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Doug Robinson: Boys basketball team holds ball for the entire fourth quarter to send a message

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 8:00 a.m. MST

Something strange and possibly unprecedented occurred in a recent high school basketball game between the South Sevier Rams and the Wasatch Academy Tigers. At the outset of the fourth quarter, the visiting Rams decided to employ a new strategy:

They did nothing.

They held the ball.

For virtually the entire fourth quarter.

They placed players in each corner of the half court and another player at midcourt and stood there watching the minutes drain off the clock. They didn’t dribble, they didn’t pass, they didn’t attack the basket. They just stood there while Wasatch’s defense remained packed in a zone around the basket. Some fans left the game or yelled, “Play ball!” Some players carried on a conversation with opposing players, waiting for the game to end.

Oh, there’s one other detail: The Rams — the team that was stalling — trailed by 17 points.

They finally made a couple of passes and attacked the basket — with 15 seconds left in the game. Final score: Wasatch Academy 52, South Sevier 35.

We’ve heard of stalling by a team with a lead — but who does that when they’re losing? By 17.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never seen anything like that,” says Wasatch Academy coach Geno Morgan, who considered coming out of the zone and attacking the Rams’ four-corners stall — but why would he do that when his team has a 17-point lead?

What was going on? “I’ve heard they were trying to make a point to the state about us,” says Morgan.

It turns out that was exactly what was happening. The small-town schools that comprise 2A competition are exasperated with the emergence of Wasatch Academy, a 139-year-old private boarding school in Mount Pleasant that is beating Utah teams by an average score of 78-42. A cinch to defend their state championship, the Tigers are 19-1, their lone loss being a one-point decision to a team from Florida. The Tigers are so good that they have trouble filling out their schedule with Utah teams because, given the option, no one wants to play them; nine of their games have been against out-of-state schools.

After watching his team lose to Wasatch Academy 48-23 eight days earlier, Rams coach Rhett Parsons set several team goals for last week’s rematch — fewer than 18 turnovers, hold the Tigers to fewer than 60 points, outrebound Wasatch, score more points than they did in the first game. Winning wasn’t even mentioned. After trailing by only 10 points at halftime, the Rams fell behind by 17 in the third quarter, so Parsons told his players to sit on the ball the rest of the game.

“I didn’t think they’d sit back in a zone and let the clock run out, which was fine with me,” says Parsons. “We’d met our goals as a team; I don’t see any sense in losing by 40 points, which is what they are winning by.”

As Parsons talked, it became clear there was more to the weird strategy than that. “We were trying to make a statement to everyone,” he says. “They’ve made a mockery of 2A, small-town basketball. We’ve got these kids who have dreamed of playing for a state championship with their classmates since they were playing on the playground in elementary school. Now we have this team that is just dominating things.”

It’s not that the Tigers are dominating that irritates rivals; it’s how they are dominating. Traditionally, 2A (and 1A) competition consists of schools in small towns whose rosters are filled with players who live in their boundaries. This is dictated by the vast distances between schools, if nothing else. Now along comes Wasatch Academy, an expensive private boarding school with players from Canada, Nigeria, France, Illinois and Utah.

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