(Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about the impact of the shot clock on Montana high school basketball. For part one, click here.)
MISSOULA — Jeff Hays has seen a lot of basketball in his lifetime.
The Missoula Hellgate boys basketball head coach has played at the high school and college level, and is now one of the longest-tenured and most successful Class AA coaches in Montana. But he, like everyone else, saw a new wrinkle added to the game this year, with the addition of the shot clock at the high school level for the first time as everyone embarked on this change together.
"I think it's been great for Montana to take that step," Hays said. "I know the coaches have looked forward to it for quite some time and to actually have it implemented it's fun. It makes the game better and I think that's what we're trying to do."
That message has been resounding across all levels.
Smaller schools, especially in Class B and C, are known to play at a faster pace.
No one knows this better than the Arlee Warriors, a program synonymous with breakneck speed on the court. For them, they've barely noticed the shot clock at all because of their offensive style, but have used it to their advantage on defense.
"Honestly, the way we play is kind of fast so we don't really notice the shot clock but defensively it kind of hypes us up when we get a stop and the shot clock goes off. It's kind of motivating on defense and gets us going on offense," junior guard Jace Arca said. "When we hear that buzzer it's just motivating to hear and helps push us on defense."
"Actually being on the court and seeing a shot clock is different," added Arlee junior forward Benjamin Old Person-Harlow. "You actually have to take time to get a shot and get a bucket and run your offense. You only have a certain amount of time and I've seen that affect other teams because they could be trying to run an offense, and then out of nowhere the shot clock goes off and it's our ball. It's different for sure."
The removal of stalling, improving the flow and speeding up the games have been the most notable changes, but smaller impacts have been there as well that players have been able to find.
"What I really like about it is with the 10-second rule crossing half court, I can always take a glance up at the shot clock because the 10 seconds meaning I've got 25 seconds on the shot clock by the time I have to pass half court," Arlee junior guard Dallas Swab said. "That's the first really big thing I see about the shot clock."
The addition of the shot clock was a major change in high school athletics, but the overall impact hasn't been drastic.
Teams used time in the offseason to prep, and once the season began, it's been smooth sailing with programs learning ways to be strategic in game.
"To prep for them we did scenarios almost," Hamilton senior guard Lexi Brenneman said. "Like if the shot clock had five seconds, what would we do if we didn't have an open shot, like we tried to prepare a little with that. I think it helped a lot especially in our Frenchtown game last time at home, we had to use one of those scenarios because we were only up by two, so we tried."
"I like the change," added fellow Hamilton senior, Taryn Searle. "I'm also a big shooter but I like the change because it's easier for us to get into our offense faster. We just play faster and better as a team."
For Hamilton's girls basketball team, another fast-paced program, they've rarely run into issues.
"We really worked on that this summer, playing up-tempo and running our secondary break and free throw break. We're always pushing the ball down the floor," Hamilton head coach Boone Nelson said. "Our first offense is always transition. We've had zero shot clock violations but (late) shot clock (scenarios) have been an issue for us twice. A lot of times we don't even see it tick below 20, really."
The shot clock's implementation came after approval by the Montana High School Association last January, after the National Federation of State High School Associations allowed state associations to make decisions on a state-by-state basis of whether or not to add them.
While most around Montana have wanted a shot clock for years, detractors typically cited cost and personnel to operate the clock as the biggest hurdles. But those obstacles haven't been nearly the issue once thought, with a number of grant options available to pay for shot clocks, which Seeley-Swan and many Class C schools used, or individual sponsors paying for them, like Missoula Bone and Joint did at Hellgate.
Once clock operators quickly got up to speed, the change was barely noticeable.
"Felt pretty good. I think everybody really wanted this change and so it feels like it's been really smooth," Hellgate athletic director Nick Laatsch said. "I don't even seem to notice that we're doing something new on game day. I think it's been a lot of fun. Definitely created some excitement as the shot clock runs down definitely at the end of quarters and halves.
"It's been a good process. It was nothing that ever really worried me that was going to be a problem and part of that is just the support we've had from everyone else to implement it and make it happen."
"And I have yet to really see it impact the game very much, and I think that's something that we had discussed as coaches that it wasn't going to be as much of an impact as people thought," Hays added. "But I do think it has kind of just sped up the game a little bit without it being chaotic. I think it's been great."
The shot clock's impact will continue to be monitored closely with postseason tournaments right around the corner in Montana. But at the end of the day, the headaches feared to be associated with shot clocks were either solved, or never happened.
It's here, it's working, and programs at all levels have been happy with it.
"Everybody kind of went finally, or damn, and just did it," Seeley-Swan athletic director Shawn Holmes said. "Talking to a couple administrators out east, same thing. The eastern side of the state, they love it, and most of the schools around here love it. Just finally get those kids that do go on to that next level a little experience with the shot clock."