Tom Newell is a basketball purist. He wishes the game would revisit its roots. "We're in a crisis situation with North American basketball,"...



Tom Newell is a basketball purist. He wishes the game would revisit its roots.

“We’re in a crisis situation with North American basketball,” said Newell, an accomplished hoops lifer and the son of legendary coach Pete Newell. “It’s not a fun game to watch.”

Newell is a basketball futurist. He wishes a game played on 10-foot rims would switch to 11-foot rims.

“This will happen again,” Newell said after hosting an 11-foot game at Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday. “I will predict that.”

Oh, what a tangled net we weave. Basketball is so far gone now that, to bring it back, we have to look further into the future than most eyes can see.

At least that’s the opinion of Newell and several of his companions. We might look at them as zany, but the thing is, they’re actually closer to hoops nirvana than we are. We might consider them too radical, but the thing is, they’re actually the perfect opponent for the rebels who turned a beautiful game of fundamentals, movement and finesse into one of raw athleticism, brute strength and slam-bam-jam obsession.

To be a purist now, you have to be a futurist. To show people the right way, you have to accept they’ll first consider it wrong.

Newell scared the dunks right out of basketball with his higher rims, and it was boring at first glance. To be honest, it was boring at second and third and fourth glance, too. But after thinking it over, the purpose of this day outshined my pre-programmed beliefs.

Players who had practiced together for about 10 hours were sharing the ball. Fans were cheering passes. Big men were getting the ball during an exhibition game! It took only one hand to count the number of bad shots.

Yes, the dunk was missed. At halftime, I was hoping Nate Robinson and Josh Smith would magically appear and put on an impromptu dunk contest at 11 feet. It didn’t happen. Oh, well. At least players weren’t tossing up foolish fadeaway jumpers all game.

“If you did see any fadeaways, they were short,” joked forward Ryan Rourke, a Bothell native who scored 11 points.

When asked if the height of the goal made the players take better shots, Rourke said: “You don’t second guess yourself as you take shots, but it’s in the back of your mind. You’re more focused on getting good looks. I don’t think players were shooting the ball just to shoot it.”

It’s weird watching 6-foot-8 players not be able to elevate and dunk. You start thinking it’s gimmick basketball. But upon reflection, you realize the game was never meant for great athletes to cheat it.

That’s the problem with United States hoops right now. The U.S. doesn’t thrive in international competition, even with NBA stars, because it values individual brilliance over crafty team play.

For the last few years, those who love American basketball have pondered one question: How do we change?

On the U.S. national team, leaders have revamped the player-selection process and tried to create more chemistry. It worked to an extent, but Team USA still didn’t win the gold medal during last summer’s world championships.

In recent years, the NBA has tried tweaking many of its rules to promote team play. College basketball will move the three-point line back after next season. At the high-school level, there’s been more scrutiny of summer-league play over skill development. Though the debate has yet to bring any answers, the disagreement has been healthy.

In 2004, after Team USA failed to win Olympic gold for the first time with NBA players, the thought was that a few tweaks could change the direction of our basketball future. Three years later, it’s apparent the problem is much deeper and will require more energy and innovation.

Which is why Saturday proved useful. Today’s player must understand that skill means more than athleticism. Spencer Hawes watched from the stands, and I kept thinking we need more Spencer Haweses and fewer Kwame Browns.

“Every year I’ve been in the game, guys have gotten bigger, faster and stronger,” said longtime coach Jim Harrick, who led the victorious Gold team Saturday. “But guys can’t just use their bodies. Being a purist, I really enjoyed watching my team play. They played the proper way.”

With only five minutes remaining, the Gold team attempted an alley-oop. The crowd, ready for some theatrics, rose to its feet, but after the pass sailed off target and well below the rim, the crowd let out a loud “Ohhhhhhhhhhh!”

For 43 minutes of basketball, we had been trained to respect the more subtle parts of the game, but we were still craving that dunk. It’ll take a while to be deprogrammed.

Harrick, who coached in the NBA Developmental League last season, said he believes the NBA might one day experiment with 11-foot rims. But it’ll take much research and debate before that happens.

For a day, however, we were forced to think differently. It was intriguing, but more important, it was thought-provoking.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For more on this column, read “Extra Points” at http://blog.seattletimes.nwsource.com/brewer.