Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The System goes to Long Island!

OK, so it's the second year that girls' coach Keith Freund at North Shore HS in Glen Head, N.Y., has run this exciting style, but I just loved that headline.

On Saturday, he and his team held their first scrimmage and had some early success. They played six, 10-minute quarters with a running clock and reset the score after each period. The Vikings won each mini-game, including an 18-point margin in the final one, and totaled about 50 points more than the opponent. Pretty sweet.

Now, not sure what the competition was like, and Coach Freund was quick to point out that a pressing defense early in the season (or especially before the season even begins) often has the advantage. Still, he saw plenty he liked, and when North Shore played this team in the regular season a year ago, it came up on the short end by four points.

Another neat thing was that prior to the final period, he asked the opposing coach if he would like the Vikings to play more conventionally. You know, perhaps a little 2-3 zone so the other coach could actually work on some offense. When Coach Freund's players heard this, about nine of them asked to sit out if they were going to have to play slow! Amazing.

Coach Freund was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions, which likely will seem a bit familiar to my blog-ites out there (I think I just made up a word). Still, I'm always interested to see how a coach came to this style of play and what he or she thinks of it. Also, it's interesting to hear how much many of these newcomers rely on the Godfather of The System, Grinnell coach David Arseneault, or Olivet Nazarene women's coach Doug Porter, or even others.

Here we go. This was just an amazing interview, and I hope all of you enjoy it as much as I did:

(What was the genesis to your conversion to The System?)

Coach Freund: "Two years ago we had a 6'1" post-up player who averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds a game. After she graduated, I knew that we were going to have to change our style. We played uptempo with her, but if we did not get a quick layup, we pulled it out and got the ball into the post and she would either score or draw a double team.

"We were very successful that year, we were 15-4 and Conference Champions, but I knew that the next year, no one on our team would be able to draw a double team in the post or score with their back to the basket. In addition, we were returning 12 players (almost all of whom were around 5'7") and of those 12, 8 could be considered very athletic, but not great 'basketball' players.

"Therefore, I was on Championship Productions and I was buying videos and books on fast break basketball and I found Coach A's original book in the clearance section. I bought it just on the title alone - 'The Running Game: A Formula for Success.' I didn't know about The System (it does not get much press on the east coast) and so when it came in the mail, it was probably the third book that I read. When I read it, I had to read again to understand what I was reading. As I was reading, it seemed to be serendipity. I knew that this style was perfectly suited for our team and I emailed Coach A and he responded back in about 10 minutes and he hooked me up with the Run-N-Gun yahoo group and the website and once I started reading the posts, I knew that this was for us."

(What other type of research did you do before switching?)

Coach Freund: "Once I read the book and emailed Coach A and joined the yahoo site, I bought Coach Porter's 4 DVD's and emailed him several times. I then bought the Run-N-Gun clinic videos and with the two of those, I put together a 200+ page binder of System stuff. I then read the old posts to try and answer questions that I had without having to ask the same questions that I was sure had been discussed several times in the past.

"I then met with the AD and showed him the YouTube clip of Grinnell playing (84 points in the first half). He loved it and told me that I was crazy if i DIDN'T do this. He knew my girls and he knew they could do this. I then met with the coaching staff and gave them a copy of the binder and we discussed its pros and cons. They were all for it and also agreed that it was the only way for us to play. Having support and agreement from the AD and the entire coaching staff made the decision much easier (even though I probably would have done it even if they did not agree).

"After that, I bought the Grinnell game DVD's and after watching them, I made a highlight video that I put to music. I showed it the team in June and starting selling it to them six months before the season began."

(Looking back, do you wish you had come to this sooner, or was the timing perfect?)

Coach Freund: "I admit that I am not the typical System coach. While I do really love the outcomes of The System, I would not run this style unless it was the best choice for my team. If my team could not press effectively, then I wouldn't press. This style is the best style for our team right now. It was the best style last year, this year and next year. I am not sure in two years, if it will still be the best for us.

"I will never, however, be able to play walk the ball up the court offense. I know for the rest of my career we will run on offense, I cannot promise that we will always press and trap the entire game. I guess what I am trying to say is, last year was the absolute best time for us and I wouldn't change that."

(What is your favorite thing about The System?)

Coach Freund: "IT IS FUN! My goodness, this is how basketball should look. Get up and down the court and have the fans cheering and the bench is excited. Last year, we played 17 girls in a playoff game. 17 PLAYERS TOOK PART IN A PLAYOFF GAME! What is better than that? Every kid had an effect on every single game. When we met the next day to discuss the game, I was speaking to every kid. Not just eight, but every kid.

"The fun factor and the participation are my favorite things. In addition, they are also the girls favorite things. I can't speak for boys, but I can say that girls are very happy that all their friends are playing. They love the fact that they don't have to feel like they are apologizing to their friends who sat the whole game.

"On a side note, my wife's favorite part was watching the bench cheer the whole game and not feeling uncomfortable in the stands as some parents were talking about me and their daughter sitting."

(What are the biggest drawbacks, if any, with The System?)

Coach Freund: "The biggest drawback is blowouts. Both against you and when you are blowing teams out. When you're getting blown out, there is no major adjustment to make. The only way to get back in the game is to press and shoot and that got you down to begin with.

"We lost a game last year 76-35 and it was team that was even with us talent-wise, but not that night. With any style of play that night they would have beaten us by 20, but a 20 point loss looks a lot better than a 41-point loss when you are still pressing in the 4th quarter. (BTW-we played them again 2 weeks later and beat them 68-45 - the girls last year were so resilient and I think was partly because they played from behind so much early in the game and were used to coming back in the second half).

"In addiion, when we blow a team out it is a tough balancing act. When your kids are already sitting half the game anyway and everyone is playing, how do you handle it? Do you keep pressing and shooting or do you walk the ball up the court and pack in your defense? Never mind the fact that once your kids enjoy playing this way, they never want to do anything else and everyone volunteers to sit out when have to walk the ball up the court."

(You had a great post on the message board last year after your loss in the playoffs, about how much fun your team had all season and how no one wanted it to end. Is it impossible to create that kind of chemistry again? Is it something you can create?)

Coach Freund: "Team bonding is something that we always do, but The System definitely made us closer. We always do fun things as a team, as I believe that every team should do, but every girls team MUST DO. This is the stuff they love. Girls love the feeling of a team. They love the relationships and the sense of community. So we skip practice some days and go to an indoor air castle place or an arcade. We go bowling and then to Friendly's.

"In addition, my family hosts a holiday dinner for the entire team and their families every year. The girls do a secret santa and they play with my kids and I get to talk to the parents. I try to avoid basketball talk (but it always comes up) and we talk about their families and such and their daughters that I coached in the past and how they're doing in college. I also always have little sisters of the girls on my team keep stats for us. We really try to stress family with the girls and make basketball an enjoyable experience for every kid on the team.

"That being said, however, The System makes it so much easier. The kids LOVE the fact that everyone plays.The kids LOVE the fact that this is so much fun. They LOVE when their teammates do well in this style and that is certainly not always the case. There is so much less jealously and much more of a sense of a team. No one feels like if one player is taken off the team the whole team would go down the drain. It is a real team in the highest sense of the word and even I feel like I am part of a team and not a coach on a team.

"So when we lost last year and we had one last bus ride together, I didn't want to spend it crying and being sad, even though we were. I wanted them to have one last opportunity together to think about the season and how much fun it was. I told them that this was my favorite season ever and I thanked them for being the wonderful human beings that are and told them to never change and I hoped they enjoyed this season half as much as I did. I finished by saying that I was watching a documentary on the 'Miracle on Ice' team and after they won everything and met the president and were on the plane heading home, one of them started crying and when his teammate asked why, he said, 'Because it's over.' Even if we have been heading home on bus after winning a state title, I would be crying. I wasn't crying because we lost, but because it was over. Sorry so long, but yes we do things to encourage team unity, but it is definitely also an outgrowth of The System."

No problem there, Coach Freund. Simply wonderful stuff. I have the feeling your teams would play for each other and have the the type of chemistry you describe playing any style. We're just lucky you're running The System. Good luck this season.

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