Meet Mike Curta from Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Ill., about 20 miles south of Chicago (also about 40 miles north of Bourbonnais, Ill., home of the Olivet Nazarene women's team coached by Doug Porter). This is Coach Curta's fourth different school in a career lasting about 20 years, and this will be his third year with his current staff at Eisenhower.
When he was only 23 years old, he coached a team that featured future NBA All-Star Antoine Walker and current NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb. Pretty good athletes there, right? His first memories of The System (or at least a form of it) date to our shared experiences with the Loyola Marymount teams coached by Paul Westhead. At the time, Coach Curta was a student manager with the basketball program at DePaul, and he got to witness the excitement of a breakneck-paced game from the bench when the Blue Demons played LMU.
"It was unbelievable to see it live and I can tell you that the players at DePaul were excited when that game finally came up on the schedule," he wrote me in an e-mail this week. "Being a manager gave me a great opportunity to listen to the coaches game plan for the game and be a part of the practice preparation."
Now he is prepared to with The System all-out in 2010-11. He gave me a list of his System goals, so of course, I'll share them here:
- Attempt 80 shots
- Attempt 32 3-pointers
- Rebounds 35 percent of the misses on the offensive end
- Force 26 turnovers
- Attempt 24 more shots than the opponent
Now, for the rest of his answers to my probing questions. I think you will enjoy them:
(How would you define your style of play in the past?)
Coach Curta: "We have always said that we were going to be a pressure and running team, but we really fell into the trap that Coach Westhead has spoken of on numerous occassions ....We start the season with that aggressive attitude and we really didn't sell the kids completely on the system. Then when things didn't go well, we fell back into the habit of dictating the pace and action from the bench. We would give them sets to run on the offensive end and played it safe in the half-court with both man and zone defense. We thought we were aggressive and playing hard, but when compared to what we have started doing this year, we were sorely mistaken."
(What kinds of things did you do to learn about The System?)
Coach Curta: "I tried to do as much research as possible. I watched videos, searched YouTube for anything that I could find, and spoke to coaches familiar with the system. We have a school in our area that went with the system for a part of last season and I am getting some good information from one of their former assistant coaches. Because we are in the Chicago area we plan on taking our team to watch Coach Porter's squad in December when they come back home."
(What was the reaction from your staff and administration to the decision to go with The System?)
Coach Curta: "The staff was behind the switch, but it does take a radical change in thought from everything that we have been taught and the way that we have always coached. We catch ourselves at times saying some things from 'the old way' and our kids are quick to point that out! My athletic director is the best. I explained the system, the reasoning behind the change in philosophy for us and he simply replied, 'You are my coach and I am behind you 100%.' I think that he likes the idea of recognizing that it is time to think outside the box at our school to try and generate some excitement with the program and the students. The fact that we will be playing everyone in every game also should cut down those phone calls from disgruntled parents that he gets. I also explained that those phone calls might be replaced by parents complaining about the style of play and he has no problem with that."
(How about the reaction of your players?)
Coach Curta: "Our players were excited but I don't think that they believed that I would be willing to change and give them that much freedom. We worked on the system in the summer and were able to experiment with some things that gave us some success. They have bought into playing in shifts right now, but I will be interested to see if anything changes when the season gets underway. I am optimistic that they understand what we are doing and will continue to buy-in."
(How deep will your bench go? Some high school teams have a difficult time filling out all the shifts.)
Coach Curta: "We have 15 boys on the team and all will play. We have been going with two groups of 7-8 and rotating that way. We are really young with four sophomores, six juniors, and five seniors. The key for us is that our best player is our senior point guard and he has been really good about the very different way that we will substitute from what he is used to doing. I think that he realizes that his production will actually increase while playing in these short shifts."
(What do you want to get out of The System, and have you seen positive results already?)
Coach Curta: "We are already getting some great things out of the system during our preseason. The kids attitudes are great, especially those kids who might not have gotten on the floor playing the conventional way. We are hoping to energize not only our basketball program, but our entire school. We have been on the bottom of our conference in terms of all sports records and we feel that this can be a way of uniting the school and getting some positive feelings in our community. I am smart enough to realize that this will be a process and we are going to experience some growing pains."
A huge thanks to Coach Curta for taking the time to correspond with us. His season starts a week from today, so you can be sure I will follow his progress this season. Good luck to him and his team.