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Originally published April 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 27, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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11-foot hoops? Newell to run a test in June

During a lifetime of following where basketball has taken him, Tom Newell has been coach, player, scout, student and teacher. Now he turns scientist...

Seattle Times staff reporter

During a lifetime of following where basketball has taken him, Tom Newell has been coach, player, scout, student and teacher.

Now he turns scientist, planning to transform Edmundson Pavilion into a laboratory for one afternoon to test his theory that basketball just might be better played with rims 11 feet high.

Newell, whose résumé includes a four-year stint as an assistant coach with the Sonics from 1986 to 1990, is organizing an exhibition for June 16 at 1 p.m. that will feature a number of local former college players playing on hoops raised 12 inches from their usual height.

A few other rules will also be tweaked, such as eliminating three-point shots until the fourth quarter, and a 30-second shot clock (the overall timing rules will mirror those of the NBA with four 12-minute quarters).

Newell hopes the game will illustrate his point that there are changes available that could improve how basketball is being played, particularly at the professional level.

"I think the time is right that we need to do something to bring the game back to being a team game," said Newell, who is the son of legendary California coach Pete Newell, a longtime NBA scout and coach and now the co-director of FamilySportsLifeToday.com, a Web-based podcast program.

The game is free, though Newell asks fans to bring a canned-food item for donation to the Northwest Harvest Food Bank of Seattle. Newell is working on getting it televised in some manner.

He will also ask all in attendance to be participants of sorts, filling out forms to give their opinion of what they have seen and how it compares to basketball as it is played today.

Newell, 59, says he thinks basketball, especially its highest levels, has devolved from the team game it was designed to be, with players spending too much time working one on one and focusing on dunks and other highlight-reel plays.

"That's not the way the game was invented," Newell said. "It was intended to be a template of how to work together and how to set screens and move without the ball and make the various passes that are necessary to make the plays successful."

Eleven-foot rims, Newell thinks, would eliminate the dunk and also require more teamwork to get the ball closer to the hoop.

"Talk to most people that have gone to NBA games, and they tell you they are tired of seeing guys just playing individual basketball," he said.

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Eliminating the three-pointer until the final quarter, Newell thinks, will decrease the overall dependency on that shot — which Newell says is too easily settled for — while still allowing for a team to rally in the late going.

Newell admits his idea isn't a new one.

His father tried a similar game at Cal in 1961 with 11 ½-foot hoops.

"It created a lot more passing," said Pete Newell. "The type of passing that players used to do but that in today's game, there is no need for."

Longtime NBA coach Bill Fitch also tried something similar in the early '70s when he was coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, staging a game with 12-foot hoops. Fitch said that game didn't quite turn out how he hoped and recommended to Tom Newell to try it at 11 feet.

While raising the hoop might seem a drastic alteration, Newell points out that baseball (moving fences) and the NFL (moving the goal posts) have made significant changes through the years.

"The idea is to see what you like and what you don't like and if you can improve the game," said Fitch.

The coaches will be ex-Sonic Alton Lister, ex-Husky James Edwards, former Bellevue Community College coach Ernie Woods and Paul Woolpert, coach of the Yakima Sun Kings of the Continental Basketball Association.

Newell hoped to use some big-name local players now in the NBA, but that league won't allow its players to take part in any charity events until July 1, or after the NBA Finals and draft.

So instead, he will use mostly former local college players such as Brian Morrison, a Lake Washington graduate who played at UCLA; Ryan Rourke of Bothell, who played at Cornell; Chase Griffin, an Eastlake High grad who played at Pepperdine; and Eric Sandrin, who played at Seattle Pacific and was in camp with the Sacramento Kings two years ago.

Newell has received the blessing of UW officials and coaches to raise the hoops, and also to use the courts there for a week leading up so the players can practice on the 11-foot baskets.

"I think we will be able to show that the players can make the adjustments," said Newell, who also plans to have only man defense in the first half, and zone allowed in the second half to measure what kinds of shots are taken against which defenses.

Newell plans to have a computer set up to chart every play to compare to a normal NBA game. He also will have a UW psychology professor on hand to gauge fan reaction.

"It's not really an exhibition but an exposition," Newell said. "An experiment, a science project, where we will get research and data to make the argument 'why not?' "

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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