Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"No Grinnell" Don't Have to Mean "No System!"

As you know, if you're a regular follower, the Grinnell Pioneers are off until Tuesday, Jan. 5. Don't worry, we've got PLENTY of other things "System"-related to discuss, starting with:

-- Galesburg High School coach Evan Massey picked up his 700th career victory Monday night when the Silver Streaks dominated throughout to beat Canton 87-65 on the road. It made Coach Massey only the third girls' coach in Illinois history reach that figure, joining Dorothy Gaters of Chicago Marshall and David Power of Oak Park Fenwick.

According to The Galesburg Register-Mail, a throng of fans made the 45-mile trip to Canton to help Coach Massey and his team celebrate the historic victory. They gave the team a standing ovation as the final seconds ticked off the clock, improving the Streaks to 8-6 this season.

And it gave Coach Massey another chance to enjoy a milestone.

"With all of the others, I thought in my mind there was going to be another," he told The Register-Mail. "I'm at the point in my career where this might be my last one so that makes it special."

After a brief visit to the locker room, Coach Massey and the team returned to the court, where he posed with his son, Allen, for a picture and then accepted a kiss and a cake from his wife, Amy, according to the paper.

Way to go, Galesburg.

-- Congratulations also to the women's team at Olivet Nazarene University, a NAIA school in Bourbonnais, Ill. The Tigers traveled down to Pikeville, Ky., over the weekend to win the Pikeville Classic. After a 97-83 victory in the opener over West Virginia Tech, ONU beat host Pikeville College 108-101 in the final.

Coach Doug Porter began this, his 11th season with the Tigers, with a career record of 243-167, and he has led them to three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles since 2000. ONU also has advanced to the national tournament twice in that span.

What is so interesting about both of the victories in the tournament is ONU really didn't shoot the ball that well. Against West Virginia Tech, the Tigers finished 32-of-97 (33 percent) from the field, including 20-of-69 behind the 3-point line. They did force 34 turnovers while grabbing 31 offensive rebounds, two keys of "The System."

West Virginia Tech's Shyla Jones went off in the loss, totaling 25 points and 30 rebounds. Yep, that's right, 30 rebounds. Wow.

The next night, ONU shot a bit better overall (38-for-90, 42 percent) but made only 12 of 46 shots from beyond the arc. Simone Coburn was the star for the Tigers, going for 29 and 11. They survived another monster night from an opponent, too: Natiera Hinton of Pikeville scored 37 points and dropped eight dimes (assists, for those not hip to hoops lingo).

ONU now is 7-7 and is off until the Trinity Christian Classic on Dec. 30-31 in Palos Heights, Ill. Good luck to Coach Porter and his team.

-- Finally, coach Jeff Belanger at Windham Technical High School in Willimantic, Conn., is off to a 1-1 start in his second season running "The System" with his boys' team. The season-opening 102-92 loss to Vinal Tech last Wednesday was doubly tough to take, since one of his brothers is the head coach at Vinal and another one is the assistant. No word if they're both named "Darryl."

Still, Windham Tech hit all five goals:
  • 86 FG attempts
  • 47 3s attempts
  • 26 offensive rebounds
  • 26 forced turnovers
  • 28 more shot attempts than the opponent

Vinal Tech shot 71 percent for the game, which is a by-product of "The System." Two days later, Windham Tech won 80-45 at Parish Hill. The next game on this schedule appears to be Monday, Dec. 28, at Somers High School. I'll keep you updated.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tough loss for Galesburg

Evan Massey and the Silver Streaks lost their fourth consecutive Western Big 6 game Thursday night as Alleman rallied for a 79-73 victory in overtime at Don Morris Gym.

It left Galesburg (6-6, 0-4) as the only team still winless in conference play.

"It's a really tough one to take," Massey told Aaron Frey of The Galesburg Register-Mail following the game. "Our kids are very, very frustrated right now. They're better than a 6-6 team. They know they're better than a 6-6 team, and this loss right here is one that would've been a nice win for us. We're just sick about losing."

The Streaks led by seven midway through the fourth quarter, and the margin still was five with 1:54 remaining in regulation. After Alleman tied in on two free throws from Abbie Ledford, Galesburg had a chance to win it in regulation. Massey called timeout with 5.7 seconds left, and his play had guard Sara Baker driving to the basket.

Her shot missed as there was contact with Alleman center Selam Mulugeta, but no foul was called. That apparently was one of the few times the whistle didn't blow on contact; a total of 58 fouls were called, slowing the pace and not allowing "The System" to take full effect.

"We had them on the ropes, but there were so many fouls called that stopped the game we never got the momentum we needed," Massey told The Register-Mail.

Galesburg shot a season-low 35 3-pointers, according to the paper. Massey and his squad host Maine South on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CST in non-conference action. Good luck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An update on the Galesburg Silver Streaks

This is the team that I wrote about earlier in the week, the girls who set a new Illinois prep record by attempting 71 3-pointers in an 83-67 victory over Morton last Saturday. Perhaps even more impressive (for those of us who are fans of "The System"), Galesburg took 92 shots in all despite running delay game the final 2:30 of the fourth quarter. That is way over the goal for a high school girls' game.

Here's what coach Evan Massey would like to see from his team each game:

  • 72 field goal attempts
  • 36 attempted 3s
  • Recovering 40% of the misses as an offensive rebound
  • Forcing 26 turnovers
  • Shooting a total of 15 more shots than the opponent

I had the chance to speak with Coach Massey this week. He's a neat guy in his 32nd season with the Silver Streaks and he fast is approaching 700 career victories; his current total of 698 is third all-time in Illinois history, trailing Dorothy Gaters (908) of Chicago Marshall and Dave Powers (729) of Oak Park Fenwick. Overall, Massey is 698-251.

Last season, Galesburg finished 14-18, ending a run of 21 consecutive seasons with at least 20 victories. It was the first losing season since 1986-87 (when I was a senior in high school!) and, more importantly, the Streaks averaged only 48 points per game.

Thus began the switch to "The System." Massey played at Knox College, which is a member of the Midwest Conference along with Grinnell, so he saw first-hand back in the day how bad the Pioneers were. He figured anyone who turned around that program, as Coach Arsenault did, had to be on to something.

Massey also made it a point to attend each Grinnell visit to Knox and he found many of his neighbors there, most of whom never came to other games. They simply were there to watch the Pioneers. He decided at that point to take the plunge, and so far, he's very happy with the move. Here are some of his other thoughts on his season so far:

(On one of the moments when he decided what he was going to do)

"My son and I were coming home from watching a boys' sectional game, and we stopped to get something to eat. I had taken him with me to watch Grinnell play, so I told him, 'Here's what I'm thinking about doing.'

"I was amazed at his reaction. He thought it was such a neat thing. Then when I met with a small group of players and showed them a PowerPoint of what we were going to try to do, I could tell by their reaction that it was going to be popular with the kids."

(On his feelings now that he's into the season)

"I don't think there is a doubt in my mind that it was the right thing to do. It's obvious, if you're going to do this, you have to have the players give 100 percent, and they are buying into it. My administration is very enthusiastic about it, because, after all, it's high school sports, and they see 13 girls getting a chance to play every game. A year ago, it would have been six or seven.

"I will say that if I was just starting out, I don't know if I would have the courage to do this. Whenever we lose, the first question after the game from the media always is about 'The System,' and could we have won playing a more conventional style."

(On the changes to his daily planning because of "The System")

"I told somebody this earlier this year. It's amazing how much time I spent comparing my players to each other, to see who deserved more playing time. I wanted to know who was the best one and was she getting enough playing time. Now, we've got a chance to prove it on the floor, because everybody plays.

"It used to be every Sunday afternoon, I would spend all my time watching the next opponent on video, as many of them as I had tape on. The positive now is that I can concentrate more on what we're doing. It really doesn't matter what anyone else does. We spend a lot more time looking at ourselves."

Good stuff. I appreciate Coach Massey taking the time to talk to me. He and the Streaks (6-5, 0-3 Western Big 6) travel to Alleman (8-4, 2-1) on Thursday night, facing one of the powers in their conference. I'll let you know how it went.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grinnell falls at No. 8 Wheaton

The Pioneers fell behind early and never really recovered, losing to the Thunder 127-100 on Saturday night at Wheaton's King Arena. In the latest D3hoops.com poll, Wheaton is ranked eighth, and lost to top-ranked Washington (Mo.) 64-62 earlier in the week. This continued the toughest non-conference schedule in years for Grinnell, according to Coach A and his son/assistant, Dave.

Wheaton's Tim McCrary had a triple-double in the victory, finishing with 35 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists as the Thunder shot 69 percent from the floor. Other eye-popping numbers from the box:

  • Wheaton finished with 53 assists on 59 baskets, a pretty amazing ratio even against "The System." That assist total tied the Division III record set in Nov. 25, 1995, by Simpson against, surprise, Grinnell. That day, those two teams combined for a Division III record 79 assists. The Division I mark is 44 assists, set by Colorado against George Mason (then coached by run-and-gun innovator Paul Westhead) in 1995. And the Division II mark likely never will be broken -- Troy totaled 65 in 1992 against NAIA DeVry. More on this game later.
  • The Pioneers held another opponent without a 3-pointer, leaving them with one allowed through eight games. The Thunder were 0-for-3 from beyond the arc.
  • Freshman Dylan Seelman led Grinnell with 19 points in 14 minutes, including 6-for-11 on 3s. Griffin Lentsch, another frosh, went for 14 points, followed by Matt Skelly (11) and Xander Strek (10).
  • The Pioneers took 84 shots, falling short of "The System" goal of 94, with 46 of them coming from downtown.
  • The parity in playing time was noteworthy even for Grinnell, with 14 players getting at least 11 minutes of run. Two more players got 7 minutes apiece, and a total of 18 players got on the court.

Grinnell now is off until Jan. 5, when Midwest Conference foe Lake Forest travels to Darby Gym for a 8 p.m. EST tip. Good luck to Coach A and the guys, and Happy Holidays to everyone from Grinnell.

Now, more on Troy's effort against DeVry, back in 1992 ...

You likely have heard something about this game, if you're even a casual fan of basketball. This was back when Troy was D-II and running its own version of "The System," which coach Don Maestri got directly from Westhead. Many records were set in that one, and here are some highlights:

  • Troy won 258-141, setting the all-division NCAA record for points (duh!).
  • The Trojans finished 51-for-109 on 3-pointers, and both those figures are all-division marks, as well (double duh!).
  • Overall, Troy was 102-for-190 from the field, putting two more (everyone, say it together ...) RECORDS in the books.
  • And, of course, there were the 65 assists.

Oddly, one other total from that game only tied a record: 10 different players making a 3.

Finally, congratulations to coach Evan Massey and his Galesburg High School girls' team, which set an Illinois state record Saturday by attempting 71 3-pointers. The Streaks made 18 in a 83-67 victory over Morton in the Mid-Winter Classic. Each time they make at least 13 3s, the members of the school's "Three-diculous" Club get a free triple cheesburger from an area McDonald's.

It's a promotion Massey came up with he decided to go to "The System" this season. A group of students spells out the letters to "cheesburgers" whenever a Galesburg player hits a trifecta. Pretty neat.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Streaks' effort was they had to come back and play a more-athletic squad from Peoria Central later in the day. Peoria Central (8-2) rallied to win 90-81, but Massey was pleased with his team's effort.

"With Central, it was the first time that against a team significantly quicker than us, we were able to do some things with our press," he told the Galesburg Register-Mail. "Our 1s and our 5s really got up and got interceptions more than they have at any time."

Kudos to the Streaks (6-5). I'll be keeping up with you this season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Anniversary ...

... to young David Arsenault! (I sound as if I should be on "PTI," don't I?)

On this date two years ago, the son of Coach A set an all-division NCAA record with 34 assists in a single game. Yep, you read that correctly, 34 assists in one game. An amazing performance, yet those aren't the only numbers from his stat line that night that jump out at you.

He played 38 minutes, which is about double what a point guard normally sees in "The System." He also had only two turnovers, which gave him an amazing 17-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio for that game. Pretty sweet.

The Pioneers went on to beat North Central University 151-112 that night, with John Grotberg leading the way with 49 points. Talk about numbers: Grotberg finished 14-of-38 on 3-pointers in that one, and as a team, Grinnell was 23-for-86 from beyond the arc. Overall, the Pioneers put up 129 shots.

When I was in Grinnell over the weekend, I had a chance to talk to Dave and Coach A about that performance, and the help he got from his teammates to make it happen. Here's some snippets of that conversation:

Dave Arsenault: "I can tell you, I didn't do anything defensively. I was by far the worst defensive player in that game that we've ever had. It was fun, and it was interesting. All the guys were supportive of the idea, because going into the game, we had the idea that I would play up front on the press, and John also was going to play up front on the press. So that meant we were going to have big nights.

"The other guys bought into it, worked hard during the game, and made sure that everything we were doing was revolving around that game plan. Which was great, to have everyone be supportive of that, instead of thinking, 'Gosh, I wish that could be me up there,' they were buying into what we were doing as a team."

Coach A: "He took some heat on that, from some people. What those people fail to understand is that it set David off on a stretch of play where he played better than he can for about 10 straight games. People don't understand that, statistically, if you can get people to reach for the stars, and then achieve it, they can start being better than they are.

"Our level of play gets better when our best players are statistically significant. You can't explain that to people. Even though it was somewhat manufactured, the reality is that every time we've done that for somebody, it's been a long-term positive for the group."

Grinnell did the same for Jeff Clement back in 1998, when he scored a Division III record 77 points against Illinois College. On that night, Clement didn't cross halfcourt on defense and played all 40 minutes, finishing 19-for-52 on 3s.

So congratulations again, Dave. You earned it.

Oh, and FYI, the Pioneers' trip to Knox College on Wednesday night has been postponed due to some inclement weather in that region. Apparently, Tim and I got out of town just in time. They hope to play that game Thursday, when Grinnell (1-6, 0-2 Midwest Conference) will be trying to snap a six-game losing streak. Good luck, fellas.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Back home again ...

... in North Carolina (imagine Jim Nabors singing that, to the tune of "Back Home Again in Indiana").

We have returned from the trip to the promised land of "The System," Grinnell, Iowa. What a great time. It's almost secondary that my Pioneers lost both games, including 105-84 on Saturday night to the Ripon Red Hawks.

Coach Arsenault and his son, Davey, couldn't have been nicer, and the same goes for Sports Information Director Ted Schultz and everyone else on campus. Tim and I met a student during our visit Friday to the bookstore, and ran across her multiple times during the visit. Each time, she asked if we were having fun and enjoying the games and generally just made us feel welcome.

The same goes for everyone else in town. Except for the weather (why's it gotta be so cold?!?!?), Grinnell is such a wonderful town. The downtown area is vibrant and full of local businesses, including a neat-looking old-time theatre complete with a traditional marquee. Movies showing this weekend included "2012" and "The Blind Side."

On Saturday, we grabbed lunch at Lonnski's Pub and Deli, conveniently located at 922 1/2 Main Street. It's a good thing we got there when we did; after Sunday, they were moving because of the "unsafe" conditions of the floor in their upstairs space. Not that I noticed.

Alicia, who helped us while were there, was great, and even helped Tim pick out his roast beef sandwich. That's harder than you would think, since she's a vegetarian (she also is a fan of "The System"). We opened with some queso and chips, which were right on time, before moving to the main course. My club sandwich was absolutely perfect.

We also got the chance to watch most of the North Carolina-Kentucky hoops game, thanks to a couple who rolled in around halftime to request one of the TVs be changed to it. Imagine that, traveling all the way to Iowa to sit beside Tar Heel fans. Ultimately, Kentucky proved to be too much, but it still was a great game.

Then it was on to the women's contest at Darby Gym, with the men to follow. It was a sweep by Ripon, and here are some highlights of the men's game:

  • The Pioneers finally gave up a 3-pointer! Aris Wurtz, the leading scorer for the Red Hawks, calmly pulled up for an uncontested jumper late in the first half that found nothing but net, ending Grinnell's six-game streak without allowing a trey. Wurtz, who came in as Ripon's leading scorer at about 19 points a game, finished with 29 on 13 of 19 shooting, falling short of my prediction of 35. I saw he played forward and likely would be in finishing position against the press, so went with that high guess. I'll discuss later why he didn't make it.
  • Ripon shot 64 percent for the game, including nearly 66 percent in the second half. An assist-to-turnover ratio of 27-to-19 likely helped those numbers.
  • Grinnell took only 71 shots, well short of "The System" goal of 94, and 49 were 3s. The Pioneers hit 16 from beyond the arc, including 5-of-7 from Griffin Lentsch and 4-of-5 from Ross Preston. Xander Strek, John Bruns and Dylan Seelman each added two.
  • Despite forcing 19 turnovers, Grinnell finished with only four steals, which points to the difficulty it had controlling tempo and getting easy baskets.
  • Sadly, it appears point guard Scott Kaitz broke his hand late in the first half and will miss some games. A junior from Plymouth, Minn., Scott was very accommodating during our interview Friday, and even asked if we were staying around for the whole weekend. His parents were in town for Saturday's game and were planning to travel with him to the hospital for X-rays when Tim and I left.
  • When the Ripon lead ballooned to 94-64 midway through the second half, Coach A called off the press during a long session with the fellas on the sideline. He requested back-to-back full time-outs to discuss strategy for the rest of the game, which included a 2-3 zone. The Red Hawks played a 1-3-1 when they got a comfortable lead.
  • Ripon point guard Scott Gillespie, the son of the head coach, played wonderfully against the pressure. He scored 14 points in a game-high 34 minutes with five assists against only three turnovers and added four steals. A free throw early in the first half gave him 1,000 for his career.
  • Grinnell's Joe Fouche, pretty low on the playing rotation despite his start Friday night, had a great run in the final 3 minutes of the game. He didn't shoot or add any numbers to his stat line, but he did draw a charge in the final 30 seconds. He had a wonderful attitude during both games and encouraged his teammates throughout; it was great to see him rewarded with a nice moment near the end.

As I said, Coach A was great. I've told others, I was more nervous interviewing him and his son than when I've sat with Coach K at Duke. He was understandably down after Saturday's game, when he walked over to tell Tim and me goodbye, and even talked about scrapping "The System" somewhat with this group. He said he hasn't really gotten what he is accustomed to from his point guards, demanding double-teams or scoring the ball (there's that expression again!) against one-on-one defense. I hope that isn't the case, and not just because I now have a closet full of Grinnell gear. It is an amazing treat to watch, even with the troubles this weekend. You easily can see why it works; in stretches, the Pioneers dominated play, even with less-talented players.

In the second half, with Kaitz out, Coach A experimented with Matt Skelly and Marques Valdez at the point, and both showed some potential. Skelly drove right to the rim a couple times and finished over Gillespie, and Valdez did the same. As I mentioned, Lentsch and Preston found range from deep, so maybe things turned around a bit. We'll find out Wednesday, when the Pioneers travel to Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

So the trip is over. Tim and I bolted right after Saturday's game -- following a stop at McDonald's for some food, where we ran into the Ripon team bus -- and drove through the night to return home. I took care of the first leg, making it almost all the way into Indiana, and then Tim took us to Gallipolis, Ohio. It was my turn again, and we got to Randleman, N.C., before we needed gas. We got to my house in Rockingham at 11:30 a.m., about 15 1/2 hours after we left.

Thanks again to Tim for going and allowing us to use his ride, and for anyone out there who followed this little adventure via this blog. Also thanks to Colleen for allowing it to happen. I guess next year I ought to fly.

Take care.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tough night for "The System" ...

... and the Pioneers. The Beloit Buccaneers rally from a second-half deficit, then hold off a late comeback by Grinnell to win 91-90 at Darby Gymnasium on Friday night.

Poor Matt Chalupa missed from in close in the final seconds, a basket that would have given the Pioneers the lead and likely the victory. He rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Matt Skelly and likely was surprised at how open he was. Of course, the clock also was ticking down, so he probably rushed it a little bit.

As coaches and others always say, that last shot didn't lose the game. It was a combination of things, and you always need to give credit to the other team. Beloit shot 70.6 percent from the field (36-of-51 for the game) to overcome 28 turnovers, with Travis Towns scoring 20 of his 32 points in the first half.

Other highlights from the box:

  • Grinnell remains very likely the only team in the country, in any college division, not to allow a made 3-pointer all season. Opponents now are 0-for-7 from beyond arc against the Pioneers, with Beloit failing to add even a single attempt.
  • Pioneers guard Scott Kaitz, the best option at point guard with the oft-mentioned departure of young David Arsenault, played 26 minutes. For most players, on most teams, that wouldn't be a lot, but it's a yeoman's effort in "The System." Most of the time, 20 minutes is a long night. Kaitz was solid with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal.
  • Grinnell forced 28 turnovers, which included a game-high three steals from Marques Valdez. This was in only 8 minutes of run for the freshman from Phoenix.
  • A total of 18 players saw action for the Pioneers, including 14 getting on the floor for at least 7 minutes. The other two seeing the most PT were Skelly and freshman Griffin Lentsch, both with 21 minutes.
  • At some point, you've got to figure Grinnell will start dropping some 3s. Each half was pretty brutal: 5-for-25 before the break, 6-for-23 after it. That's a 22.9 percent clip and includes Skelly's 2 of 12 effort.
  • Beloit did a great job of making the Pioneers play defense for the entire shot clock on many possessions, when there wasn't a turnover or a layup.
  • The outcome might have been different if Grinnell had done a little better than 8-of-16 at the free throw line in the second half. Of course, Beloit wasn't much better, finishing at 59.4 percent for the game.

Other highlights from our visit to campus and to Darby:

  • The gym is beautiful, as befitting a structure built only four years ago. It's actually buried into the ground, so when you enter at street level, you actually walk down to the court.
  • The campus also is very nice, even if the weather today was less than ideal. The temperature never made it out of the 20s, and snow fell from time to time throughout the day. Even so, several people were out jogging, which I couldn't believe.
  • The bookstore is full of sweet gear, and Tim and I made sure we got ours. We wore some of it to the game, too, where we fit in perfectly. And before you spout some doubt about my journalistic integrity, I never claimed to have any on this trip!
  • A rowdy section of students kept everyone entertained. At least one security guard was assigned to the group all night, I guess to keep them under control. The funniest comment? The Beloit coach, Brian Vraney, got so upset at a call by one of the officials that he pulled off his tie with a dramatic flourish. As he walked off the court following the game, carrying said tie, somebody said with perfect timing: "Nice tie, Coach."
  • I was able to spend a few minutes with Grinnell junior center Kale Knisley earlier in the day, great kid who plans eventually to become an attorney. That made it even worse for me when he got posterized by Beloit's David Bremner on a fast break. Sure, Kale likely got the last laugh, since Bremner correctly was called for a charge as he dunked all over Kale, but it still was something you don't expect to see at a Division III game. The 6-foot-5 Bremner did have a tattoo of some Asian symbols on his right arm, so maybe that helps explain his stupid hops.
  • No worries about tickets selling out; they don't have any! Yep, that's right, just come as you are and stroll on in to find a seat.
  • You can read about it, hear about it and see it on the Internet, but until you watch it with your own eyes, the substitution pattern is unreal. The first shift ended at 26 seconds, with five new players taking the court, and it hardly slowed down later.

Now for the absolute highlight of the night: Tim and I were invited to join the team in the locker room before the game by Davey Arsenault, the assistant coach. He extended the offer earlier in the day when Tim and I spent about 75 minutes or so in the basketball offices, doing the interviews for a magazine piece I plan on Grinnell.

It was a bit difficult staying out of the way in the locker room, too, with nearly 20 players and three coaches. I won't get into specifics of the knowledge Coach A dropped on the boys since it isn't my place, but suffice to say it was an incredible insight into the program. He did note our appearance: "Oh, the fellas are coming in!" What a thrill.

The loss drops the Pioneers to 1-5 on the season, and 0-1 in the Midwest Conference. They get a chance to end their five-game losing streak on Saturday against Ripon, Game 2 of our trip. Tip is scheduled for 4 p.m. locally, 5 p.m. EST.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

We made it!

It was a bit longer than expected, but Tim and I arrived at our hotel in Grinnell, Iowa, around 9:45 p.m. local time (CST). We left Rockingham, N.C., at a little after 5:30 a.m.. Long, long day. We switched the driving duties by fuel loads, and with Tim's Blazer traveling slightly more than 300 miles per tank, I got two turns at the wheel.

Here are a few highlights:

  • I finally got to hear "The Steve Czaban Show" on Fox Sports Radio, XM 142. Over the past year, I certainly had heard a lot about it, and it didn't disappoint. It was on for three hours starting at 6 a.m. and carried us into West Virginia. Very funny show. His take on Tiger Woods was awesome (said Tiger was accustomed to "road strange"), the segment called "This might be a dumb question, but ...." was hilarious and his explanation of the new NFL Network Redzone Channel (he compared it to "freebasing" the NFL) had me laughing out loud. Might be worth adding the best of XM to my Sirius package.
  • Unfortunately, we were enjoying the radio so much that a West Virginia trooper pulled us over for slightly exceeding the speed limit. No, we weren't exactly Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back who was given a ticket for 109 in a 55 mph zone, and we got away with a warning. I believe it was 80 in a 70, hardly worth the trouble, right? Thank you for letting us go, Trooper Kennard!
  • We had a great lunch at Hooters in Dayton, Ohio. Yeah, I thought the same thing before we pulled in to the restaurant, that the quality of "service" might not be up to par due to the location. My worries were unfounded; the food was excellent (onion rings for an appetizer, buffalo chicken sandwich with curly fries for the meal), and our server, Sarah, couldn't have been nicer. I think Tim had a good time, as well. 8 > )
  • When we arrived in Davenport, Iowa, where we planned to gas up for the final time and grab a bite for dinner, we were greeted with some pretty heavy snow. The temperature was around 32 degrees, but fortunately, the roads remained clear. We even found a Hardee's next to a gas station and ducked in for a "Big Hardee" combo. And believe it or not, there was a guy inside wearing a Carolina Panthers jacket! Pretty sweet.
  • Finally, we arrived at Grinnell. Although the snow had lightened somewhat, the ground was covered, including the parking lot. It was really a beautiful scene. I almost asked Tim if we could cruise around campus -- it is about 3 miles away -- but we both were ready for a break. Besides, it's doubtful we could have seen anything in the dark.

I have a meeting with Coach A and his son at noon Friday to gather some information for a story I plan to write for Basketball Times magazine. A few of the players are supposed to stop by, as well. It should be interesting.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The trip of a lifetime ...

... or, at least, of 2009.

I'm taking the plunge, everybody. On Thursday, Dec. 3, at 5:30 a.m. (-ish), I will be on the road traveling to the mecca of college basketball. Nope, not Chapel Hill, N.C., or Durham, N.C., or Lexington, Ky., or even Westwood, Calif. Nope, I'm speaking of Grinnell, Iowa, where David Arsenault and the boys open Midwest Conference play this weekend with back-to-back set of games against Beloit and Ripon.

From my location in God's country (Rockingham, N.C.), I figure it's close to a thousand miles one way, give or take a hundred or so, and it should take about 15 hours. I found a person willing to make the ride with me, and he even volunteered to take his ride. How clutch is that? You da man, Tim!

But I digress ....

When I've mentioned to people around town where I'm going, and more importantly, why, I get the same question: Why? Why travel that far to watch a college basketball game, or even two games? Don't you get enough hoops on TV?

I don't know if I can explain my fascination (read: obsession) with Grinnell hoops. Yes, it all stems from how excited I was back in the day to discover Loyola Marymount doing its thing under coach Paul Westhead (did you know he was now coaching the women's team at the University of Oregon?). That was 1989, around this time, and when I think about checking a Grinnell box, or watching one of its games on the Web, I get that same feeling I had 20 years ago. It's almost as if I'm discovering something fun and unique for the very first time. That make sense? I didn't think so. I'll try again.

In most sports, I love offense. I'd rather see Texas Tech put up 70 points than watching Ohio State beat someone with four field goals and a safety. I'd rather watch the Minnesota Twins hit five home runs and total 20 hits than watch a no-hitter. And I'd certainly rather watch the Pioneers roll up huge numbers on both sides of the scoreboard than watch the majority of college basketball teams walk the ball up the court and milk the shot clock.

It's basketball at its purest, getting up and down the floor, scoring points, making it thrilling for the fans and players alike. Sure, it doesn't always lead to victories: Coach A and Grinnell have lost their past four games after a season-opening victory over Waldorf, finding it very difficult to replace John Grotberg, Bobby Long and the maestro, young David Arsenault. Incidentally, the son now is working with his father as an assistant coach, no doubt planning to take over the reigns of the program in a few years.

This still is the best way to play, and I've recently discovered that the Pioneers aren't the only team using "The System." Through a message board on Yahoo! called "Run-and-gun," which I joined, I saw many other coaches have made the switch from a conventional style. This includes high school and middle school, boys and girls. Reading about them and their passion for this brand of basketball has given me renewed fervor for it, as well. Hopefully, this weekend at Grinnell is only the start of my viewing pleasure of the best show around.

I plan to regularly update this blog from the road, so check back soon. It should be a blast.