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Fixing this problem is a layup

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published October 26. 2012 4:00AM

Geno Auriemma's musings from earlier this week, to lower the rim in women's basketball, has become a cause célèbre within the game. Lots of opinions across the country, again illustrating there is no bigger, better voice for the game anywhere. Never has been, never will be.

But a funny thing has happened on the way to examining whether a lower rim is practical or realistic. An unintended consequence of the debate has been the rise of a peripheral issue which has the game's intelligentsia in almost lockstep agreement:

Ditch the smaller basketball.

The women's game, for the uninitiated, employs a smaller ball, perhaps the only distinction between the men's and women's game. Auriemma alluded to it on Monday at Mohegan Sun, site of his lower-the-rim advocacy.

"And I hate the smaller ball that women use," Auriemma told the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla, among a group of writers assembled to tape "Beyond The Beat," a new sports talk show on CPTV Sports, for which Auriemma was the week's guest star.

"They either need to change the ball or change the rims. The bigger ball sits on the rim longer (for layups). But no one wants to hear that."

Au contraire. Others do.

"I clearly haven't given as much thought to this as Coach has," ESPN analyst and former UConn great Rebecca Lobo wrote in an e-mail earlier this week, alluding to the lower-the-rim issue. "But I've always favored using the men's-size basketball. And Coach is right. There are far too many missed layups in our game."

Then there's Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault, who has championed a bigger basketball from the day he walked into the state.

"You'll miss less layups with the bigger ball," he said. "The men's basketball is heavier and goes off the square more regularly. The lighter ball bounces off more easily. You start throwing it up there instead of laying it in."

Shall we pause here briefly to examine what you've just read?

A Hall of Fame coach with seven national championships. One of the game's iconic players and now one of its lead television analysts. And the coach who will become the WNBA's career wins leader next year. They all agree the size of the basketball contributes to an issue hurting the game's growth: too many missed layups.

So based on their credentials, don't you suppose their opinions merit further examination by the game's poohbahs?

Because how do you "grow the game," as they like to say, if a new fan who has been told the women are more fundamentally sound than men can't make layups?

And who knows? The size of the ball might be the bigger culprit than the height of the rim.

Thibault's perspective is unique in that there aren't many people in the women's game who have such a deep background into the men's game. Thibault has been a scout and assistant coach in the NBA with the Lakers, Bulls and Bucks.

"I'm not disagreeing with Geno about lowering the rim. I get the marketing part in that there's an appeal to fans who like men's basketball and want to see more dunking," Thibault said. "But it's one of those things you need to think all the way through."

Thibault called it "impractical" for a number of reasons:

"If you subscribe to the theory of the 10,000-hour rule of practicing something to be great and you have generations of players practicing with a 10-foot rim, can you make adjustments and be just as good?" he said.

"Second, 80 percent of the gyms in America have baskets that aren't portable. They're hung and bolted to the walls from the ceiling down to 10-foot height. They're not adjustable. If you adjust them to nine feet, what would the guys do for their games in those arenas? Most high school gyms don't have adjustable baskets either."

Any attempt here to interrupt Thibault was fruitless. He was rolling.

"If you're, say, Kara Lawson who learned to shoot at a 10-foot basket, you've learned to see the basket clearly over taller people," he said. "If the basket is lowered, but players continue to grow, as a shorter player, would you see the basket more or less if it's lowered?

"Our team is bigger in size than probably every high school boys' team in the state," he said. "Would you suggest lowering the rim for high school boys because it's not big enough?"

Good stuff there from Coach T. Other coaches' opinions have varied to "it's worth a shot" to "why do we have to compare our game to the men's game all the time?"

Maybe Lobo had it right when she wrote, "Would the lower rim be worth trying in exhibition? Why not?"

Clearly, good arguments all around. But the one place they agree is the size of the ball. I doubt anyone on any rules committee bears the credentials of Auriemma, Lobo and Thibault. So listen up, people. It's a layup.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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