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.

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