NEW CASTLE —
Trey, triple, trifecta, three-ball, dagger, making it rain, a shot from way downtown.
Whatever you want to call it, a 3-point shot has become a key part of high school basketball since it was introduced 26 years ago. The game has changed since the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations voted to put the 3-point rule (shots made beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch line) into effect starting with the 1987-88 season.
Sure, the shot is worth three points on the scoreboard, but its value can be so much more to teams with a proficient sharpshooter.
“It’s very important,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “It extends defenses.”
The Red Hurricane appreciates the effect long-distance shooting can have on the game. It was a key part of the team’s drive to WPIAL championships and a 56-2 record the past two seasons.
A perfect example of the 3-point impact arose in last season’s WPIAL Class AAAA championship game. New Castle’s Anthony Richards swished four treys in the first half to pull Hampton out of its zone defense. As a result, the ’Canes were able to open up their inside game and take control for the victory.
“You look at the championship game against Hampton last year when they were really packing in that 3-2 zone with all that size and length. Things changed when he hit those four 3s because now they have to extend their defense and now we can get some interior touches and be much more effective offensively,” Blundo said. “It means everything to what we can do.”
The ’Canes feature Lawrence County’s top sharpshooter in Richards. Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes and Matt McKinney join him as area elite marksmen.
“As a good player, I think you have to have that (3-point ability) in your arsenal. The dribble is so big right now and guys working off it. But, you have to be able to shoot it. As a shooter, if I can’t get to the bucket or things aren’t going right, I know I can always go to that jumper,” said Ellwood City Lincoln High coach Anthony Ovial, who was a sharpshooter as a player with the Wolverines. “The hard part is, it takes so long to develop that. All the good shooters in the area, they’ve developed that and they really are special players because they can do what a large percentage of high school players around here can’t — they can shoot it.”
RECORD FOR RICHARDS
Richards, a senior guard, is on the verge of a personal milestone. He needs five more treys to become the program’s all-time leading 3-point shooter. He enters the year with 203, while Brandon Domenick finished his career last year with 207 to break Eddie Pagley’s career mark.
“Brandon and I have been best friends our whole life. We’ve been shooting together since we were 6 or 7,” Richards said. “Over the summer, he was telling me I had to break the record in the first game or else he’d be disappointed in me. It’s pretty neat, though, that I can break his record, hopefully. I am really not focused on it, though. I am just focused on playing and if it happens, it happens. I just want to win the game.”
Richards and Domenick formed a dangerous duo from behind the arc for New Castle. Blundo was happy to see their hard work pay off as both earned scholarships to NCAA Division-II programs. Domenick is a freshman at Gannon University, while Richards will head to West Virginia Wesleyan next year.
“It’s validation for hard work. Those records are a direct result of nobody working harder at it than Brandon and Anthony,” Blundo said. “For kids to see that, it has a ripple effect because it shows them how hard you have to work at it to become a great shooter.
Also, long-distance shooting provides a role for those players not blessed with overwhelming height.
“You can put Anthony and Brandon on top of each other and they’re not 6 feet,” Blundo said. “If you’re a young kid and you think you’re too small to play basketball, I have two guys who are 5-foot-7 who are going to play NCAA Division-II basketball. They’re living proof.”
Even though New Castle graduated key starters in Shawn Anderson, Antonio Rudolph and Domenick, as well as another long-range threat off the bench in Jesse Salzano, having Richards back makes the ’Canes a difficult matchup, especially with dynamic forward Malik Hooker as well.
“Having a good shooter on your team opens up more for the other guys on the team to go to the lane or go to the rack,” Richards said. “But, also, having guys that can go to the rack opens it up for me. You get it both ways with our team.”
Last year, Richards averaged 9.9 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He led the county with 81 treys, which fell short of Pagley’s New Castle single-season mark of 86. However, his impact can’t always be measured in his personal statistics.
“The way teams have to guard Anthony creates so many opportunities for us to do some things offensively because they face guard him a lot. We’ll ball screen using him or we’ll drive gaps on his side of the floor because they’re not willing to help. There are all kinds of ways for Anthony to impact a game — just his presence alone,” Blundo said. “Sometimes, he’s not getting off any 3s for us. So, OK, we’ll drive that gap all night long and you better have a guy who can stand in front of Malik Hooker. We’ll do different things.”
Like Domenick and Richards for New Castle, McKinney and Burkes provide a dual threat from 3-point range for Neshannock. Last season, McKinney drained 52 treys and Burkes added 49 for the Lancers. They finished third and fourth, respectively, behind Richards (81) and Domenick (69).
Neshannock coach John Corey is hoping McKinney and Burkes produce even more in their senior season.
“They both have the ability to shoot the ball very well. What’s going to be big for us this season is that ability turns into production. In big games, we need those shots,” he said. “I go back to losses against Beaver Falls and others and we didn’t make too many shots and we need to get to a point where it starts with those two guys. If we are able to rely on those guys for three or four 3s per game — and they are both excellent shooters, don’t get me wrong but we just have to make sure, for us to reach our potential, a lot of it relies on those two guys’ ability to shoot the ball. I think it’s something that can take us to the next level if those two guys are clicking.”
Burkes led the county in scoring at 21.1 points per game a year ago. McKinney checked in at 12.3 ppg. Like Richards, the two don’t just perch behind the arc and fire away. They take the ball to the hoop, too.
“Ernie can flat-out shoot it. He can get to the rim. He is very good if guys give him an inch, he is able to turn the corner. He does a good job getting to the rim. And, he is a great free-throw shooter, too, so you have the complete package there,” Corey said. “Matt can get to the rim. It’s something that we need him to do more often. I believe very highly in Matt McKinney’s ability to be a total basketball player and not just a sharpshooter. His ability to evolve is something we need. We need him to be able to catch the ball on the perimeter, rip it and go. I think Matt is starting to mature into that complete player.
“The other thing about being a great shooter is that you draw that attention and other guys get to take advantage of it,” he continued. “The more weapons you have, obviously, the better you are and the more chances you have of kind of driving that dagger in the opposition. The nice thing is that we have other guys. So, when teams start to key in on those two, we have plenty of guys who can step up and play at a high level.”
The Lancers, too, have a balanced offensive approach with players like Ty Haswell (10.0 points per game) and Matt Seltzer (6.1) back this year.
“The combination we have this year, having some guys who can really fill it up from the outside and having some guys with an inside presence. When you put that all together, it should be a fairly good season,” Corey said. “I don’t know what it is, but you look at every team and there are guys you just can’t flat out leave open. I think individuals are getting better at shooting the basketball. I don’t think teams are; I don’t think you see many great shooting teams, but it just looks like every team has one or two guys that you can’t leave open. It changes the game a little bit. Hopefully, we get big numbers from our two throughout the year.”
WHAT’S IT TAKE?
Becoming an effective sharpshooter takes skill, but it requires a lot of practice. Blundo knows that Richards spends countless hours in the gym perfecting his shot.
“He shoots it great because he takes thousands a week. He burns the motor out on that shooting machine just taking shots,” he said. “He’s one of those guys who will rarely have two bad shooting games in a row because, if he shoots badly one night, he’s going to take double the amount of shots the next day and find his rhythm.”
Richards doesn’t just set up in one spot on the floor and launch basketballs. He likes to simulate game situations as much as possible.
“I try to get in before practice or after practice with anybody on our team. I always want to bring a guy with me,” he said. “A big part of my workout is shooting 3s a bunch of different ways — coming off screens, on the move and around different ways. I’ll set up chairs, pretending it’s a screen. Coming off right, coming off left, fading away — having another guy in the gym helps you.”
Of course, shooters like Richards must develop their all-around game, too.
“You have to. You can just stand around the 3-point line and shoot. You have to earn respect with other parts of your game, so it opens that up,” he said. “In the summer, I really work on my 3. This summer, I worked a lot on pulling up and trying to get in the lane with my ballhandling because I’ll be doing a lot more of that this year.”
One thing is for sure, anytime the ball winds up with Richards, Burkes or McKinney, they can make it rain from almost anywhere on the floor.
NEW CASTLE —
Trey, triple, trifecta, three-ball, dagger, making it rain, a shot from way downtown.
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