Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Olivet Nazarene looks to build on fast finish

Remember how well the Olivet Nazarene Tigers finished up last season? You know, winning seven of their final nine games, averaging 112.2 points during that span and reaching the women's final in the NAIA Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. There, the Tigers had a tough 103-96 loss to No. 2-ranked St. Xavier.

That, of course, is the bad news. The good news out of that game? Well, any avid reader of this ode to The System probably can tell you that 94 of the points scored against St. Xavier is back for another season. Even more telling, 82 of the 96 points came from either a freshman or a sophomore. As Shawn and Gus would say, WHAT?!

The basketball world certainly has noticed. In the preseason NAIA coaches' poll, ONU is in the "Others receiving votes" category, unofficially 32nd in the country. Pretty heady expectations for coach Doug Porter and his team, and he was gracious enough to take some time to shoot me an e-mail about the upcoming season.

Coach Porter: "In addition to 12 veterans returning, we have 5 really good athletes in our recruiting class, so we should be much quicker and deeper this year. The team’s mood is great, and they are already demonstrating great spirit, bonding well on and off the court. We like to assess a team’s mood by how many kids stay after practice to work extra on their game. Yesterday we had 14 of 16 stay late, and I think the other two had night class."

Pretty tight, right? Each of those 12 veterans got at least 11 minutes of run a season ago, and of course, given The System's parameters, no one averaged more than Danielle Pipal's 17.6. Leading scorer Simone Coburn got her 15.7 points in slightly less time than Pipal played. Courtney Neil was next at 12.3 points, and she only started two of the 24 games in which she played. Holly Wiersema (10.7) joined those two teammates in double figures.

Pipal set the table and did a little bit of everything for Coach Porter's team. She had 9.9 points, 5.8 assists and 3.2 steals (both team-leading numbers), all while shooting 35 percent from beyond the 3-point line, best on the team among those taking more than two all year.

So Coach Porter didn't need much in the way of recruiting. He still was happy with what he got.

Coach Porter: "As I mentioned ... , the distinguishing mark of our recruiting class is athleticism. Denita Phelps, a post from Kankakee Community College, for example, tested with a 25-inch vertical, the best we’ve ever had a player do. She also ran a 65-second trial in our 300-yard shuttle (18 sidelines), which is our baseline fitness test. We’ve had one point guard break 65 seconds before (our target time is 70 seconds), but never a post player! I’m also liking what I’ve seen from Miranda Geever, a freshman from Moline. She placed second in the state track meet in the long jump last year, going over 18 feet. Miranda also runs like a deer, and has great 3-pt shooting mechanics. The other three recruits are really solid, too, but still raw, so I think we’ll be okay once we gain some experience with the system."

Good thing he has so much experience and talent. This season's schedule features seven consecutive road games to start, beginning with a trip to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Nov. 5. The Saints won at least 20 games for the fourth season in a row in 2009-10 and reached the NAIA national tournament for the second time in the span.

The first home game is part of the Holiday Inn Express CCAC Challenge on campus at McHie Arena, which begins Dec. 3.

Coach Porter: "We originally had a home game scheduled during the time with Lindenwood University. They made a coaching change, however, and the new coach didn’t have any record of the agreement, so we were stuck trying to add a game. Our only option was another road game, so during November, we are the 'Road Warriors!' My understanding, though, is that the rims are 10 feet high on the road, just like they are at McHie Arena."

Perhaps he'll break out the tape measure, a la coach Norman Dale.

As you likely know, Coach Porter is somewhat of a guru with The System, one of the people who frequently responds to questions on the Run-and-Gun message board and someone noted around the country for his expertise with this style of play. He and Gary Smith (a recent "KP's World" guest, for those paying attention) recently sent a book manuscript to a publisher called "Coaching the System: A Complete Guide to Basketball's Most Explosive Style of Play."

So he was the perfect person to answer a question that frequently bugs me: why are System coaches not given similar credit to those in other sports who lead their teams to huge offensive numbers? Mostly football coaches such as Chip Kelly in Oregon, or Mike Leach, formerly of Texas Tech. Those names are spoken with a bit of awe at times, yet David Arseneault or Doug Porter doesn't get that same respect. Here are Coach Porter's thoughts:

Coach Porter: "If we were having the same success at a D-I level, say at UConn or Tennessee, you can bet people would notice, just because those are successful, high profile programs. In fact, when I saw the UConn women at the Final Four two years ago in St. Louis, I couldn’t help thinking how dominant they were playing conventional basketball. But with their talent and depth, WOW! What a system team they would be.

"I think we all tend to copy successful, BIG programs, because most of us — myself included — have an instinctive feeling that if it works at D-I, it must be credible. That was my hangup when I investigated Grinnell. I thought the System was a D-III gimmick, but the thing that changed my mind was their turnover stats. That year (2003) they were forcing 30+ turnovers a game, yet only committing about 12, while averaging 120 ppg. That got my attention, helping me to understand that this was a legitimate way to play the game, just very different. And I’ve never understood the argument: 'You guys don’t play much defense.' We averaged forcing 32 turnovers a game for the past six seasons ... that’s not good defense? (You listening, Johnny Rain Cloud?)

"As for receiving credit, I really don’t care about the notoriety or being recognized for playing this way. David Arseneault is the one who deserves the credit because the system as he developed it is incredibly innovative. We run it because a) it’s fun to play and coach, b) it provides kids with a great, memorable experience, c) it helps them maximize their basketball talents, and d) when the breaks go our way, it gives us a chance to compete with some of the best teams in the country. It would be nice if other coaches were more open to seeing the benefits of system basketball, but I don’t blame them for being nervous about it. After all, it is tough to change to such a unique, high risk style, and it does have a pretty steep learning curve to implement it."

Wow, that's great stuff there. Hope everyone was paying attention.

Coach Porter and the Tigers get started with an exhibition game Friday night against Ohio Christian University, so hopefully I'll be able to provide an update on how the recruits are fitting in with all those veterans. As always, a huge thanks to Coach Porter for his time, and to anyone out there reading. The season is almost upon us.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The System is coming to North Carolina!

Well, at least a team employing this breakneck-paced style is making its way to my fair state.

Coach Bunky Harkleroad and the Glenville State Pioneers women's team are traveling to Elizabeth City State on Nov. 12-13 for a tournament. Honestly, I can't tell you how excited I am. And, sure, Elizabeth City isn't exactly a short drive from the friendly confines of Rockingham, where I and this blog reside, but it will be my only chance to check out Coach Harkleroad's squad.

Remember them, right? The Pioneers finished 18-10 overall and 15-7 in the NCAA Division II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, good for a tie for fourth in the standings. Not bad for an encore; it was Coach Harkleroad's first season at the school.

Glenville State put up other impressive numbers, as well, with guard Donita Adams finishing second in the nation with 22.6 points per game. She and her teammates led all D-II teams in scoring at 95.9 points, and as a unit, they set all-division records with 29 made 3-pointers on 62 attempts in a 133-72 victory over Bluefield State on Dec. 16. Pretty impressive.

This year, Coach Harkleroad hopes to use a solid recruiting class to fill the hole left by Adams, who completed her eligibility, while also assisting his depth. He essentially went with two separate groups last season, which was effective, but hopes to be able to mix it up a bit more. He talked about this in a e-mail this week.

Coach Harkleroad: "We’re going to be deeper this season simply because we’ve got more helpers. Our shift schedule is something that we’re really trying to get a handle on now. Last year we had two groups plain and simple, this year I think we can have three but we’re still trying to figure that out. We’ve got a lot of possible combinations and we’re figuring out now who plays well with each other."

There are some returnees that will help, too. Last season, four players joined Adams in double figuring scoring, and they all are back for more. It starts with Autumn Davis, a 5-foot-7 guard who averaged 12.9 points. There's also 6-2 post player Kristen Golden (12.4, along with a team-leading 6.6 rebounds), along with two more guards, 5-7 Ginny Petties (10.3) and 5-10 Beth Deren (10.3). And point guard Miranda Reed is back - she filled up the stat sheet with 6.6 points per game, 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals. Her assist and steal numbers led Glenville State.

Right now, Glenville State expects to have two Division I transfers as part of the expanded shifts: guards Tenisha Wilson, from Northern Illinois, and Danielle Woodmore, from Ohio University. Coach Harkleroad also has athletic 6-foot Mishae Mills, a junior college transfer from Morton CC in Illinois. She averaged 16 points and 15 rebounds a year ago and should help out inside.

And there might be another D-I transfer ruled eligible, giving the Pioneers a pretty nice foursome of recruits.

Coach Harkleroad: "We’ve actually got three D-I kids on our roster but we are waiting on a decision on the third transfer to see if she’s eligible. We have a scrimmage this Saturday so hopefully we’ll get some kind of decision between now and then. It’s been tough trying to balance rotations not knowing for sure who is and isn’t eligible. Keep your fingers crossed. I think The System helped us get these student athletes because they were all looking for a fresh start and liked the culture that we’ve been able to create here at Glenville State. Our kids work extremely hard but they are allowed more freedom on the court and we spend so much time working on fundamentals. We are encouraging them to take chances, make mistakes, and figure things out. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming for them. We’ve got a good group of people on our team and I think our players really sold our style of play to the newcomers and that was the biggest reason we were able to get some talented kids in here."

The System also has helped create a buzz around campus for Coach Harkleroad's second season.

Coach Harkleroad: "This is a sports crazy community and we did have a good 2009-2010 campaign. There is a lot of interest and our kids seem determined to have a great year. We’ve tried to be efficient with our time and really do a great job with our conditioning program this fall. We did a lot of intense, short, total body circuits that really worked our kids hard. Most of our players are in the best shape of their lives. Our practices have gone well, we’ve practiced some really long hours through the first 10 practices. I’m usually not very comfortable with that but there’s so many new faces and so much to get in that it’s been necessary. I’ve had to make myself remember the 'less is more' mantra and try to keep things simple. We scrimmage this Saturday and I hope that we are indeed ready. Like other System teams we will be a work in progress and I think it’s going to take us some time. We have ZERO home games in November and face some pretty darn good competition."

(As I wrote, a couple of those games come in the great state of North Carolina. Sorry, I'm so giddy I had to add that again.)

Another thing I wanted to know was how he, his team and The System were treated in the WVIAC, a brutal conference with many solid teams.

Coach Harkleroad: "I think The System has been good for the league. In terms of reactions from other coaches I’m not really sure how to answer that. I can tell you that we saw a lot of different looks and I think we got everybody’s best shot last season. When we lost games our opponents were really excited about beating us and I think that’s a good indicator of respect for our program. There are some outstanding coaches in this league and there will be no chance of us being able to surprise anybody this season."

Finally, I wanted to know what lessons he learned in his inaugural season, things he can use to have even more success in 2009-10.

Coach Harkleroad: "First of all this league is so tough to compete in, especially on the road. You can’t take any nights off and have to be prepared every day. I think our players and our community are convinced that The System can be highly successful at this level but also realize how tough it is. To my knowledge there aren’t many D-II or D-I schools that are willing to try and play this extreme. As a coach I’m always trying to learn, especially when it comes to being efficient with our time and getting the most out of our players. As coaches we probably all need to spend more time getting to know our players and understanding their personalities as individuals and as a team. While it’s hard for teams to prepare for us during conference play because we aren’t very traditional we also have difficulty preparing at times because we will see so many different looks against our attack."

A huge thanks to Coach Harkleroad, whom you can follow on Twitter @CoachHarkleroad. I hope he and the Pioneers have a great season, and you know you can check back here for updates. As he said, there is a scrimmage Saturday, which should be our first System action of the new year. Sweet!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

You won't believe these statistics!

My fascination (dare I say obsession?) with the Grinnell Pioneers and coach David Arseneault is well-documented. I mean, this is the man who invented The System and used it to take his team and the sport to amazing heights. How could you not appreciate that?

Still, a perusal of the NCAA Division III record book finds many more listings of a team other than Grinnell: the University of the Redlands from California. This is where Gary Smith coached for 37 years, and during that time, he employed a variety of styles. In 2002, he dove in with Coach A's creation, and the results were spectacular.

Perhaps the most telling season was 2004-05, when the Bulldogs finished 14-11 and averaged a record 132.4 points. Yep, that figure is correct, 132.4 points. The average. For an entire season.

Other seasonal records set in that glorious year: 3-pointers made (595), per game (23.8), total attempts (1,813) and average attempts (72.5). Redlands also shares another scoring mark with Grinnell: most games in one season scoring at least 100 points (23, from that year; Grinnell did it in 2001-02).

And there are a few single-game records, as well. The Bulldogs attempted 106 3s against La Sierra on Jan. 6, 2005 (you've got to be kidding!), had 14 different plays make a 3 against Caltech on Jan. 29, 2005 (for real?) and scored 153 points in regulation while LOSING to Cal Baptist on Dec. 10, 2004 (more on this later).

Quite the year for Coach Smith and his team, wasn't it? He has been kind over the past year or so to respond to my queries about The System, so I e-mailed him a few days ago to get his thoughts on that year. One of my first questions was about that loss to Cal Baptist, a 181-153 final that dropped Redlands to 6-2 that year.

Of course, that hardly tells the entire story. The boxscore from that game (hopefully, you clicked on the link) features some astounding numbers, not all of them for the Bulldogs. Cal Baptist shot 82 percent for the game, literally finishing 82-for-100, and had two different players score at least 40 points and two entirely different players drop 10 dimes (assists, for the unhip out there). Cal Baptist had 57 assists as a team, which isn't listed in the Division III record book but my simple math tells me it is more than the mark of 53 set by Simpson (against Grinnell in 1995, incidentally). The score at halftime was 93-66!

The Bulldogs shot 52-for-123 in the game, including 24-for-81 from behind the arc, and nearly won the second half, falling one point short at 88-87. Here is what Coach Smith said about that game:

Coach Smith: "Cal Baptist was a full scholarship program (we are D-III, no
scholarships), playing in the the best NAIA D-I league in the country -
the GSAC. No comparison in athletic ability, they were vastly superior.
Common sense would have dictated playing extremely conservative ball vs.

"The game before that we had lost at Chapman (and that was after
winning our first 5 or so in a row and winning our own very competitive
tournament). Vs. Chapman we had become way too conservative and played
like we were trying to avoid losing rather than playing full out to win. Thus our preparation for the Cal Baptist game was to reorient ourselves to a full-out effort with total system principals -- even though the opponent was the most talented we would play that season. Very good coach and yes, a smart team.

"The pace was incredible and we fought back 2 or 3 times from 20 down to get within 4 or 5 points. I did hear after the game that their coach had been talking with his fans about "this not being real basketball." Well, we all know all about that and "the right way to play!!!"

The game from that year that stands out the most to Coach Smith is a loss, which isn't all that surprising. Cal Lutheran beat Redlands 131-130 on Jan. 15, 2005, making 30 of 35 shots in the second half to rally for the victory. Cal Lutheran's Ryan Hodges certainly enjoyed the game, finishing with 63 points and 11 rebounds. He helped his team's shooting percentage, too - he was 29-for-31 from the field.

It was doubly tough for Redlands, which was coming off a 96-89 loss to Cal Pomona-Pitzer. Here are Coach Smith's thoughts:

Coach Smith: "Coming just after the season low of 89 and being our 2nd league game it was a big game. Our best player had a wide open 12' J at the buzzer that did not go - maybe should have stopped at 19'9" (the 3-point line distance). Was a great game, back and forth, big runs, packed the rafters and noisy house -- team was heartbroken after the loss. I do think with a win that night it would have been an every greater season. Was real system ball."

Speaking of that loss to Cal Pomona, that was one of only two games that season where Redlands failed to reach 100 points. The Bulldogs lost in the rematch later that season, as well, but this time, the final score was a more Redlands-like 125-117. How did Cal Pomona slow down the pace, and what changes did Coach Smith make for the next game?

Coach Smith: "Pomona spread the floor and had us chasing all over creation. We
had been successful vs. them the previous year and this was our first
meeting since and Charlie Katz, a super coach, had his team well
prepared to 'play defense while on offense.'

"We shot terribly and had to chase them all night. The next two seasons we did defend teams like this (teams that normally played very patiently and prepared for us with delay type spread the floor thinking) differently. Namely emphasize even more aggression in the press and emphasize a very quick trap across half court and then selling out with the rotations and THEN if and when that did not work vs. the long skip pass going one on one on the closeout and having everyone else lock-on (deny) a man; the defender on-ball would force the handler toward the baseline or sideline then we'd come from the backside (behind) to trap and get everyone else to leave their denials and sell out on the rotations to the lag and all the near passing lanes."

(As an aside, that's very good stuff there. All you wannabe coaches should take note)

That's enough of the tough times from that season. I also asked Coach Smith about perhaps the best statistical game for his team, a 172-107 victory over La Sierra on Jan. 6, 2005, in Second Annual Holiday Tournament at Redlands. This game after the Bulldogs won their opener 160-104 over Robert Morris College a night earlier.

Against La Sierra, Redlands finished 63-for-129 from the field, including that NCAA record 106 attempted 3-pointers. The Bulldogs made 35 of them, two off another mark they held, and scored 93 points in the first half. Read that again. That's 93 points IN THE FIRST FREAKIN' HALF!

Given the parameters of The System, 14 players got at least 10 minutes of run, and no one got more than 15. Carson Sofro scored 34 points and made 10 3s, all in 13 minutes of playing time.

I asked Coach Smith if La Sierra, or any opponent for that matter, ever resented getting blown out in this fashion.

Coach Smith: "That game was in a tournament and the night before La Sierra had
beaten North Park (a team from the real strong Illinois conference) so
they were no slouch.

"The LaSierra coach and team seemed to have no problem with the score - they just 'went with us' and we did play everyone lots of minutes. Cal Tech in our conference was a challenge in that regard and we'd play our top 10 guys 12 to 15 minutes only and did back off the full court press to half court at some time in the last 10or so minutes.

"No coaches ever complained about running up the score,
fans did on occasion and because that was often right after a game I avoided a confrontation as much as possible - did not want to get into a long explanation that might incite even more passion."

Thanks to Coach Smith for his time, as always, and I hope you (and he) enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as me. I hate he is retired and only working now as a consultant on The System; I would love to see what kind of numbers his team would put up today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where have you gone, Keith Parsons?

A lonely nation ... yada, yada, yada. I believe I've actually used that before, so my bad.

Not much to go with, so I haven't blogged lately. Is that even the correct term? "Blogged?" Should it be "posted," or something else? Either way, I haven't updated this little creation in a while, but with college hoops season just around the corner, I figured it was a great time to start with the 4-1-1 on a couple of college teams running The System.

Surely you remember what that is, the most entertaining, creative, exciting way to play basketball? OK, good, I was worried.

So, anyway, back during the summer, I contacted a couple of coaches: Doug Porter, the women's coach at NAIA Olivet Nazarene University, a full-blown System team who plays in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference; and Ron Rohn, who formerly ran The System at NCAA Division III Muhlenberg College before scaling back to a more traditional, yet still fast-paced, style of play.

Here is what Coach Porter left me with back in July. I know, I suck for not getting this out there sooner. I was hoping to combine it with other information, never really sought it, then never really could find what I thought was the perfect time to drop this on you. Totally my fault, and I appreciate Coach Porter giving me the time. Here is what he said about his offseason, and remember, this is from July. He and the Tigers already have begun practicing for the upcoming season:

Doug Porter: "We are at the mid-point of our summer conditioning program, and I'm occasionally asked about how we get kids in shape. Partly it depends on your situation. Here at Olivet, we don't keep our players on campus during the summer, so we give them a written program that they can do anywhere, with minimal equipment. We do expect them to find a weight room from July 5 onward, but early season work is almost exclusively body-weight work. We do no long-distance running, because the experts I've talked to say it doesn't have much carryover to our style of basketball. So, almost all our running is 200 meters or less, working towards shorter 'back and forth' court conditioning drills as we near the beginning of practices in November.

"But if I was coaching in a high school setting, I doubt that we'd require any summer running. You have enough time in the fall to get players in shape to play system ball, just using a combination of preseason pickup games (requiring them to really push it, of course), and any variations of the short, back and forth running like suicides, sidelines, etc. The thing that makes the system work is intensity, and you can't run at the intensity level we expect if you are running long distances.

"As a gauge of our conditioning, we like to use a test we developed that we call the '300 Shuttle.' Simply run sideline to sideline and back for a total of 9 round trips. Since all regulation basketball courts are 50 feet wide, this distance totals 18 x 50' = 900' = 300 yards, with lots of accelerations, stops and turns ... a great tool for assessing system-specific conditioning levels. For college women, we expect 70 seconds or less as a target time, but our quicker players are often able to finish in the 65-66 second range. For boys, I imagine 60 seconds would be a realistic goal, but can't be certain."

Great stuff, right? Most everyone to whom I talk about The System always mentions conditioning and now much running these teams do. I figured you would love an update there.

Now on to Coach Rohn, who took his team to Italy for eight days in August, just after he e-mailed me his update. He had been talking about possibly returning to The System this season, given his depth and talent level, but it appears that he's holding off going full bore for now. Here is what he wrote to me before venturing across the pond:

Ron Rohn: "Just got off the recruiting trail for the month of July. So two weeks to call and write high school kids, and then my team heads to Italy for 8 days - not a job if you can get it!!

"I've been tinkering with ideas all summer as to what will be best for this year's team. It might be our most talented team ever, and definitely has more offensive firepower than any of our past teams, better depth at each position, and better size. I think we are three deep at several spots, and my freshman class is 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, and 6-1 to go along with a decent point guard from Philly. All the big kids are pretty athletic, not the usual D3 projects you get at that size. Really Ivy League type D-1 kids. We had only two true posts last year, so it was a need for us against other nationally ranked teams.

"We will be VERY uptempo this year to take advantage of that depth and talent, I just have to figure out how crazy we want to get on defense. I have one of the best point guards in D-3 as a senior (and good back ups but still a drop off after her) and maybe the best 3-point shooter at the 2. While I have really good players behind them, I'd still like to maximize their minutes, so a pure Grinnell type shifts mentality is unlikely unless I see that they can be double shifted so I can get them 24-26 minutes vs. top opponents. I think it is more likely to be like the old LMU days where Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers and Jeff Fryer got that many minutes. But we'll see -

"I do know this, if this team ran the pure Grinnell type mentality like we did in 2004 and averaged 90+ per game, they'd have a chance to be close to 100+. That idea really intrigues me, but I'm not sure if that style would fit best come the postseason, and this team really wants the Sweet 16 and beyond. So I'm going to have to figure out some kind of hybrid to try and do it all. It will be worth following us - that's for sure."

Good luck to both of these coaches. As we get closer to the season, I'll hopefully hear from more coaches and give you a peek into their seasons. Until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.