OK, OK, that was a bit of hyperbole. This simply is another in a long line of wonderful interviews I've been fortunate enough to publish regarding The System and its impact on the game, players' lives and fan enjoyment.
As you've seen, if you ever read this stuff, I have a bit of an obsession with this style of play. Yet I really hesitate to use that word, "obsession," because by definition it implies something impure, or negative, or certainly out of the norm. What I really enjoy about following the message board, and tracking teams all over the country (now world, see: Rainer Wolfschmitt in Germany), and spending time scouring the Internet for footage of old games, and driving to Iowa to watch Grinnell play in person, and ... wait, perhaps it is an obsession!
But I digress ...
What is so neat about all that stuff is corresponding with others who feel similarly about The System. As I have discovered recently, there is another person to put in this group: John Grotberg.
Any avid or even semi-avid reader of this blog likely will know that name. He played at Grinnell during some of coach David Arseneault's best seasons and became the J.J. Redick of NCAA Division III (I hope John appreciates that comparison, I thought it was the best way to put his career in perspective for those who might not know him). As a freshman, John averaged 31.4 points and made a total of 120 3-pointers for the Pioneers, and essentially duplicated that effort over his final three seasons.
The end result was 526 career 3s, tops in all divisions of the NCAA (the aforementioned Redick is the D-I leader with 457), and scored nearly 30 points each time he laced them up, 96 games in all. John never missed a game at Grinnell, and what is interesting about his career, he started less than half of them. Chalk it up to The System, right?
Even as a senior, when he again reached 31 points per game and led the nation with 3.32 steals in each one, he came off the bench for six of the 25 games. And before any naysayers criticize him for putting up these numbers to the detriment of the team, the Pioneers were 65-31 during his career, a .678 winning percentage. Pretty darn spiffy, right?
So I figured it would stand to reason that he, of all people, appreciates The System and what it can do for teams and individuals. He, perhaps better than most, can understand its affect. I wasn't disappointed.
Through some innocent Facebook "stalking" (basically, a friend of his is a fan of my blog on Facebook), I tracked down John for this interview. It might run a bit longer than most of my postings here, and rightfully so. As John wrote in his e-mail, "it's hard not to blather on about the system when you are so passionate about it!" Yes, John, I can understand that.
Without further adieu, I give you John Grotberg. Enjoy.
(What are you up to these days?)
John Grotberg: "I am still currently playing basketball professionally in Europe. I began my career here last season in Germany with Bayer Giants Leverkusen. After a brief stint in Germany I had another brief stint with a team in London that ran into financial difficulties, and finally landed a gig with BBC Red Miners Kayl in Luxembourg. I have now returned to Luxembourg for another season with the Red Miners."
(Having played four years at Grinnell, what are you thoughts on The System?)
John Grotberg: "After having played for 4 years under Coach Arseneault, I have many thoughts and feelings about 'the system' when I reflect on my years at Grinnell. Personally, I feel a strong sense of gratitude toward Coach Arseneault and my former teammates. Coach Arseneault and 'the system' provided me with the opportunity to accomplish what I did statistically throughout my collegiate career. He was not only a genius with the 'system X’s and O’s' but also at creating a team psychology that incorporated maximum participation. I had teammates that would work relentlessly to offensive rebound and set screens to get me second and even third looks within the same possession. If I made one, every player on the floor had the feeling that that 3 point shot was as much theirs as it was mine, and rightfully so. Because we normally played 17 players in a game, every player had the feeling that they could change the outcome of the game in a positive way. I think that concept speaks volumes to both the unselfishness of the team, and the specific atmosphere that Coach Arseneault created, which can often be difficult to find in conventional basketball."
(What about some of the criticism of The System, how do you feel about that?)
John Grotberg: "When I think back to some of the negativity that has surrounded 'the system' over the years, i.e. the ones who say it’s not 'real basketball,' the only response I can think of is that despite its innovativeness and uniqueness, it’s no different than any other system that gives its players the best chance to win. In my 4 years, we never had the personnel to grind it out defensively and pound the ball inside in half-court sets, but we certainly had the personnel to run and shoot 3’s, and that’s what we did. Coach Arseneault ingeniously discovered a way to maximize the team’s potential given what we lacked conventionally, which allowed us to achieve greater success collectively."
(When did you first hear about The System and Grinnell?)
John Grotberg: "The first time I ever heard about 'the system' was over the phone from Coach Arseneault himself. I had been looking at good academic schools in the Midwest, and Grinnell came up, so I sent Coach Arseneault an e-mail along with some of my high school game film, as I was also interested in continuing my basketball career. When I spoke with him over the phone and he started explaining 'the system,' my initial reaction, truthfully, was that it was impossible. But that feeling quickly turned to the feeling of too good to be true. Being a point guard more prone to looking for his own shot, it was both vexing and refreshing to hear that there was a system out there where I would be expected to look to create a shot for myself within the first 5 or 6 seconds of the shot clock. Needless to say, I was sold."
(You accomplished so much in your time at Grinnell. Does one game or one moment stand out?)
John Grotberg: "I think the game that stands out in my mind is an overtime win against conference rival Lawrence University my sophomore year. At the end of practice the day before the game, really for no reason at all, Coach Arseneault decided to put in a sideline out-of-bounds play in case we needed a last second shot. It was essentially a wheel play just above the top of the key. One of my teammates then said he knew a good play to get the ball across half court quickly to call a time out, in case we needed to go the full length of the floor. Of course, the following day, we found ourselves down by 3 with a little over 3 seconds to go and we had to go the full length of the floor. We called a time out and set up the play to get the ball across half court. It worked perfectly and we were able to call another time out with just over 2 seconds to go. We ran the wheel play and I knocked in a 3 point shot at the buzzer to send it to overtime. We ended up pulling out the victory in overtime, but I think that game sticks out for me with the simple irony from the events in practice the day before. I don’t know if Coach Arseneault had a feeling about the next day’s game, but it definitely gave us the win."
(Are you surprised The System isn't more widespread?)
John Grotberg: "I am not surprised that 'the system' isn’t more widespread. For one, to productively run it, you really need at least 15 players, and most of them must be able to knock down an open 3 point shot. Also, I think it can be nerve-wracking for most coaches. Apart from creating the rotations and making minor changes during the game, throughout the game the coach does not have as much control of what goes on, which I think for most basketball coaches is not a pleasant thought! 'The system' entrusts a lot of its success to the work ethic and creativity of the players on the floor."
(One of my favorites: would this work at a major NCAA Division I level?)
John Grotberg: "I am also convinced it could work at the Division I level. I think it would essentially mimic what goes on at the Division III level, only at a much higher level of athleticism and with bigger players on the floor. As it does in Division III, I think it would neutralize teams with big posts who have trouble running the floor, and with weaker bench units that can be exploited when players inevitably get tired or into foul trouble. With the amount of space that most Division I basketball players can cover in a short amount of time, I definitely think this could work, so long as the team had the requisite amount of players."
(OK, so you're in the record books, and you're essentially part of an Internet sensation. How does that feel?)
John Grotberg: "It certainly is an amazing feeling to be a part of the NCAA record books. To even have my name in the same book as some of the greatest players in history is definitely an honor. As I said in my earlier response, I have Coach Arseneault and my teammates to thank for giving me the opportunity to have that honor. In my 4 years I cannot count the times I received a great screen, was the recipient of a kick out from an offensive rebound, a teammate made an extra pass, or even the number of times (point guard) Dave (Areseneault) Jr. passed up a wide open layup to get me a look from the corner, knowing that even if I missed it he would do the same thing the very next possession. I definitely don’t feel as though I am some sort of ‘sensation,’ but when talking about Grinnell basketball, I do occasionally get the, 'Oh yeah, you’re that guy,' comment, which is always a nice feeling."
A huge thanks to John for his time, and I wish him luck during his season in Europe (I assume that's where Luxembourg is, I never took World Geography). I hope everyone got as much out of this interview as I did.