue River High School boys basketball head coach Tyler Hanson said making a few triples can uniquely jumpstart a team.
“When you’ve got a kid that’s hot and he’s making a bunch of 3s, the energy level is up in the gym, the energy level is up on the bench,” Hanson said. “Whereas if you have a kid make five layups in a row versus five 3s in a row, it doesn’t really get that same vibe from the crowd and from the team.”
Inversely, a long-range bomb can also deflate the team that allowed the 3-pointer.
“When somebody knocks down a 3 in your face, you’re like, ‘I thought I was playing good defense,’” Arvada-Clearmont High School girls basketball head coach Sarah Walker said. “…It definitely can take the wind out of your sails when you’re on defense and somebody knocks one down.”
The prevalence of the long ball has also made it tougher on defenders who have to cover more space.
Hanson said one of the first thing he scouts about opponents is the team’s overall outside shooting and the best individual 3-point shooters.
“It stretches defenses out like crazy,” Hanson said.
Sheridan High School girls basketball head coach Larry Ligocki said 3-point shooting has also opened up driving lanes to the hoop because of more room available to offensive players, thus forcing defensive players to scramble and recover more often.
Ligocki also said the 3-point shot has forced teams to play their starters longer than in previous years because a double-digit advantage with a few minutes left isn’t a guaranteed victory.
“Until you’re up about 20 points, you don’t feel real comfortable, especially if the other team has some of those shooters,” Ligocki said.
One of the main ways basketball has evolved in recent year is the growing number of taller players who can comfortably step behind the arc. In the past, teams may have had one or two quality shooters. Today, some teams have four or five players capable of hitting a trey.
The area coaches are mostly proponents of 3-pointers but said a fine balance exists between utilizing the 3 as a weapon and becoming too reliant on it. The higher variance on shots farther away from the rim sometimes results in cold shooting nights and a loss on the scoreboard.
“You live and die by the 3,” Big Horn High School boys basketball head coach Mike Daley said. “If you’ve got kids who think they can shoot but they can’t, you’re going to die by the 3.”
Daley has coached for 25 years and adjusted his style as the 3-pointer has grown more prevalent. The Rams play man defense because Daley said a team with good outside shooting can break any zone defense.
For AC, Walker said the Lady Panthers have become more comfortable shooting 3s, especially because many 1A opponents play zone defense.
“I think that’s changed what type of offense you have to play,” Walker said. “You have to be an outside shooting team. You have to have the 3-point shot in your pocket, so when a team goes zone on you, you can shoot them out of the zone.”
While Daley said the 3-point shot has been a positive factor overall, he said it has potentially diminished other aspects of the game like post moves and midrange jump shots.
“It’s the No. 1 thing that kids want to do, whether they’re 5-foot-5 or they’re 6-foot-10,” Daley said. “They want to shoot the 3, so we compromise a lot of the other things that those kids should be doing.”
Another area that concerns a few coaches is younger kids wanting to emulate sharpshooters like Curry before developing other requisite skills to shoot from the perimeter.
The overall sentiment, though, was that 3-pointers are a good thing for the sport because they encourage more people to participate, especially kids smaller in stature.
“They’re growing up and they’re seeing Steph Curry and they’re seeing all these guys shooting 3s,” Sheridan College women’s basketball head coach Ryan Davis said. “…It has an effect on you as a person, as a kid that’s playing basketball, that, ‘This is how I can affect the game more than driving and getting into the lane if I’m smaller.’”
The onslaught of 3-point shooting does not appear to be going away any time soon either. For players interested in college basketball — where the arc is moved back a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches away from the rim — Martini said it is almost a prerequisite for players to shoot from downtown, regardless of size.
“This isn’t just a high school thing,” Martini said. “This is a universal thing of having everyone go outside and shoots 3s. That’s the way it’s going all across, in every aspect of basketball.”
The 3-point shot began as a promotional tool but has become an integral part of basketball. In Sheridan County, coaches seem to have largely embraced the sport’s evolution.