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.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article! Glad to see you writing. Started my own at but just for giggles. Keep up the good work!