It's been 25 years since the 3-point line was added in Nebraska high school basketball. It took a while for programs to warm up to it. But in the past decade, the 3 has become an effective shot — for boys and girls teams
Jeff Wolfgram remembers where he was when he first heard about an innovation being added to high school basketball.
“Our coach walked over to where I was shooting on the court, about 19 feet out, and told me, 'Next year, we're going to get three points for that shot,'” said Wolfgram, who then was a sophomore at Madison High School in northeast Nebraska. “I didn't know they were implementing a 3-point shot.”
That conversation between Wolfgram and his coach, Fred Letheby, took place during the 1986-87 season. It's been 25 years since the 3-point arc was added to high school courts in Nebraska, and that line — 19 feet, 9 inches from the rim — has changed the way the game is played.
“It's brought a level of excitement that didn't exist previously,” said Bellevue West's Doug Woodard, who has more than 450 wins as a high school boys coach. “It's somewhat equalized the game in terms of size not being such a dominant factor. ... I think it's been great, a great component.”
And an increasingly important component.
Some boys teams made liberal use of the 3-point line from the time it was implemented. But still, seven of the top 10 all-time single-season 3-point marks have occurred in the past eight seasons.
Woodard's 2005-06 Bellevue West team shattered the season record with 276 3-pointers, and seven other teams in the past decade have hit at least 200.
The trend is even more pronounced in girls basketball. The top 10 team 3-point totals for a season all have been posted in the past 10 years.
“The 3-point circle has evolved over the past 25 years,” said Minden's Rick Chramosta, who has coached girls basketball in Nebraska for a quarter-century. “When it first came out, I didn't think it was utilized near as much as it is now.
“I remember the first team I had, we shot one 3-pointer all season. We were just accustomed to playing with big kids and trying to get the ball inside. Now if you have good outside shooters, you might shoot more 3-pointers than 2-pointers.”
Chramosta's Whippets set the state record by making 222 shots from 3-point range during the 2010-11 season. Last season, they made 166, which ranks fifth.
Minden junior Brooke Kissinger made 188 3-pointers her first two seasons. She set the single-season record with 110 as a freshman.
“I think in girls it can be a little more of a weapon,” Chramosta said. “Girls might have a harder time defending that far away from the basket.”
It's a major weapon in the boys game, too.
“Before the 3-point line, there was no reason to shoot from 20 feet,” said Mike Hancock, who was part of Wahoo's basketball dynasty as the Warriors won six Class B state titles from 1988 to 1994. “(Afterward) teams couldn't pack it in. They had to come out and guard you.”
Wolfgram and Hancock were two players who took full advantage of the 3-pointer soon after it was added.
Wolfgram played his first two high school seasons without the 3 and his junior and senior seasons with it. As a senior, Wolfgram made 90 3-pointers, including 13 in a game against Pierce. He was 13 of 17 that night.
Five other players have made 12 treys in a game, but Wolfgram's 13 remains the single-game state record.
“I am surprised that someone hasn't made 15 or 14 because there's a lot of teams that emphasize the 3-point line and shoot a lot every night,” Wolfgram said. “But I think defenses have gotten smarter about how to guard the 3-point line. I'm sure someone one night will catch lightning in a bottle and make 14 or 15.”
Wolfgram continued to make 3-pointers in college. After two seasons at Central Community College in Columbus, he went to Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D., which is where he's lived the past 17 years. Wolfgram made 134 3-pointers in his two seasons at Mount Marty, which is fifth-most in program history.
After high school, Hancock became a prolific 3-point shooter at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. From 1995 to 1998, he made 285 3-pointers, easily the all-time mark for the Lopers.
“For me to get time on the floor, I had to be able to shoot it. It opened up opportunities for me as a younger kid,” Hancock said. “For me, the 3-point line allowed me to get an education in college.”
Before UNK, Hancock was one of Wahoo's sharpshooters. He made 90 3-pointers in 1993-94 and 99 in 1992-93. Only eight Nebraska prep boys players have hit 90 or more treys in a season, and Hancock is the only one to do it twice.
Wahoo, which won a state-record 114 consecutive games between 1988 and 1992, averaged at least 88.3 points per game in a season four times between 1989-90 and 1993-94. The Warriors averaged 91.4 when Hancock was a senior.
“Without the 3-point line, we wouldn't have averaged (91.4) points per game. There's no way,” Hancock said.
“Shooting a 3-pointer and making 40 to 45 percent is a skill. You have to practice that. You need to shoot hundreds of jump shots to get good at it. It was a craft that not many people could do. ... The guys like C.J. (Cowgill), the guys like Jesse Carr, we were gym rats.”
Cowgill, who played at Grand Island Central Catholic, holds the single-season record for 3-pointers. He made 133 in 1995-96. Hancock is second on that list with 99. Carr, an Ainsworth graduate who is now at Colorado State, holds the state's career 3-point record with 303.
Woodard, the Bellevue West coach, said the Thunderbirds shot 41 percent from the 3-point line in their record-breaking 2005-06 season as the team won 26 games and lost to Omaha Central in overtime in the Class A state final. Jeff Martin made 88 treys that season, while Jeff Allgood, who made 87 two years later, also was on that team.
“I think you would be foolish not to take advantage of it,” Woodard said. “If you have a big guy, it makes it more difficult to help down on the big guy.”
Woodard has coached with the 3-pointer and without it. He remembers when the arc was introduced, a lot of coaches weren't sure how it would affect the game.
“I think some purists thought teams would just shoot 3s all the time and take away from the pure part of the game,” Woodard said. “But scoring is the key element to the game, and the 3-pointer has added to that. It's one way for a small guy to control the game and take away the 6-8, 6-10 guy from being the dominant player.”
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