NORTH FULTON, Ga. — The basketball is the central focus throughout each local high school game, but it is easy to overlook its importance to the feel and flow of the game. That might not be the case this year.
The GHSA has permitted teams to either use the Wilson Wave ball, which has been the organization’s official ball for several years, or the new Wilson Evo NXT. The shift in equipment goes far beyond a name change. The two balls carry a price difference and have a significantly different feel. The Wave includes 24 grooves around the ball while the Evo is a more traditional, spherical ball.
The Evo will be mandatory for girls and boys basketball in the 2020-21 season, but this year, schools will have the option to use either ball, with the home team determining which Wilson model will be used as the game ball. That means players could have to contend with playing one ball during a Tuesday night game and the other on Friday.
Drew Catlett, head boys coach of the defending Class-A Private state champs St. Francis, said he is not concerned with his players using different balls throughout the season.
“I think the guys, when they play AAU or over the summer, they might play with a Wilson, play with a Spalding, they play with different balls all summer,” Catlett said. “I think as a coach you sometimes over worry, but my own opinion is, if you can shoot, you can shoot with anything.”
However, the Knights’ coach said the cost difference did raise his eyebrows. The Wave is $60 per ball while the Evo rings in at $80, a significant difference for a sports program that is backed almost solely through fundraising.
“That’s my only gripe with it,” Catlett said. “I bought 12 new Waves last year and 12 the year before that. I can’t just discard them. That’s a lot of money.”
Catlett said with budget restraints, he will likely have to phase in the Evo’s, and it could be 2 to 3 years before he has a full rack.
Another issue is getting a hold of the new balls. Due to a backup with St. Francis’ vendor, Catlett had to purchase the team’s two Evo’s at a retail store.
While other coaches in the state have taken to Twitter to complain about vendor backups, that was not an issue for Chris Short, head coach of the Chattahoochee boys team.
Short has a stock of Evo’s, but he will also use Wave balls throughout the season in practice.
“We have both balls, and my plan is to infuse and work in the new ball to any situation in practice that I can,” Short said. “We are going to split time with each ball so we are acclimated so they’re not surprised in the moment.”
The Cougars’ coach said his players are split on the new ball.
“Some like it, some don’t,” he said. “Some like the feel of it, some hate the color, we’re kind of all over the place. The guys are not reluctant, they are more than willing to use both balls, and it’s up to me as a coach to make sure they get both in their hands.”
Short said Chattahoochee’s region, 7-AAAAAA, could vote on using one model throughout regular season region games or in the region tournament. Catlett said Region 6-A could make a similar move.
Teams coming out of their region tournament looking to make a deep run in the playoffs will need to be familiar with the Evo. The GHSA has mandated that either ball can be used in the opening rounds of the state tournament, but only the Evo will be used in the semifinals and state championships.
For that reason, the Roswell boys will use the Evo throughout the season.
“If it’s the state tournament ball, that’s what you’ll play at Roswell,” head coach Ty Phillips said.
Phillips said the verdict is still out on the Evo. He, along with Catlett and Short, said there were rashes of complaints from players, and even officials, on the Evo during GHSA-sanctioned camps in July, but Phillips said the balls appear to be more playable once they are worn in.
“It was not their favorite ball at first, but they adjust,” Phillips said. “In the end, it’s just playing basketball.”
All three coaches said that they will be downplaying the issue of using two balls throughout the season to their players.
“I’m not going to make a big issue of it with the players, because once you get it in their head that it’s the ball, that can affect them,” Catlett said.
Phillips said he will not bring up the topic with his players.
“It would be a mistake to make it an issue because then you get kids thinking about something they can’t control anyway,” he said.