Friday, February 5, 2010

Let's talk Liberty High School Hoops ...

... and, no, I don't mean Liberty, N.C., or a prep school near Liberty University.

This is Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Ore., where Tom Marshall is in his first season running "The System." And he's not exactly what you would call an impulsive neophyte, either -- the way he figures, he's closing in on 35 years in coaching, even though "it scares me to do the math," he said with a laugh during a phone interview Friday.

Surprisingly, this is his first job at the high school level. He spent 15 years as a head coach in college, with 11 of them coming at the University of California at San Diego and four at Grand Canyon University. Marshall was a combined 248-151 at those stops and won at least 20 games during four of his final five seasons at UC San Diego.

He retired to Oregon in 1999 before he was coaxed back into the business at Liberty, which was a startup school. A longtime friend and rival of Gary Smith, the "System" guru and longtime coach at the University of the Redlands in California, Marshall decided he had the proper personnel to make the switch away from conventional basketball this season. The results have been spectacular at times, including the Oregon state record for most points in a single quarter (43), which came Dec. 21 against Springfield. The Falcons put up that total in the third quarter of a 98-66 victory, and they nearly matched it with 41 in the second quarter Jan. 29 when they beat St. Helens 83-77.

Currently, Liberty sits fifth in the eight-team Northwest Oregon Conference, with a huge game later Friday against second-place Glencoe. Coach Marshall took some time to speak to me about his conversion to the best style of basketball the world has ever seen, and some things he's learned along the way. Enjoy.

(What's it like coaching high school for the first time?)

Coach Marshall: "It's been interesting. In a lot of ways, it's back to real coaching, since you're hands-on with the guys. A lot of times at the college level, your assistant coaches are doing quite a bit of floor stuff, because you delegate some of that, but not all of it. You've got boosters to deal with, and recruiting, and there's a lot of other things that take your time away from the basketball court. At the high school level, your time is pretty much spent with the kids."

(Can you measure your success in this style, versus conventional?)

Coach Marshall: "I'm sure we've won some games that we might not have won if we played more conventionally, but there's been games we've won where we would have won with any style. We had enough athletic ability on the floor to get it done. It's a hard thing to measure. I think what you can measure is, 'Are your kids having fun? Are we a joy to our fans when they come and watch us play?' And I would give a big thumbs-up to both of those categories. We've noticed an increase in our student population coming to the games. Almost all the parents have been excited about it, telling me even when we lost how exciting we were to watch. Those are measurable things."

(What do your fellow coaches out there think?)

Coach Marshall: "I don't know if I could have a good temperature on whether they are pro or con. I know they consider us dangerous, and we are. I wouldn't want to prepare for me, I wouldn't want to prepare for this kind of team. I was talking with my coaching staff, and I honestly, I mean honestly, don't believe that an opposing team has run a set against us all year. If they did, I would be shocked, other than an out of bounds situation. Anything they've been practicing all year, I don't think they've been able to accomplish running that in a game."

(Do you believe "The System" become more widespread?)

Coach Marshall: "It's hard to say. I can certainly see why a Division I coach would never, ever go to it. It's just too big of a risk. Their whole livelihood and their assistants' livelihoods are all based on them being successful. I just can't see a D-I coach taking a chance, unless he hasn't got anything to lose and he wants to give it a shot. Maybe I'm wrong, but it would surprise me to see that."

(Do you plan to stick with it?)

Coach Marshall: "It's hard to say what the future holds for 'The System.' Gary probably even tweaked it from what Grinnell ran, and we've done the same thing. I don't run the same things that Grinnell did or what Redlands did. I'll probably stick with it next year and I'll tweak it some more. I'm losing some kids and gaining some others, so I've got make it work for them. I've got to make some changes."

I appreciate Coach Marshall taking the time to share his thoughts with me, and us. I hope he and Liberty have the best of luck the rest of the season, and I'll do my best to keep everyone updated.

Now, on to the results ...

Grinnell went on the road to Ripon College for a Midwest Conference game Friday night, and the Pioneers fell behind early on their way to a 127-107 loss. Scott Gillespie, the point guard for the Red Hawks (13-5, 7-3 MWC), finished with 37 points and 10 assists, and teammate Aris Wurtz matched the 37 points while adding 11 rebounds. Huge numbers, to be sure, but nothing close to what Ripon accomplished as a team.

In 40 minutes of college basketball, the Red Hawks shot 80.7 percent from the field, missing only 11 of 57 shots. That helped them overcome 23 turnovers and the 71 3-pointers shot by Grinnell (5-13, 3-8). Dylan Seelman led the way for coach David Arsenault's team with 24 points, all on 3s, and Matt Chalupa made four shots from beyond the arc on his way to 15 points.

The Pioneers get back at it Saturday night, again on the road, when they travel to Beloit. Go get 'em!

Coach Bunky Harkleroad and the Glenville State College women's team rolled to another easy victory, beating Ohio Valley University 126-92 on the road Thursday night. Donita Adams (who else?) led the way with 28 points, Ginnie Petties had 27 and Autumn Davis chipped in with 24 for this set of Pioneers (12-6, 10-4 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). All had big days while setting up downtown, with Petties connecting on seven treys and Adams and Davis each adding six. Glenville State was 26-for-63 as a team on 3s and 38-for-94 overall.

The first half was a great example of what "The System" can do to a team. Ohio Valley (4-14, 2-12) shot 59.4 percent from the field, yet trailed by 24. The Pioneers forced 24 turnovers in the opening half (18 of them on steals) and made 14 3-pointers on its way to a 68-44 lead. Again, that's all in 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until Monday for another update on Coach Harkleroad's team. The winter storm that pounded the Mid-Atlantic on Friday forced this weekend's home game against Salem International to be postponed. According to the schedule, Glenville State now plays at Washington Adventist University on Monday. Stay tuned.

Finally, a quick update on a couple of high schools I regularly follow:

The Whitmore Lake (Mich.) Trojans continued to roll, winning their fifth consecutive game with a 98-56 rout of Sand Creek on Thursday night behind Colton Judge's 30 points. The Trojans, coached by Dave Arnold, are averaging 93.8 points during the winning streak heading into Monday's game at Whiteford.

Coach Evan Massey and the Galesburg (Ill.) Silver Streaks lost a heart-breaker Thursday night, falling 64-62 to Western Big 6 foe Alleman when Paige Klinck missed a 3 just before the buzzer. Galesburg (17-11, 3-6 WB6), which was led by Jamie Johnson's 15 points and five rebounds, finishes up its schedule with two games on the road, beginning Saturday at New Trier. I hope the Streaks get going again.

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