By Tommy Keeler Jr.
Keep your hands off.
That's the emphasis for high school basketball this season.
There are no new rules, but the National Federation of High School Associations has made it a point of emphasis for all referee associations to call fouls when defenders keep their hands on the offensive player.
"The rules are the same as they've always been, it's just these are now a point of emphasis. We don't want the defender to take advantage of the offensive player by using their hands," said Don Blankenship, a referee with the Shenandoah Basketball Officials Association.
Blankenship said defenders cannot leave their hands on an offensive player for an extended time. He said the point of emphasis is in regard to illegal contact, which includes holding, pushing, diverting, shoving, re-routing or displacing the offensive player, which includes in the post area. Blankenship said that generally officials might give a warning to a player early in the game about using their hands, but once the game goes on they will make the calls. He also said that with 10 players on the floor at all times and the pace of the game, some hand contact is going to happen, but they will call it when it is obvious.
Many of the coaches in the area have been fine with the new points of emphasis.
"I think [they're doing] a good job," Stonewall Jackson boys basketball coach Patrick Smoot said. "They're allowing us to play a little bit and then when they do call it, it's obvious. It's not a questionable call."
Strasburg boys basketball coach Matt Hiserman said he was also fine with the rules.
"If you put two hands on somebody, obviously they're going to call it," Hiserman said. "If you extend the arm bar, that's supposed to be a foul. In the post you can't extend on the guy. You can't steer the guy with a hand and try to steer him in another direction. You shouldn't be able to go put two hands on a guy. They're cleaning that up a little bit."
Skyline girls basketball coach Jim Kenney said he hasn't even talked to his players about it because they teach their players not to use their hands.
"We stress to our team to move their feet, and not play with their hands," Kenney said. "We tell them not to reach and move their feet. If they call a foul on one of our players for reaching with their hands, then they deserve to have the foul called on them."
Hiserman said he has talked to his players, and they're even calling things differently in practice so that the players are used to it.
"What we try to teach is to play defense with your feet and not put your hands on people," Hiserman said. "We've made more of an emphasis to say, 'Hey, if you get beat you gotta rely on your help at this point. You can't be trying to come in from behind.'
"We've been real careful in practice about it. When we're doing live stuff, we're calling it."
Over the course of time the game has become more physical and players have started to use their hands more and more, picking up bad habits.
College basketball is going through the same thing, and the players and coaches are adjusting to the changes, which has led to more fouls being called.
Blankenship said that the new points of emphasis were talked about in the SBOA preseason meetings.
"It's important for everybody to be on the same page," Blankenship said. "The most important thing is for the calls to be consistent."
Smoot said that it will take time, but the game should be better off once everyone gets used to it.
"I think it's going to take some time for the teams and also for the officials to get used to it, and it's going to take even longer for the fans to get used to it, which is not good for the officials," Smoot said with a grin. "And coaches have to do their part making sure the kids understand it, and we'll go from there."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd