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GABRIEL STOVALL: The GHSA broke its own rules in Macon to the detriment of the athletes its supposed to represent

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

I’m not a fan of hypocrites.

I don’t say that from an elitist perch. I’ve had my own share of life moments that could be defined as hypocritical — saying one thing with my mouth and then exhibiting another through my actions.

And in those moments, I don’t like me very much — just like, right now, I’m not really feelin’ the GHSA.

No need to completely rehash the controversy surrounding this past weekend’s state basketball championships. We all know what happened there. Goals pushed back at least a foot beyond what’s considered regulation. GHSA found out about it, chose to ignore it then tried to tell us, “nothing to see here. Everything’s fine.”

Well, it’s not. And no, GHSA, we’re not going away.

Let’s just pretend for a moment that the issue with the basketball goals happened during a regular season game, or a first or second round playoff game at, say, Jonesboro or McIntosh.

What do you think would happen? I’ll tell you what would happen in a word — fines.

This isn’t what I’ve heard. It’s what comes from the horses mouth. It’s from what the GHSA themselves has declared as law.

According to its own handbook, “…violating any rule, whether it be due to carelessness, willfulness, ignorance or any other cause, may be subject to a fine of not more than two thousand-five hundred dollars ($2,5000) for each offense.” (Section 13C, 0 Pg. 13).

This is further enumerated in Appendix P (Pg. 139). And, in at least three other parts of the GHSA’s bylaws and constitution, a variation of this statement can be found: “Ignorance of the rule(s) on the part of any individual is not sufficient cause to set aside the rule(s).” (Page 18 1.57a)

Apparently nobody from the GHSA is included in the phrase “any individual.”

In a statement made by Georgia’s only governing body for high school athletics, the claim is made that the issue did nothing to hinder competition. That’s spoken like something a bunch of guys who probably haven’t watched a whole lot of basketball this season and haven’t played the sport in an even longer period of time, if at all, would say.


 

‘BALL DON’T LIE’

Let’s go back to Jonesboro’s Thursday night game against Liberty County — a six point loss for the Cardinals.

That night Jonesboro shot 33.3% from the field, 17.5% from 3-point range and 55% from the line. That’s down drastically from its 55%, 32%, 67% season long clip. And an even bigger drop from shooting percentages from its two games in Fort Valley, where the Cardinals shot 59%, 38% and 73% respectively on regulation goals.

And, again, I’m not here to say Jonesboro’s loss was a fluke. Anyone who saw that game and has even a shred of basketball knowledge knows better.

To be sure, Liberty County didn’t fair much better from the field (38.8%) than Jonesboro last Thursday, but it was better from behind the arc and at the line (33.3% and 62.5% respectively).

Even more interesting, though, is chronicling the shooting of Jonesboro’s Eric Lovett — a jump shooting specialist. He was 1-for-12 overall and 1-for-8 from three point range. But here’s the interesting thing — His one made basket was a trey from the corner — a contested shot. And three of his closest misses were from a spot between the wing and the corner.

Meanwhile, everything he shot from the top of the key came up short, even the uncontested shots. And he wasn’t the only one. Jonesboro senior guard Tariq Jenkins almost air balled a three toward the end of the game. And although Liberty County’s Richard LeCounte was 3-of-6 from downtown, the rest of the team was 2-of-8. And all of LeCounte’s made 3-pointers were also from the wing, except one.

I went back and re-watched that game, and several others, and found a couple of interesting things. First, the noticeability of the virtually nonexistent baseline as a result of the pushed back baskets. You could see visible frustration from both teams when trying to drive the baseline, or grab rebounds under the basket, only to be called out of bounds. The latter happened to Jonesboro five times. That’s five lost possessions due to non-regulation goals.

But at the time — right in the throes of competition — nobody thought enough about it to protest, understandable so. Although several coaches from other teams who watched the Thursday games said they immediately knew there was a problem. Pebblebrook boys coach George Washington was one of them.

“Honestly, I noticed something from the beginning,” Washington said via phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “I watched all the boys championship games and some of the girls games. I saw (Miller Grove star) Alterique (Gilbert) miss four free throws in a row. I saw the other kid, their sharp shooter, miss countless wide open shots. Same thing with Jonesboro.

“I saw the McEachern girls game that was before ours, and counted a girl get called for stepping out of bounds after a rebound at least eight times.”

And although the GHSA claims it hadn’t heard from any coaches, Washington disputes that.

“I made sure to tell somebody from the GHSA before our game, during halftime of our game and after our game,” Washington said. “They said because they were already behind schedule, they weren’t going to entertain fixing the goals. I made sure to tell someone even before our game, because I was planning to make a complaint after we played, whether we won or not.”

And for a moment, when Washington received the GHSA’s defiance, he said he and his assistant coach actually contemplated not playing their game.

“But we always keep in our minds the kids,” he said. “And they worked too hard, and I said I’d never walk away from a game and have it to be a forfeit. I couldn’t do that to my kids. We both agreed, win or lose, we’re gonna have something to say about this.”


 

FACTS DON’T LIE

A shot chart I constructed showed that the two teams shot a combined 32 three-pointers, and made a total of eight. Eight of the 32 attempts came from the top of the key, where the erroneous basket placement would’ve been most noticeable to a shooter.

Shooters were a combined 1-for-8 on top-of-the-key 3-pointers. Liberty County’s LeCounte was the only one who nailed a shot from the top. But the intriguing thing is five of the seven misses from the top of the key were terribly short. One other rimmed out, and one was off badly to the left side of the rim.

That’s not a coincidence, I don’t believe. And it happened with shooters from both teams, including Jonesboro’s Lovett, typically a marksman from three-point land.

Not counting the championship game, Lovett shot at about a 36 percent clip from behind the arc through the season. He’s a natural jump shooter which means, unlike a streak shooter, Lovett takes special care to try and put the proper touch on shots. Streak shooters tend to find themselves inexplicably in a rhythm or zone and ride it until it dries out.

It was apparent that he was trying to “touch” his shots just right, based on how he normally shoots. I’ve seen Lovett have bad shooting nights before, but last Thursday was the only time this season where I saw him woefully short on his misses.

I remember someone on press row making mention of it, wondering if he was hurt or tired because it seemed he wasn’t getting his legs into the shot.

Other players were coming up short, too, from that area — both in that game and some of the other ones.

So if the baskets were positioned correctly, would it have made a difference in the Jonesboro-Liberty County game? Probably not, the way that the Panthers played. But let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that with proper basket positioning, Lovett makes just two more 3s than he did.

That’s six more points for Jonesboro in what was a six-point defeat. Who knows?

Lest you consider me a homer, realize that I understand this is bigger than just what happened in the Jonesboro game.

Would regulation goals have produced one or two more made baskets, consequentially making a difference in the Miller Grove-Allatoona boys game result — a 50-48 Miller Grove win?

What about on the girls’ side with the one point Southwest DeKalb win or the two-point victory Holy Innocents netted over Wesleyan?

Here’s the point: The GHSA’s stubbornness had a direct affect on the competition and even the outcomes of games on the state’s biggest stage, and it seems completely uninterested in owning up to that.
And there’s the hypocrisy of the moment. For an organization that supposedly prides itself on being a stickler for following the rules — i.e. the Isaac Kellum (McIntosh basketball) transfer issue that drug on forever in the name of “getting it right,” or the West Forsyth cross country athlete John Green who was disqualified from a third place finish for wearing a headband with writing on it — the “nothing to see here” statement made to brush aside the GHSA’s knowingly breaking the rules in highest stakes competition only implicated it even more for being an organization completely out of touch with the best interests of the student-athletes.

 

A COLLEGE COACH’S PERSPECTIVE

What GHSA allowed was not only bad for the state basketball championship event, it was even worse for the student-athletes whom it claims to serve and represent. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from a letter sent to the GHSA by Queens University (Charlotte, NC) associate head coach Grant Leonard that should provide another angle to the argument:

“This year, like many years, we are attending these games as we are recruiting kids that we haven’t yet offered but are strongly considering. We were there this year to specifically watch a player from Jonesboro High School who we have had on campus but not offered a scholarship too; his poor shooting night at the state championship we (sic) will probably mean that we will not end up offering him a scholarship. 

After reading about the baskets not being set to regulations and seeing how badly it affected players shooting percentages from FG, 3 PT and FT this gives me huge concern. We don’t think we can accurately assess how well any of these kids shot the ball under pressure because they have been practicing their entire lives at the proper distances. We hope you understand our perspective and concern that every kid (even the ones who won) played the most important game in their life to this point at a huge disadvantage by not having the baskets at regulation distances. We even cringed as we watched players grab rebounds and fall out of bounds and we commented to another coach that those players were cracking under the pressure.”

And here’s the Coup de grâce:

“Although we have no great solution to this problem, we really felt that all of the players were robbed of their true experience. We hope this email can shed some light on a different perspective that maybe you guys haven’t thought of. Best of luck going forward.”

If the GHSA hasn’t thought of this perspective, it’s only because it doesn’t want to. And Jonesboro wasn’t the only one who had players who were cheated of a golden opportunity.

“This goes a lot further than state championship games,” Washington said. “Just in our game, I know we had the Auburn coach looking at our kids. There were assistants from five or more other universities there to see some of our kids and others. I can’t tell you how many of those college coaches called me after saying they watched the game and knew something was wrong.”

Washington said one of his kids got so frustrated at the inability to pinpoint the problem with the baskets, that he had to call a timeout to get him to calm down.

“Players were losing their cool out there,” he said. “I feel bad, but I had to lie to my kid. He kept saying, ‘Coach, are the baskets right? Something’s not right,’ and I told him, ‘Yeah they were.’ I had to apologize to them for that after. I just didn’t want what the position of the goals were to affect how he was playing.”

The coach was trying to look out for his kid. Somebody had to, because the GHSA has shown time and time again that it’s best interests are in the GHSA. On basketball’s biggest stage, it purposefully violated its own admonition to schools and student-athletes that ignorance is not an excuse to set aside the rules.

Yet that is exactly what the GHSA did. Except the ignorance in question wasn’t lack of knowledge of the situation. Rather, it was “ignore-ance” — a blatant disregard of the rules to suit whatever their personal fancy was.


 

ELUSIVE SOLUTIONS

Good luck finding accountability there, however. GHSA is the only governing body over major high school athletics in Georgia. In theory, somebody should lose their job over this, just like other athletes have lost championships, state placement, valuable playing time and now, perhaps college scholarships behind GHSA dogma and selective rule enforcement.

Hard, certain solutions that make everyone happy are difficult, if not impossible, to come by. Washington admitted as much. But he did provide a three point solution (no pun intended) toward trying to rectify the mess.

“First of all, we should never play another game in Macon,” he said. “Secondly, an apology from GHSA to all players and coaches is needed. It’s amazing they still haven’t issued a real apology yet. And finally, I would like to see everybody labeled as co-champions. Not taking anything from Westlake, Miller Grove, Liberty County, Pace Academy or anybody.

“I don’t take anything from what they accomplished. They faced the adverse situations and still won, but there’s really no way to know what would’ve happened in proper circumstances.”

Then Washington neatly summarized the whole sordid tale by succinctly saying what many others have mused — that if this were football, there’s no way we’d even be having this conversation.

“We just want basketball to be treated like football,” he said.

But it likely won’t happen, which again shows that the only lesson the GHSA seems ultimately interested in teaching is that wrong is only wrong when you’re not the one in charge.

 

Gabriel Stovall is the founding editor of the Southern Crescent Buzz. He can be reached at gstovall@thecrescentbuzz.com, or you can follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1. 

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