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Area coaches weigh in on hand-checking emphasis

By Staff | Jan 10, 2014

Daniel Allar Rugby High School basketball coach Jen Brossart instructs sophomore Shea Heidlebaugh during a break against Bishop Ryan on Tuesday. Brossart isn’t a fan of the emphasis on hand-checking this season.

This season’s emphasis on preventing hand-checking in high school and college basketball has Jen Brossart a little miffed.

The Rugby High School girls coach was a forward in her playing days and knows plenty about how to properly play defense on the block and around the perimeter. In the past, Brossart has encouraged her girls to play a physical brand of ball. Now officials are being asked to call fouls when a defender uses his or her hands to brace for contact or simply keep a player in front – whether or not the contact results in the offensive player being pushed.

“We taught people to get physical in the post,” Brossart said. “We taught them to don’t get pushed around, push back a little bit and hold your ground and it’s hard to do that.

“Back when I played you could even put the hand on the back. Now you can’t even put your arm there to brace yourself, so I mean it’s really taken away from the game. I think it’s given the advantage to the offensive player and it almost makes it pointless to guard anybody down low.”

The National Federation of State High School Associations listed hand-checking, displacement and player control as points of emphasis for the 2013-2014 season. This season’s NFHS rules changes handbook states: “Contact that impedes rhythm, speed, balance and quickness of the offensive or defensive player should be called.”

Brossart has watched a handful of boys’ games this season and believes the new rule is affecting the girls’ play more. Hand-checking calls saddled RHS standout Shea Heidlebaugh with quick fouls in the team’s season-opener and other Panthers got into trouble with hands-on play in the post at the CNDC tournament.?”Girls, especially, we can be physical without being dirty,” Brossart said, “and I think it’s taken away that post we as females tried so hard to attain and make the game more fun for all sexes too watch.”

Brossart acknowledged that the rule would have helped last season when she had a much taller team. This year’s squad is short and the perimeter defenders are learning to adapt and slide their feet better, but reschooling the post defenders may take much longer.

“You get your girls to a point where they’re ready to play physical, ready to step their game up and get more aggressive and then you have to tell them to back off and then they almost do to a point where it just totally takes them out of their game,” Brossart said. “Jacie Lovcik, especially, she’s an aggressive ballplayer and then to tell her she’s got to cut back defensively, where she’s already trying to learn a new position and post defense, it really takes away from that.”

Opinion differs with boys coach

RHS boys coach Mike Santjer has a different take on hand-checking.

“I think at times it becomes too physical,” he said, “so it should be a little bit of a finesse game, so if it keeps the game true to what it should be it’s not so bad because I think (the game) got away from it a little bit. They let a lot of arm bars. You could ride a guy’s hip and stuff like that, so I think it’s a good thing.”

Santjer has an all-state caliber forward in Brad Heidlebaugh and an all-region caliber forward in Zach Miller. The back-to-the-basket tandem is likely to benefit from the hand-checking rule as well as quick guard Tanner Bernhardt, who has the ability to beat many defenders off the dribble.

“If you get a defender on your hip and they touch you, the refs have pretty much said that’s an automatic foul,” Santjer said, “so if you’re a smart offensive player and quick enough off the dribble it can get you to the free-throw line quite a bit more.”?The rule applies to the RHS standouts on the defensive end and Heidlebaugh said there is a learning curve, especially since the rule wasn’t in play during any of his AAU games during the summer.

“It makes me a little hesitant,” Heidlebaugh said. “I used to arm bar people – put my hand on them – but now if I do, I try to take it off as quick as I can. It does impact me a little bit.”?For Jason Heinz, the Rolette-Wolford boys coach, the rule has brought both favorable and unfavorable results.

“I have mixed feelings on it,” Heinz said. “I didn’t like how the more physical players were allowed to push people where they wanted, but I try to teach my kids to get up and get after it. And we’ve ran into some foul trouble with ticky-tack fouls.

“I think you see a lot more attacking from a point guard and wings, just because they can’t hold you there any more. They used to be able to put their hand there and hold you if they were strong enough.”

The coaches acknowledged that consistency from the officials factors into the opinion of the rule. The officials are as new to it as the coaches and players. Brossart is concerned that tournaments hoping to stay on schedule could see games called differently early in the day than later.

“With anything, as long as its consistent, it’s usually not a big deal throughout the game because the kids adapt pretty well,” Santjer said. “It’s either gonna be a physical game or not-so physical game. The kids can adapt as long as its consistent.”

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