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Wide Gap in Girls Basketball Talent Results in Charges of Running Up the Score

Don't point the finger at L-W East or coach Jim Martin. Inflated scores in high school girls basketball often are the result of a huge talent drop-off that puts the "haves" on a level way above the "have-nots."

Running up the score is a dirty subject no one in sports wants to talk much about, particularly not when it involves high school sports and accusations of poor sportsmanship on the part of coaches and/or players.

The subject reared its ugly head on Patch message boards following Lincoln-Way East’s 45-9 girls basketball victory over district rival Lincoln-Way Central on Tuesday. “Shame on you,” is how one commenter chose to berate East’s coach.

I say cheap shot.

I’m sure there are occasions when coaches and/or players attempt to run up the score on opponents. It’s human nature to hold a grudge, cite payback as the motive for poor behavior. So, does it happen? You bet. Do I think Lincoln-Way East was guilty of running it up on Lincoln-Way Central? Absolutely not.

Lincoln-Way East coach Jim Martin has worked long and hard to build a successful program. He has a Division I point guard this season (Taylor Johnson, Loyola) and an almost equally gifted NAIA recruit (Caitlin McMahon, St. Xavier). The two have sparked the Griffins’ surge through their play on the court and their leadership off it, too.

Lincoln-Way Central does not have players with comparable talent—not right now, anyway.

What I’ve noticed in girls basketball—and all girls sports, really—is a phenomena I call the depth-of-field issue. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is greater now than ever, in part because of the specialization that has taken hold in all sports, not just in the girls ranks.

But, on the girls side, high school volleyball is extremely popular, particularly in the South Suburbs. MaristMarian Catholic and Chicago Christian made trips to the IHSA state tournament in November and all brought home hardware. These are powerhouse teams with rosters stocked full of talented athletes.

The problem in girls sports is when the “athletes” pick volleyball, there isn’t enough depth in many cases to achieve the same standard of excellence in basketball or softball. Keep in mind there are only so many athletes to go around. Don’t you think Martin would like to have a couple of the Griffin volleyball 6-footers playing basketball at East?

He doesn’t complain about losing players to other sports. He works to develop the players in his program. And, if you’ve ever watched his team play, you know the Griffins run all sorts of offensive sets and take great pride in playing extremely hard on defense.

In fact, Johnson is considered one of the best defenders in the state.

Oh, she can score. She has worked to make the 3-point shot a greater part of her arsenal. She probably could have scored 45 points all by herself against Lincoln-Way Central if she had been given the green light. It’s worth noting she wasn’t given that kind of freedom to reign.

And since when does scoring 45 points qualify as running it up? That’s roughly five baskets and one free throw each quarter. Fifth- and sixth-grade teams score that many points on a regular basis. Have you checked out the point totals put up lately by some of the other high school powers in girls basketball?

Bolingbrook hit 90 in a victory over Homewood-Flossmoor. Hillcrest scored 91 in a win over Eisenhower. Running it up?

What constitutes going too far? Most coaches go to their benches early and often when their teams have built a big lead. Beyond that, what can be done to hold the sportsmanship line in place? Coaches can call for shot restrictions and set up timed passing drills, all of which begs for the asking of more questions.

Does that make a mockery of the game? Is that more of an embarrassment than letting backups bask for moment in the sun? Do you favor the implementation of a running clock when one team holds, say, a 20-point lead over another?

Know this: Mother McAuley jumped to a 17-4 lead over Marist on the RedHawks’ home floor the other day. The Mighty Macs were on fire from 3-point distance until Marist pushed its defense out on McAuley’s shooters and rallied to notch a 58-53 victory.

Strange things happen, particularly in high school sports. In girls basketball, strange often can be considered the norm. Running up the score is not, thank goodness.

Ron Kremer January 13, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Metro: I couldn't agree more with your comment about how the Central coach just needs a couple years to develop a program. Jim Martin has those years under his belt at Lincoln-Way East and has developed a top-notch program.
Darin Johnson January 14, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Ron I doubt also that they were running up the score judging by the box score, your Marist -Mother Mac point was not very valid however. I am pretty sure even the guy who claims the East-Central game was being run up, would not think a 13 pt. lead, on the oppositions floor, in the first half, would be a good time to back off.
Ron Kremer January 14, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Darin: Merely trying to point out that adding a running clock might not be a good idea, either. And, even if you go that route, you'd have to wait until the second half or the fourth quarter, I'd guess.
Barry Levy January 15, 2012 at 08:56 AM
the job of a basketball team is to stop the other team from scoring, it is not to stop scoring themselves. And if the teams are so different in quality, then even putting in the second team isn't going to help, because you can't put in the subs and tell them not to play hard. The best thing is to deal with the fact that it is a sport, emphasize the values of team sports, teach and coach for competitive excellence, and if the score is lopsided, that doesn't mean that the school didn't achieve what was being stressed. If I take a group of high school players and ask them to play the Clippers, they aren't going to win, but that doesn't preclude them competing with honor, with doing their best, and realizing that sometimes there are winners and losers and the great thing about sports is that it isn't PC, Parents need to get over it, and stop enforcing their children with the nonsense that all are equal.
Ron Kremer January 15, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Barry: Thanks for the comments. You make some good points, particularly the one about taking a group and playing with honor in the face of tall odds.

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