Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another (tied) record for Galesburg!

In a season full of state records, the Galesburg (Ill.) High School Silver Streaks had one of their most impressive outings Saturday by simply tying another one. The Streaks, coached by "System" neophyte Evan Massey, made 20 3-pointers in a 90-70 blowout over Bloomington, joining two other schools in the Illinois prep record book. Mason City was the first to do it, back during the 2001-02 season, and Herscher made 20 as well Dec. 5, 2007. Jessica Howard's 3 in the final minute proved to be the final one of the game for Galesburg, which finished 20-for-51 from beyond the arc.

In case you're not familiar with the job Coach Massey is doing this season at Galesburg, his team now has state records for 3-pointers attempted in a game (71) and a season (1,169), along with made treys in a season (324). And adding this other mark, albeit one that will be shared for now, might not have been the most impressive aspect of this game.

The Streaks played Bloomington twice last year and lost both by a combined 40 points on their way to a 14-18 record, one of the reasons Coach Massey went to "The System" for his 32nd season at the school. In one of those games, Galesburg trailed at the half 43-18; on Saturday, the score was nearly reversed, with the Streaks on top 48-32. Just an amazing turnaround.

They won for the 11th time in their past 15 games to improve to 17-10.

"I have coached 30+ years and have had teams come into a locker room after qualifying for state many times, but what I am seeing this year when they come into a locker room after games is unbelievable," Coach Massey posted on the "Run and Gun" Yahoo! message board I follow. "Today after our win everyone was congratulating everyone. Sense of team is unbelievable. Wow!"

Galesburg has three more games in the regular season before the postseason, beginning at home Thursday against Alleman. Go, Streaks!

Elsewhere in "System"land Saturday, the Grinnell Pioneers had a tough day on the road at Lake Forest, losing 89-56. Matt Skelly made four 3s to finish with 12 points to lead Grinnell, which dropped to 4-12, 3-7 in the Midwest Conference. The Pioneers fell behind by 20 points midway through the first half and never really recovered, eventually trailing by as much as 39 points. They get a quick chance at redemption when they host Fontbonne on Sunday at beautiful Darby Gym. Here's hoping Grinnell turns things around.

At Glenville State College, this squad of Pioneers scored the final 10 points to hold off the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown 110-96 in West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. Donita Adams again was the star for Glenville State, finishing with 29 points in 23 minutes, with teammate Autumn Davis adding 24 points. Davis also connected on six of her team's 13 3-pointers.

Coach Bunky Harkleroad's team dominated in many of "The System" categories, finishing with 92 shots (19 more than Pitt-Johnstown), 28 offensive rebounds and 30 forced turnovers. The Mountain Cats made half of their shots in the second half (17-of-34) but still were outscored 62-51.

The Pioneers now are 10-6 overall, including 8-4 in the WVIAC, while Pitt-Johnstown fell to 9-8, 6-6. Andrea Dalton paced the Mountain Cats with 34 points.

Glenville State hosts Davis & Elkins on Monday, with the tip scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Hopefully, I'll be able to report on another victory for Coach Harkleroad.

Speaking of victories, the Whitmore Lake (Mich.) Trojans coached by blog interviewee Dave Arnold continue to roll, rallying to beat Clinton High School 85-76 on the road Friday for their third consecutive victory. Whitmore Lake made 20 3-pointers, well short of the state-record 29 it connected on earlier in the season, but still put up 51 points in the second half after trailing 41-34 at the break.

Colton Judge made five of the 3s to lead the Trojans with 20 points, with Alex Cattley (13 points), Jake Kerrigan and Jacob Clinansmith (12 points each) also in double figures.

"We really came out with a refocused effort in the second half," Arnold told "Both on the defensive end and with our shots. That push really got us out front."

Whitmore Lake (7-5, 5-2 Tri-County Conference) pulled within a game of Clinton (8-4, 6-1) in the conference standings. Coach Arnold and his team host Greenhills on Tuesday, and I wish them the best.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dave Arnold makes another case for "The System"

This is the coach of the Whitmore Lake Trojans, a high school varsity boys' team not too far from the metropolis of Detroit. Coach Arnold's squad set the Michigan high school record with 29 3-pointers last week during a 117-80 victory over Morenci, an effort you read about here in this very space. The Trojans were 29-for-78 from behind the arc -- simply amazing totals -- despite missing 13 of their 15 attempts on 3s in the first quarter. At that point, it was on like Donkey Kong as Whitmore Lake put 37 points on the board in the next quarter on its way to the blowout.

According to Coach Arnold, he pulled most of his first line players during a timeout with about 4 minutes to go with the score 96-68, and the unit he sent on the floor immediately hit a trifecta, the 22nd of the game. The pressing defense that is such an integral part of "The System" was squelched in favor of a 2-3 zone, which actually made things a little tougher for Morenci. "When we go with what you would consider our second unit, we're huge," Coach Arnold said. "They couldn't get a shot off. You want to tell the other team, 'Our press is like your best friend, because you're going to get shots.'"

Earlier in his career, Coach Arnold was anything but "run-and-gun," preferring a more traditional style while instructing his players to patiently look for the perfect shot. He talked of winning games 25-23 and 23-21 before finally deciding he had taken most of the fun out of the game for his team, and for himself. "One of the things I realized while doing that is you might win the game, but you're really losing the war in a lot of ways," Coach Arnold said. "It was tough to watch. We never subbed in the second half, and only subbed sparingly in the first, so we literally were playing five players. And say what you will, but even your best kids on the bench, the consummate team players, they're still pissed off the next day at practice."

So he made the decision to play faster, much, much faster. He had a relationship with Bob Belf, who any reader of this blog should know is the women's coach at Henry Ford Community College near Detroit, and went to Coach Belf for help to convert his team to "The System." The first game they ran it, the Trojans won 72-70, and as Coach Arnold said, there were times when his team didn't score 72 points combined in back-to-back games. The real test came in Game 2, when Whitmore Lake fell behind by 35 in the first half, rallied to tie it, then lost it 90-89 after a questionable call led to a free throw at the buzzer.

The rest, as they say, is history. Here's some other highlights of my conversation with Coach Arnold, a passionate man who appears to have Whitmore Lake on the right track:

(Tell me about your decision to go to "The System")

Coach Arnold: "I tell you what was the key to all this. I sat down with our principal, and he and I are great friends. He asked, 'Can we fix this?' I told him I saw two options: we could really go slow and hold the ball, or we could try this. I explained it to him, and he had a look like this was going to be crazy. But he trusted me enough to know that either it was going to work, or I would find something else."

(What are some the benefits of "The System" that you've seen?)

Coach Arnold: "I can't describe how much better the atmosphere is. The players want to come to play every day, nobody's missing practice, it's really been a blessing to do it. It's been a little difficult, too, I'll admit, being that old-school, disciplined defensive guy as we are just giving up layup after layup. I think sometimes, my head is going to explode. But I don't know if I could go back to coaching the other way."

(How is your routine different?)

Coach Arnold: "It's really opened my eyes to a lot of things, and I'm sure I'm not the first to figure this out, about the relative value of coaching. Not to say it's overrated, but I've never practiced less. I've never run less, or schematically simpler, stuff. Basically, it's like that episode of 'Seinfeld,' where George Costanza has been beaten down and he decides he's going to do the opposite in everything he does. That's what we try to do."

(What was it like to score 37 points in one 8-minute quarter?)

Coach Arnold: "That is the one thing about this, a lot of it plays into your energy and emotion, and when you score, you're going to score in bunches. You can go a couple of minutes without getting a bucket, but when you hit one, then one becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, and the next thing you know, you're really on a roll. It's taken some time, you'd be surprised, to coach them that I would rather take a long shot, or a questionable shot, then have them throw another pass."

(What's been the reaction from fans and others?)

Coach Arnold: "I had a few of my friends that are coaches come and watch a game, which we lost, and we met up for dinner afterwards. They had been hanging around the lobby after the game and told me some of the stuff they heard. They told me, 'I don't think anybody knows you actually lost the game.' Everybody was so upbeat and positive. Now, certainly, you don't want the wins and the competitiveness to take a back seat, but we're giving a lot of kids the opportunity and letting everybody play."

Congratulations again to Coach Arnold and Whitmore Lake, and I certainly wish them luck the rest of the season. Maybe the Trojans can break that new state record!

Elsewhere, Grinnell suffered a tough loss Wednesday night at Midwest Conference rival Monmouth College, with the Fighting Scots holding on to win 82-80. The Pioneers (4-11, 3-6 MWC) had a chance to win in the final seconds, but Matt Skelly's 3-pointer came up short, and Monmouth (4-12, 3-6) ran out the clock.

It was a tough night for Skelly, who was named player of the week in the conference after averaging 25 points in Grinnell's two victories over the weekend. He finished 4-for-22 in this one, including 3-for-18 on 3s, and scored 12 points. Freshman Dylan Seelman had a good night, connecting on six treys for a total 18 points, with Xander Strek (14 points) and Matt Chalupa (10) also reaching double figures. The Pioneers sprinted to an eight-point lead in the second half but couldn't hold on down the stretch. A 3 from Seelman tied it at 80 with 2:14 left before Zach Ott put Monmouth ahead with two free throws a few seconds later. Skelly missed three shots from behind the line following that lead change, including that one with 6 seconds left, and Seelman missed one, as well, so the Pioneers definitely had their chances.

Grinnell stays on the road Saturday, traveling to Lake Forest for another MWC contest, before traveling back home to take on Fontbonne University at Darby Gym on Sunday. Keep rooting for coach David Arsenault and the Pioneers.

The women's team at Olivet Nazarene with coach Doug Porter had some troubles to deal with this week, as well, giving up an 11-point halftime lead and eventually losing 94-88 to Cardinal Stritch University on Tuesday. Coach Porter and the Tigers fell to 9-14, while the Wolves won their ninth straight to improve to 20-2.

ONU still led by 10 midway through the second half before Cardinal Stritch rallied behind Liz Neitzel. The sophomore from Lomira, Wisc., scored 11 of her 26 points in the final 6 minutes, including a go-ahead three-point play with 3:27 left to make it 86-84. The Tigers quickly tied in on two free throws from McCall Kitchel but never led again, with Neitzel giving the Wolves the lead for good with a layup.

As high-scoring as this game was, imagine what would have happened if either team had held on to the ball a little better. Cardinal Stritch turned it over 32 times, with ONU giving it up 30. Coach Porter and his team are off until a road game at Indiana University-South Bend next Tuesday. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ever seen "The Twilight Zone?"

Well, if you have, you might know how I feel, because it's almost as if I starred in an episode Monday night. I had arranged a phone interview with Mario Malaby, the junior varsity boys' coach at Alhambra High School in Phoenix. And, yes, he runs "The System." Through the Yahoo! message board, I'd heard Coach Malaby's squad hoisted 51 shots in a half last week, an amazing total for any high school team, much less one filled with 10th-graders. I just had to talk to him and ask him about his squad.

I'll get to the heart of the conversation later. When I asked him how he heard about this style of play and why he got involved, it was as if I was interviewing myself. He said he was watching Loyola Marymount make its run in the 1990 NCAA tournament, and in his words, he became "infatuated" with run-and-gun hoops. His wife purchased the video "Running to Win," produced by Grinnell coach David Arsenault in back in the late '90s to help other coaches convert to "The System," and as Coach Malaby said, "It's funny, one video changed my life and the lives of some of my best friends."

Even though he coaches the JV team, he has complete autonomy and has played this way for about four years. This year's team is 4-7 despite putting up some outrageous statistics. "Our record for shots in a game is 101. Don't worry, we still lost by 20!" Coach Malaby said. "We've had games where we've shot 20 more free throws and taken 30 more shots and lost by 10. We just struggle to make shots."

He and his team have a difficult week ahead, with games at Perry High School on Tuesday and at home against North High School on Friday, two of the top teams in the state. Coach Malaby, who works at Metro Tech High School in the reading and special education department while also serving as the co-director of the Athlete Performance Department, proudly predicts an unpredictable week for his charges. "We're going to go at them like little bandits and get real nasty. We might win by 30 or lose by 90!"

Here's some other highlights from our conversation:

(What's been the most difficult part about this season?)

Coach Malaby: "It's hard to run 'The System' without a point guard. You want that point guard to pass the ball in 3-to-4 seconds, so he doesn't have to make decisions. This year, I don't have the shooters, I can't seem to put the ball in the basket. I have to improvise."

(How do teams slow you down?)

Coach Malaby: "Actually, the best way to slow us down is a three-quarters court zone press. Teams that play us full-court, man-to-man, we love that, and if you play zone, well, OK. That's kind of wussing out in my opinion. But the three-quarters court press just slows us down. To me, it's like a speed bump."

(Does the varsity team at your school with coach Mike Slifer run "The System?")

Coach Malaby: "I think next year, they might go to it. Right now, they're 0-18 playing conventionally. He's starting to buy into it. Right now, he thinks it's kind of crazy. He runs more matchup zone and a Princeton-style offense, 17 passes before shooting. That's a hard way to play. Paul Westhead once said that playing basketball 5-on-5 is hard. Playing 5-on-2 or 5-on-3 is much, much better."

(What is the feeling when your team goes on a spurt to take over a game?)

Coach Malaby: "It's euphoric. One time last season, we were playing a much more superior team and we were down 72-48 with 6:15 left in the game. We ended up winning 80-75, everybody got caught up in the trapping and subbing. When we finally pulled ahead, the 12th man on my roster hit the go-ahead 3 with 40 seconds left, and he hadn't scored all year on the freshmen team the year before. I was overwhelmed with goosebumps and told myself I'd better not cry. When we're going on those runs, it feels like we're a train that can't be stopped."

A big thanks to Coach Malaby for spending some time with me. I've asked him to update me on his progress this season, so hopefully, we haven't heard the last of the JV team from Alhambra High School. Good luck this week.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's a great weekend for "The System"

As unhappy as I was with the results of last weekend -- when many of the teams I regularly follow struggled -- Saturday was nearly a reverse of that. The lone exception was the squad coached by my newest blog interview, Bunky Harkleroad, whose Glenville State College Pioneers lost a tough one on the road.

But first, the good news:
  • Matt Chalupa calmly sank a 16-foot jumper just before the buzzer to send Grinnell to a 101-99 victory over Carroll, the first time since Dec. 1, 2007 that coach David Arsenault and his bunch have beaten this Midwest Conference foe. A layup by Paul Grosshuesch with 4 seconds left tied it for Carroll, and Coach Arsenault called a couple of timeouts to set the final play. Scott Kaitz inbounded it to Chalupa, who dribbled toward the lane and pulled up from just beyond the free-throw to lauch his game-winner. Matt Skelly led Grinnell with 30 points, including nine 3-pointers, and Dylan Seelman added six 3s and 21 points. Overall, Grinnell finished 19-of -56 from beyond the arc and took 81 shots overall; Carroll shot 67 percent but only took 58 shots. Grinnell improves to 4-10 overall, 3-5 in the MWC with its first two-game winning streak of the season; Carroll falls to 11-5, 6-3. Next up for Coach A and the boys is a trip to Monmouth College on Wednesday, with a 8 p.m. EST tip. Good luck.

  • Coach Doug Porter and the Olivet Nazarene Tigers bounced back from two tough losses last week to beat Robert Morris 114-86 in Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference play Saturday. Danielle Tolbert and Jaimie Buckman led a balanced attack with 14 points apiece for the Tigers (9-13, 1-2 CCAC), with Courtney Neil (13 points), Simone Coburn (12) and Danielle Pipal (10) also in double figures. Jessica Harris filled up the stat sheet for the Eagles with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 11 of her team's 40 turnovers. Yep, you read that correctly, 40 turnovers, "The System" pressure must have gotten to Robert Morris. ONU led by 14 at the break before quickly expanding that margin early in the second half, with a 3 from Buckman capping a 11-2 spurt to make it 65-42. The Tigers cruised from there as Robert Morris fell to 14-8, 1-2. ONU hosts Cardinal Stritch University from out of Wisconsin on Tuesday in non-conference action, then returns to the CCAC at Indiana University-South Bend on Feb. 2. I'm rooting for them.

  • The Galesburg Silver Streaks girls' team, coached by Evan Massey, split a pair of games, the third time this season they've followed the ol' Ernie Banks motto of "Let's Play Two!" In the nightcap, Galesburg lost a tough one 72-68 to Peoria Notre Dame in the Mid-Winter Classic at the home of the Streaks, John Thiel Gymnasium. They had beaten Macomb earlier 65-35 in a game that likely wasn't that close. The second game got to a rough start for Galesburg when it was called for a technical foul for running around the entire court in the pre-game warmup, something nearly every team does. According to The (Galesburg) Register-Mail, referee Jason Riesebieter felt it was "intimidation" toward the opponent, so he whistled the infraction. The bizarre decision didn't hurt the Streaks, as Elle Bielfeldt missed both free throws and PND turned it over on the ensuing possession. With the split, the Streaks now are 15-10, a year after falling to 14-18, and they travel to United Township High School in Moline on Thursday. Here's hoping Coach Massey and his team continues it's solid season.

  • As I said, Coach Harkleroad and his team of Pioneers fell out of their first-place tie in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 116-94 loss at Shepherd University. Still, Donita Adams had an amazing game for Glenville State, pouring in 39 points in only 19 minutes of run. She was 14-of-23 from the field, 7-of-12 on longballs, and had two of her team's 17 steals. Overall, the Pioneers were 32-of-84 from the field (38 percent) and 14-of-47 on 3s, yet they couldn't recover from a 60-34 deficit at the half. Shepherd (9-5, 8-2) now is tied atop the WVIAC standings with Fairmont State, while Glenville State (9-5, 7-3) is a game back. Next up for Coach Harkleroad's squad is a Thursday trip to Alderson-Broaddus (4-10, 2-7), which has lost five in a row. Good luck to this set of Pioneers, as well.

  • Finally, coach Ron Rohn and the Muhleberg Mules continue to roll in the women's NCAA Division III Centennial Conference, riding a five-game winning streak to the top of the standings. The 12th-ranked Mules (12-2, 9-1 CC) haven't played since throttling Ursinus 71-47 last Wednesday, but they travel to Swarthmore on Monday. As you surely remember, Mulenberg no longer runs "The System," but Coach Rohn is a frequent contributor to the Yahoo! message board dedicated to it and fully believes in its powers. He also is a great interview, as hopefully you found out last month. I'll continue to watch their progress and hope for the best.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Introducing Bunky Harkleroad ...

... and the Glenville State College Pioneers!

As I said, I discovered this team thanks to Bob Belf, who we all know is the head women's coach at Henry Ford Community College and one of the administrators of the "Run-and-Gun" Yahoo! message board I joined. This is Coach Harkleroad's first year at the school, located, ironically enough, in Glenville, W.Va., after he spent nine highly successful campaigns with Berea College. Three of his teams there won Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and earned the right to compete in the NAIA National Tournament. Now he's with NCAA Division II Glenville, a member of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The Pioneers have adapted well to "The System" and stand 9-4 overall, with a 7-2 mark in the WVIAC that is good for a first-place tie with Concord, Fairmont State and Shepherd. Earlier this season, in a 133-72 victory over Bluefield State, Glenville State set all-NCAA division records for made 3-pointers (29) and attempted 3s (62), according to the school's Website. The 80 points the Pioneers scored in the first half were the second-highest total in NCAA history, trailing only the 85 scored by West Texas A&M against National Christian on Nov. 29, 2001.

Glenville State travels to Shepherd on Saturday to try to maintain its spot atop the standings. On Thursday, the Pioneers beat Concord 88-69, with Kim Stephens, Beth Deren and Donita Adams each scoring 15 points. They made 33 of 95 shots as a team, including 13-for-44 from the 3-point line, and forced 30 turnovers.

The first half, in particular, was a great exhibition of this style of play. Glenville State took 50 shots to only 31 for the Mountain Lions -- helped by forcing 21 turnovers -- and made 10 of its 30 shots from beyond the arc. It was 50-31 at that point, and the Pioneers rolled from there.

Coach Harkleroad took a few minutes Friday to talk to me about "The System" and his season so far, and here is the bulk of that conversation:

How did you first come across Grinnell, coach David Arsenault and "The System?"

Coach Harkleroad: "I was the head coach at Berea College, and we were trying to be good at everything, and we weren't doing a very good job of it. I read a little blurb about Grinnell, and I reached out to Coach Arsenault. He was very willing to help, and allowed me to pick his brain on how to get adapted with our kids. It stuck and has been very good to us."

What was the interview like at Glenville?

Coach Harkleroad: "We didn't necessarily talk about 'The System.' The players, the search committee, the people around town, they all wanted to play a little faster. I tried to warn them that this was going to be a whole lot faster, and they seemed excited about playing this way."

How did it go teaching this to your team?

Coach Harkleroad: "The big thing was I was hired in late spring, so for the most part, all of my players had already gone home for the summer. We didn't get a chance to evaluate them fully until we reported for the fall. We spent a lot of time trying to unlearn some habits they've been taught their whole lives, but our kids were willing and capable of doing it."

Any reservations about making "The System" work there?

Coach Harkleroad: "I thought we could be successful. We're just trying to get our kids to play hard and have a good time, and if you're kids are doing that, regardless of how you play, you're going to be OK. I thought we could win."

What did you run before you went with the best style of play in all the land? (My words, of course, not his!)

Coach Harkleroad: "We would go with some multiple defenses, man-zone mix, work on help-side rotation, ball-me-man, the things everybody is taught. We had a big thick playbook with lots of sets, and we ran some motion offense. We still do a lot of that on deadball situations. We really pick and choose in our offensive system, do some things that are very, very traditional and orthodox in certain situations. We do everything at a fast pace, though."

The ultimate question: would "The System" work at a major NCAA Division I level?

Coach Harkleroad: "I think on the women's side, at the Division I level, it could work. Any system can work, if you've got kids that buy in, and I'm convinced it would be good at the Division I level. It might be harder with the men, they finish so much better, they're better with the baseball pass. I think regardless, there's no secrets out there. If you've got kids that are capable of doing what you want, you can win and be successful with it."

Do you think you'll go back to "conventional" basketball any time soon?

Coach Harkleroad: "Right now, if you have a Plan B, you're more apt to fall back on that. We're still full-steam ahead right now. We've had four home games, and the atmosphere at all four have been fantastic. People here want to win. I'm sure there's people who say, 'You don't play any defense,' but that would be there regardless of what you're trying to do."

A big thanks to Coach Harkleroad for taking the time to talk with me, and good luck to him and his team the rest of the season. You know, and I know, that I'll keep you posted.

And, now, more updates ...

Grinnell won Friday night! I watched a good bit of the final 10 minutes, and the Pioneers (the ones from Iowa, not West Virginia) held on to beat Lawrence University 90-89 in the friendly confines of cozy Darby Gym. The victory improves the G-Men to 3-10 overall, 2-5 in the Midwest Conference.

Lawrence (6-8, 3-4) shot 67.3 percent for the game but attempted only 49 shots, thanks to 25 turnovers. Grinnell took 19 more shots and shot 19-of-50 on 3-pointers, with Dylan Seelman leading the way with 21 points. Matt Skelly added 20 as the Pioneers again stuck with an uncanny balanced lineup: 15 players got at least 11 minutes of run, and no one got more than the 15 played by Skelly, Scott Kaitz, Alex McDonald and Xander Strek.

Grinnell stays at home for a Saturday game against Carroll, which won an earlier matchup 102-76. Good luck to Coach A and the gang.

And speaking of putting up numbers ... Congratulations to the Whitmore Lake (Mich.) Trojans, a varsity high school boys' team near my hometown of Detroit, who set a state record with 29 3s on Thursday night in a 117-80 victory over Morenci. Whitmore Lake, coached by "Run-and-Gun" board member Dave Arnold, made 29-of-78 from downtown, an unbelievable total for a high school. A school record fell in the second quarter when Coach Arnold's team scored 37 points. For those not paying attention, that's 37 points in 8 FREAKIN' MINUTES!!!!

Austin Cattley made eight 3-pointers (another school mark) on his way to 24 points, and Alex Cattley added 21 points and five treys. The Trojans (5-5, 3-2) face a tough Tri-County Conference game Monday when they host second-place Adrian Madison before a trip to conference leader Clinton on Friday.

I'll try to stay on top of Whitmore Lake and Coach Arnold, and maybe I can convince him to do a guest spot on this blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Campbell Camels are rolling ...

... and nope, they don't run "The System." But they are having an incredible season so far, so I wanted to give a shoutout to coach Robbie Laing and his bunch.

I first ran across Coach Laing in 2005, late in his second season after taking over a program that essentially have fallen off track. This was his first head coaching job in college after working at eight different Division I schools as an assistant, and he left his position at Kansas State to take over in Buies Creek, N.C. As I said, nothing was going right when he got there, with only 20 victories in the previous three seasons, and that trouble continued through his first two years. Campbell was a combined 5-49 in that span, and during my time with The Associated Press, I visited campus Feb. 24, 2005, for a story on the struggles.

You never know what to expect in that situation, since the only reason he and his team had drawn my attention was their uncanny run of futility. I was shocked when I sat down with him after an 89-83 loss to Florida Atlantic, then coached by former NBA star Sidney Green. Coach Laing was accommodating, friendly and completely honest about how bad things were, never backing away from where he was. He offered no excuses and since he felt extremely fortunate to have his job (as he told me, he was one of only about 300 Division I head coaches at the time), he planned to turn around things soon. You couldn't miss his passion or commitment, so I kept an eye on the Camels.

And he was right. Over the next four seasons, Coach Laing led the team to a record of 48-71, culminating with last season's finish of 14-16. It might not sound like much, yet from where he and the program started, it was tremendous improvement, something that has carried through to the 2009-10 squad. Campbell is 11-5 overall with a 6-1 mark that leads the Atlantic Sun, a conference formerly known as the Trans-America Athletic Conference (I, and others, affectionately changed that to the "Trans-Intergallatic Conference," and I still use that today). Quite a turnaround.

Of course, as sometimes happens, the schedule gets much tougher immediately. Coach Laing and the Camels travel to perennial league contender Belmont on Thursday night (the Bruins are 112-42 in the A-Sun over the past eight seasons), then follow that up with road games at Lipscomb and East Tennessee State. To come out on top, Campbell needs to get big games from forward Jonathan Rodriguez, but, of course, that's nothing new.

Mr. Double-Double (he has 48 of those in his career) is 15 points shy of becoming the school's all-time leading scorer, which is appropriate, since he already is the top rebounder in the Division I era (since 1977-78). At only 6-foot-5, J-Rod is in the right place time and time again to pull down a crucial rebound or make a great play. He is the reigning A-Sun Player of the Week, the second time this season he has received the honor. Rodriguez averages 18.9 points and 9.0 rebounds, shoots 53.3 percent from the field and 78.2 percent from the line, steps outside to convert 38.6 percent of his 3s and finds time to add 1.63 steals. He's all-around stud on the court.

Hopefully, J-Rod, Coach Laing and the Camels have a wonderful trip to Tennessee. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tough weekend for "The System"

The fun part of my love of "The System" (you know, the greatest style of basketball known to mankind) is keeping up with all the teams that run it. The sad part is when the cosmos conspires against us all and brings about a Saturday like Jan. 16.

Grinnell lost. Olivet Nazarene lost. Henry Ford Community College lost. Galesburg High School lost. Of course, it only bothers me because I hate to see coaches of these teams, men who give so much to "The System," struggle. If anyone deserves success, it's these guys. Now, on to the report:

  • I'll start with coach Bob Belf and Henry Ford, which hosted the No. 1 junior college team in the country, Schoolcraft (what an odd name). Some of Coach Belf's worries that he shared with me/us came to fruition as Schoolcraft led by 31 at the half and eventually won 116-83. On the plus side, that was a season-high in points allowed for this team, and in the second half, Henry Ford was much more competitive. Here are the thoughts of Coach Belf, as he relayed to me in an e-mail: "Well, our experience was not what I had hoped. We seemed ready but a little overwhelmed right off the bat. I am telling you, this team was good. We have (Division III) players and they had a roster of D-1 players. So our pressure was not really effective. ... So now it is how we can recover for the next game, which is another challenge. We cannot beat this team. We can be closer if we play better but they would be able to play with anyone in (Michigan), U of M and MSU included." Good luck to Henry Ford in its next game.

  • For Grinnell, a season-high 29 points from freshman Dylan Seelman wasn't enough to keep the Pioneers (2-10, 1-5 Midwest Conference) from losing 109-72 to St. Norbert, the 12th-ranked Division III team by Seelman connected on 9-of-18 from beyond the 3-point arc, and Matt Chalupa added five 3s on his way to 19 points. The Green Knights shot 88.5 percent in the first half (that's 23-of-26 from the field, for those keeping score at home) to lead 61-43 and cruised from there. Grinnell forced only 16 turnovers. Coach David Arsenault and the Pioneers host Lawrence College on Friday night in the first game of a MWC back-to-back set, with Carroll coming to Darby Gym the next day. I wish them the best, as always.

  • Olivet Nazarene, with coach Doug Porter at the helm, completed a 1-1 week with a 95-85 loss to Saint Xavier University, which has won the past five Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season titles. The Cougars (18-1, 3-1) currently are ranked second in the NAIA poll. They broke free from a 43-43 tie at the break to bounce back from their only loss of the season in their previous game. It was close throughout the second half, with Saint Xavier scoring the final five points. A 3-pointer by Jaimie Buckman gave Olivet Nazarene its final lead at 82-81 with 3:48 remaining, but the Cougars went right back in front to stay on Erin Hannemann's three-point play 9 seconds later. Courtney Nell led the Tigers with 16 points, including three 3s, and Danielle Pipal added 14 points. Earlier in the week, Olivet Nazarene (8-12, 0-1) blew away Trinity International 111-92 behind 18 points apiece from Pipal and Holly Wiersema. The Tigers forced 33 turnovers. Next up for Coach Porter's squad is visit from the University of St. Francis on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. EST. Let's go, ONU!

  • In Normal, Ill. (nah, it's too easy), the Galesburg Silver Streaks girls' team coached by Evan Massey lost 76-60 to Normal West despite setting another state record, this time for made 3-pointers in a season. The Streaks converted 11 3s to bring their total to 270 so far, surpassing the previous mark of 260 set by Crystal Lake Prairie Ridge. Unforunately, just three of their 11 came after halftime, when Galesburg led 37-31. The final 16 minutes wasn't as kind, as Coach Massey's team shot 4-of-27 from the field, including 3-of-19 from behind the line. Normal West outscored the Streaks 24-6 in the third quarter to pull away, leaving Galesburg at 13-9 this season. The next game on the schedule is Thursday, at home, against Rock Island. Here's hoping it is a great outing for Coach Massey.

  • One positive aspect of my week was I discovered another college team running "The System:" Glenville State College, an NCAA Division II school in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, improved to 8-4 this season and 6-2 in the conference with a 105-93 victory Saturday over the Griffins of Seton Hill University. Glenville State led by only two with at 76-74 with 10:41 remaining in the second half, then steadily pulled away. Donita Adams was the star, scoring 32 points in 26 minutes to lead Glenville State, with Autumn Davis adding 17, including a 5 for 9 effort on 3-pointers. The Pioneers (yep, there's that nickname again) are led by first-year coach Bunky Harkleroad, and they host Concord University on Thursday. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Way to go, Galesburg!

Coach Evan Massey and his squad at Galesburg (Ill.) High School broke the state record for most 3-pointers attempted in a season during an 81-56 victory over Quincy (no, not him) on Thursday night. The Silver Streaks finished 13-for-6o from beyond the arc, which translates to free triple cheeseburgers from McDonald's in their "Threediculous" promotion.

Remember, each time they make at least 13, spelling out "cheesburgers," those who joined the club get the free grub. What a sweet deal.

Galesburg now has shot 994 3s this season in 21 games, for an average of slightly more than 47. The next 3 made by Coach Massey's bunch will tie the state record, and more importantly, the Streaks are 7-2 in their past nine games in the toughest part of their schedule as they become more and more comfortable with "The System." Earlier this season, Quincy beat Galesburg 73-67; this time, at the half, the Streaks led 45-26.

Their first chance to break the mark for 3-pointers made comes Saturday on the road at Normal (Ill.) West High School. Go get 'em, Galesburg!

Meanwhile, at Henry Ford Community College in Deaborn, Mich., coach Bob Belf has brought his team back from an 0-5 start with some wonderful play of late. Henry Ford beat Kirtland Community College 96-72 on Wednesday night for its seventh victory in 11 games and improved to 3-3 in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association.

Henry Ford finished 16-for-41 on 3s.

The task gets a little tougher Saturday when Henry Ford hosts Schoolcraft (17-0), ranked No. 1 in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II poll. I asked Coach Belf if he would give me a little preview of the game, and this is a portion of the e-mail he sent:

"Schoolcraft's strength is the fact that they are such a dominating rebounding group this year, with five players 6-foot or taller in the rotation. They have not proven to be a consistent shooting team, so most opponents are packing it in tight in a zone and trying to stay close. ... Our attitude will be completely different in how we play them.

"For us, we have been shooting the ball well in the last week, knocking down 16 triples in each of the last two games. But the two big areas of making 'The System' work (offensive rebounds and turnovers) will be the biggest challenge in this contest. To be effective, we must not become protective of our rim and go after them in our pressure. A basket given up gets more pace and we will need to match them in the scoring column.

"Honestly, it is another opportunity to trust in 'The System!'"

Amen. Good luck to Coach Belf and his team.

At Grinnell, a wonderful start Friday night at Carroll fell apart in the final 30 minutes or so, and the Carroll Pioneers (yep, same mascot as the G-Men) rallied for a 102-76 victory in Midwest Conference play. Grinnell fell to 2-9 overall, 1-4 in the conference.

More about that fast start: when Kale Knisley made a jumper with 9:27 remaining in the first half, Grinnell led 40-35. That's 40 points in barely more than one half of the first half. So, you don't have to be Kevin Parsons (my brother) to figure out that Grinnell scored only 36 points for the remainder of the game. Tough luck for coach David Arsenault and his team.

Freshman Griffin Lentsch led the way in this one with 21 points, including three 3-pointers. He and his teammates get another chance Saturday at conference-leader St. Norbert (11-1, 5-0), ranked 12th in this week's poll. Game time is 4 p.m. EST.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gut wrenching loss for Grinnell, plus Muhlenberg and ONU update

Coach David Arsenault and the Pioneers played what might have been their best game of the season Saturday, but they couldn't hold a late lead against Illinois College. The Blueboys (awesome!) rallied late to score the final 11 points in a 116-112 victory at beautiful Darby Gym.

Grinnell falls to 2-8 overall and 1-3 in the Midwest Conference, while Illinois College now is 8-3, 4-0.

Matt Skelly led the way for the Pioneers with 24 points and Dylan Seelman added 15, all on 3-pointers. Grinnell shot 50 percent from the field, a nice effort in "The System," and made 22-of-44 from beyond the arc. That's also 50 percent, for those of you not mathmatically inclined.

And, sure, the Blueboys finished with a high percentage (64.2 percent, to be exact), which is expected by a Grinnell opponent. The one stat that really jumped out was turnovers; Illinois College had only 17, one less than Grinnell. Tough to win in "The System" with those numbers.

Still, it was the Pioneers highest point total since Nov. 27, a span of six games, and their season high in field goal percentage and 3s, despite shooting a season-low 44. You have to feel as if Coach A is figuring out how to work with this group featuring eight freshmen.

Grinnell takes to the road for the first time in conference play next weekend, doing the Carroll-St. Norbert double up in Wisconsin. It begins Friday night at 8 p.m. EST, then continues with Saturday's matchup at 4. Good luck, as always, to the Pioneers.

Meanwhile, in Allentown, Pa., the Muhlenberg Mules of coach Ron Rohn moved back into the top 10 in the Division III Women's Poll this week, then celebrated with a 79-65 victory over Johns Hopkins on Saturday. It was the first game since Dec. 12 for Muhlenberg, which now is 6-0 in the Centennial Conference and 8-1 overall.

Alexandra Chili led the way with 24 points, Kelly McKeon finished with 16 and Sheila Cook added 14 for the Mules, who held the Blue Jays to 41.4 percent shooting while forcing 20 turnovers. A 12-0 spurt early in the second half gave Muhlenberg a 57-42 lead, and Johns Hopkins never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.

The Mules remain a half-game behind undefeated, yet unranked Gettysburg College at the top of the conference standings, with a matchup of those two scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 14, at Gettysburg. Before that, Muhlenberg entertains McDaniel on Tuesday. Hope Coach Rohn and his team can keep it going.

The weekend wasn't as kind to coach Doug Porter and the Olivet Nazarene Tigers, who dropped a pair of games in the state of Kentucky to run their losing streak to four games. ONU now is 7-11 on the season as Coach Porter tries to work with 13 new players, never an easy task in "The System."

On Friday night, the Tigers lost 110-82 to Campbellsville University, the 10th-ranked women's team in the most recent NAIA poll. Simone Coburn led ONU with 16 points while teammate Courtney Neil had 13. I'll just never get use to checking on the amount of playing time each player gets in "The System:" 13 of Coach Porter's charges saw at least 10 minutes in this contest.

Forcing turnovers doesn't appear to be an issue for the Tigers, who turned over Campbellsville 28 times. ONU made only 36.2 percent of its shots, including 8-for-30 on 3-pointers.

The shooting was worse Saturday against Lindsey Wilson College as the Tigers finished 5-for-33 from long range, good for 15.2 percent. Overall, they were at 25 percent, and even forcing 30 turnovers couldn't save them. Lindsey Wilson won 98-64.

Coburn again was the leading scorer, going for 20 points in 16 minutes of run. Danielle Pipal was the only other player in double figures with 10.

ONU returns to home to Bourbonnais, Ill., to play Trinity International University on Tuesday, the first home game for Coach Porter's squad since Dec. 15. Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference play begins next Saturday gainst St. Xavier University, with game time 2 p.m. EST. Hopefully, the friendly confines of McHie Arena will be good for the Tigers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Grinnell ends losing skid ... plus some other cool stuff

The scoring numbers might not have been where coach David Arsenault wanted, but Grinnell snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday night by rallying past Lake Forest 82-78 at lovely Darby Gym.

It was the first victory for the Pioneers (2-7, 1-2 Midwest Conference) since the opener Nov. 15. Matt Chalupa was the star, finishing with 19 points on 6 of 6 shooting, including converting all five of his shots from beyond the 3-point line. He added four steals, four rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes. Nice effort.

Matt Skelly also scored 19 while dropping four dimes (remember, that's hip hoops slang for assists) in 18 minutes of run as well. Surely you know "run" equals playing time, right? The overall statistics for both teams SCREAM "System" to those of us paying attention:

  • The Foresters of Lake Forest (great mascot!) shot 74.4 percent from the field, but took only 43 shots.
  • Grinnell hoisted up 82 shots, so its 34.1 percent shooting effort (along with its 16-for-55 on 3s) helped overcame the accuracy deficit.
  • Of course, this was accomplished mostly with turnovers: Lake Forest finished with 34 of these, which helped lead to 18 steals by the Pioneers.

Still, I'm sure it was nice for Coach A and the rest of the guys to open the post-break portion of their schedule with a W. Remember, Grinnell hadn't played since Dec. 12.

Next up is a visit from Illinois College (7-3, 3-0), which leads the MWC in the early going. Tip is set for 4 p.m. EST, since that's where I am, or 11 a.m. Hawaiian time. Good luck to the Pioneers.

I also had the priviledge of speaking with three "System" coaches this week, in addition to coach Ron Rohn of Muhlenberg. Bob Belf is the women's coach at Henry Ford Community College near my birthplace of Detroit; Gary Smith coached the men at Redlands for 37 years before retiring, and now spends most of his time as a consultant on all things "System" for teams around the world; and Doug Porter is the longtime women's coach at NAIA Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais, Ill., about an hour southwest of Chicago. All are regular contributors to the "Run-and-Gun" message board I've started to follow, and they each constantly drop knowledge on this style of play.

I asked some of the same questions, so I'll give you just a little sample of each coach. You'll have to wait to catch my story in "Basketball Times" to get the full effect. Here we go:

(What attracted you to "The System" in the first place?)

Bob Belf: "I found out what David was doing at Grinnell online, so I went to see one of their games at Illinois College. My wife, who was a varsity high school girls' coach at the time, and my sister-in-law, who had played also, went with me, and they were jumping up and down the whole game, yelling at the referees, just getting into it. At halftime, they both sat down and said, 'I'm exhausted! This is the best basketball game I've ever seen!' I talked to David briefly after the game and just started following them then."

Gary Smith: "I enjoyed being able to control, somewhat, the way the game was played. That doesn't mean you always win, but this is the ultimate way to control temp of the game. It's doing some different, and it is rejuvenating for coaches and players. I've always been a big believer, maybe too much so, in getting kids to play hard, and you have to play hard in this style. If you're not playing hard, you stand out like a sore thumb."

Doug Porter: "I'd heard of Grinnell for years, but my impression was that it was kind of a gimmicky approach to playing basketball. I went to their Website, more out of frustration with the lack of success we were having than anything else, and the one thing that jumped out at me was how efficient they were offensively. At the time, they were averaging 132 points a game and only turning the ball over 13 times that particular season. I was really impressed with those numbers and felt it merited another look."

(On how "The System" gets more players involved in the game)

Bob Belf: "I was a high school teacher, so I kind of equated it to teaching a class. You don't let just seven or eight kids in the class participate, you let everyone participate. How else to you learn and get better? I always hated that as a player. I understand someone might be better than me, but that shouldn't always equate in minutes. My worst players now play in a third of the game. When I was coaching high school, I had a real problem one year. My seven through 12 kids on the bench got better much more rapidly than the top of the lineup. It created a little riff. I didn't what to do or how to handle that."

Doug Porter: "One of the best features of 'The System' is it requires you to involve the whole team. You have to approach it by using your depth, even with your bottom of the lineup players. They won't be as talented as the top seven or eight kids from the other team, but when they're exhausted, and your kids are fairly fresh, that hopefully will be the equalizer."

(On the overall wonderfulness of 'The System')

Bob Belf: "You're not always successful on the scoreboard with this style of play, but for a lot of teams, they probably wouldn't be successful playing any style. What this does allow you to do is completely take the other team out of what they normally do. When I was coaching high school, we played a really solid team who ran the flex offense. I told my kids, 'I don't want to see one possession of the flex offense in this game,' and we didn't. That's what they work on all the time at practice, and if you take them out of it, you have a better chance."

Gary Smith: "I'm really infatuated with 'The System.' It's unique, and I kind of enjoy being different. It's been very intriguing. Yet it's not just a gimmick. Statistically and conceptually, it's very sound."

Doug Porter: "My impression is that overall, basketball coaches are a little too restrictive. There is this illusion of control that we tend to have. Like many coaches, I'm kind of a control freak anyway, so it's good for me to coach in a style that doesn't allow me to control as much. The best thing about 'The System' is I feel like it allows players to maximize their potential, because you're cutting the apron strings. This requires a coach to give up some of the control and allow the players to use their skills."

Again, thanks so much to these gurus for taking time to talk to a lowly hoops junkie. Talking with them got me more fired up about "The System," and I look forward to my next trip to Grinnell, or Olivet Nazarene, or Galesburg (Ill.) High School, or Henry Ford CC, or anywhere that has a team using the most exciting style of play around.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Some quality time with Ron Rohn

OK, OK, so your first question might be, "Who?" Ron Rohn is the women's coach at Division III Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn., and no, the Mules (not my nickname, the actual mascot) don't run "The System." They previously did, however, and Coach Rohn still participates in a Web support group for coaches using the best style of hoops known to mankind.

Even without it, he and Muhlenberg have enjoyed tremendous success in his first eight seasons, and they currently are ranked 11th in the Top 25. The Mules are off to a 7-1 start this season.

Coach Rohn went to "The System" in 2003-04 as a way to get more of his players on the court, much as coach David Arsenault did when he created this gem at Grinnell. Muhlenberg did things a little differently, such as employing offensive patterns based on the stuff Paul Westhead used at Loyola Marymount back in the day, but still had tremendous success.

That first year, the Mules were 19-7, and five of those losses came to Centennial Conference foes and national powers Johns Hopkins and McDaniel. They scored at least 100 points in their first two games and appeared on their way.

The trend continued with a 7-1 start the next season before Coach Rohn came down with a debilitating injury over Christmas break. He never truly discovered the cause, he just knew that he had tremendous back pain. The combination of that, mediciation and fatigue from a lack of sleep left him with very little energy when it came time to practice. When the Mules struggled a bit, he decided to play more conventionally, and they finished 11-14, his only losing season at the school. In hindsight, he said changing schemes was a mistake, since his team likely would have been better off continuing what it was doing.

Still concerned about his health, he stuck with this plan the next season and led Muhlenberg to a 26-3 record, the best mark in school history. Coach Rohn said it was difficult to change anything at that point, and the results have proven him to be correct: the Mules are 99-22 since that fateful 2005-06 season, with three Centennial Conference titles and three trips to the NCAA tournament, with one ending in the Sweet 16.

Coach Rohn took some time Tuesday to talk to me about "The System," and his responses were enlightening. Enjoy.

(On "The System" simply being another way to play the game)

"It's a style of play. There are too many coaches at a lot of levels who see this as a magic bullet. They say, 'We haven't been successful, we'll start doing this and we'll be more successful.' Really, if you have a bad team, or you're outgunned talent-wise, or you're not that good of a coach, you're just going to get beat by twice as much. I can't tell you the number of coaches I talk to about this System, and after I talk to them for five or 10 minutes, I know this is just a disaster waiting to happen. How do you tell somebody that? I've got a friend in coaching who runs a lot of the Westhead stuff, and he has people ask him about it all the time. His first question to them is, "Can you coach?" Because if you can't, nothing is going to help. You still have to be able to coach, it's not just rolling out the balls."

(On lessons learned from "The System")

"One of the realizations I came to was that there are two ways to win a basketball game. You either take the same number of shots as your opponent and shoot a better percentage, or you take more shots and shoot a lower percentage. When we ran 'The System,' we had games where the other team would shoot 60 percent, and we would shoot 33 percent , and we would win by 20. And people just couldn't believe that."

(On coaches shifting to "The System," even late in their careers)

"It's like a teacher who teaches History for 35 years. He starts thinking, 'How can I teach this differently?' A lot of times, you want to rejuvenate yourself. There's a lot of people who think they're ready for this type of System, and then they see all the uncontested layups and all the sudden, they want to slam on the breaks. They don't have the tolerance for it. You know, a lot of people look at Grinnell and say they don't play any defense. Well, what's that say about the teams they beat 130-100, or whatever? What kind of defense are they playing?"

(Would "The System" work at a major Division I school?)

"I think it definitely would work from an Xs and Os standpoint. The problems they have is there's just so much focus and attention, I don't know that they would be given the latitude needed to make it work. Coach Arsenault was able to make it work at Grinnell because, as he always says, he was in the middle of the cornfields. Nobody cared or paid attention until they started putting up numbers and winning."

I appreciate Coach Rohn taking the time to talk to me. And even though the Mules no longer play a full-out Grinnell-type style, they do run and press to stay ahead of their opponents. I'll give some regular updates as they continue their season.