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.