Sunday, August 21, 2011

A rarity: Two System teams play each other at Villanova University camp

OK, for those of you keeping score, you remember how often I have discussed the uniqueness of The System, right? How disappointing it is that more teams don't use it? Right? Remember?

Well, Scott Horton thought the same thing when he decided it was time for his girls' team at Manalapan HS in Englishtown, N.J., to take the plunge with this incredible, exhilarating style of basketball. He prepared his team for camp at Villanova University, where it would debut with The System and almost assuredly be the only team there running it.

Amazingly enough, it didn't work out that way, and Coach Horton needed only the opening game to realize it.

Longtime blog subject coach Keith Freund had his team from North Shore HS, in Glen Head, N.Y., at the camp, too, and as fate would have it, Manalapan was matched up with North Shore in that first game. Coach Freund hadn't experienced going against The System, either, so both coaches got a look at it from the other side of the court, so to speak.

North Shore ended up winning 36-34 (summer games are shortened somewhat with a running clock), and both coaches came away with a new appreciation with The System. They spent some time together discussing it over the remainder of the weekend, and Coach Horton found his way to the Yahoo! message board that serves as a wonderful support group for all coaches (and wannabe coaches who have a blog devoted to The System).

I tracked down Coach Horton through the board, and he graciously agreed to an interview. Hopefully you will enjoy his thoughts as much as I did.

(First of all, what was it like playing against The System in your very first game?)

Coach Horton: "To me, it was just one more sign that we have to run The System. I had told the players how no one plays this way, and the first time we do it, we are playing another System team. Unbelievable.

"The game is about to start, and Keith (the North Shore coach) says to me, 'We press the whole time, and I sub a lot.' I say, 'OK.' Then the game starts, and about 50 seconds in I say 'SUB!' and so does Keith. A minute later the same thing happens. We are standing right next to each other at mid-court. After the second line shift, Keith looks at me and says, 'Grinnell, or ONU?' I say, 'I'm not sure, this is our first time running it, but we are trying to be more like ONU.' I said, 'You?' Keith said, I'm an ONU guy.'

"Suddenly, I felt like this great way to play ball was out there, and I was late to the party. Anyway, the game was amazing. It was complete chaos. And the interesting thing to me is this: For both North Shore and Manalapan, it was the lowest scoring game each of us played the whole weekend. ... There were players all over the floor at anytime, and the ball was just flying up and down. I felt a little bad for the officials. They had no idea what they were in for.

"So after the game, Keith and I spoke, and then I spent a lot of time that weekend listening to Keith and asking him questions. He was great."

(Why'd you decide to make the switch to The System?)

Coach Horton: "I've been coaching since 1994. I regularly attend clinics, go to local college practices, AAU practices, and some boys H.S. practices. Once I heard Coach Arsenault speak about The System, I could not get it out of my head. Whenever I examined something new, I always came back to 'The System.'

"Then, last spring I attended a clinic in Syracuse, N.Y. While there, I purchased 'The Century Scoring System' by Doug Porter. I get home from three days of basketball coaching lectures and I watch Porter's DVD. He starts by referencing Coach Arsenault and Coach (Paul) Westhead, and I watch the whole DVD and realize that I can't get away from this.

"However, I had a brand new team. I graduated six seniors 2009-2010. For the 2010-2011 season, I had two transfer students and a whole new freshmen class coming in. I had only one returning player. Because I did not know the players, and quite honestly, I did not feel prepared, I was not ready.

"As we played last season I quickly saw that we had talent and depth. At one point we were 10-3. I was miserable. We were winning, but it was not fun. I did not enjoy watching the team play. There were the typical inner struggles with playing time, shot distribution, and overall boredom with 'running plays' and defensive drill work. It was at that point that I told the assistants that 2011-2012 would be different. We were moving to The System.

"I have an athletic team. I have some depth. And I have been coaching girls basketball for 17 years, and I can't coach quarter-court basketball anymore. It simply is not rewarding for the players or myself. So we started before the season ended by playing much faster. Then after the season, we had a meeting where we ate pizza and I explained the system and why we were doing it. I showed some video and answered questions. We did the same thing in June right before the summer. Then we went to Villanova team camp and ran the system, and it was amazing. The kids love it, and so do I.

(Any other thoughts on the camp at Villanova?)

Coach Horton: "This may sound strange, but I have to say that the Villanova team camp was the highlight of my 17 year coaching career. And I mean that. I'll start specifically, and then talk in broader terms.

"On Sunday morning we beat Gloucester Catholic by 14 points. In 2010-2011 Gloucester Catholic won the South Jersey Parochial State Championship. They did graduate really good players, but they are great program, and incredibly well coached. If we played traditional basketball, their top 5-7 players are better than ours, and she is a better coach than me. But with the system, our depth becomes better than their talent. In addition, her coaching is minimized because we are not playing that style.

"Also, we had a couple of those 8-0 and 9-0 runs that are just killer to the opponent. Against Gloucester, there was one stretch where we made a 3, then we made a steal in the press, and my guard dribbled backward to the three point line and banked in a three, and that just took the wind right out of our opponent. It was a backbreaker.

"Another highlight was watching one of my guards who on her own, developed a step back 3-point shot move. She is a good athlete, but it is something she kind of fell into by playing this way, and by Sunday, it was a pretty good move.

"Now bigger picture are a couple of important points. We lost Friday night. On Saturday we won one game and lost two. So at that point, we were 1-3. Amazingly, we were 1-3, and my team loved what we were doing. Then on Sunday, we won all three games. To me, based on what I've read, it was almost like a season. Every other team at camp deteriorated as the weekend progressed. We got better with every game and every (very light) practice. We beat Gloucester on Sunday. I don't think we would have beaten them on Friday or Saturday. They were fresher and sharper then. Also, our players were absolutely better on Sunday then they were Friday.

"Another very important point. My players were all saying the right things. They said things like, 'I can't wait for November.' 'Coach, why didn't we do this before now?' 'Coach, I tried to watch two other teams play, but I can't. It's too boring.' 'Coach, please don't ever let us play how we used to.' 'I was watching another team set up their offense and run to set a screen, and pass the ball, and jog back, and I wanted to say to them there's a better way to play.

"My point is that these players love basketball now. And setting them free and watching them play without fear is a thing of beauty. There are so many players making plays they never would have in traditional basketball. I now feel like conventional basketball is like shackles on a player's talent. It sets a ceiling for how good they can be. With The System, I have no idea how great these athletes might be."

(What are some of the best things about The System?)

Coach Horton: "I don't know where to begin with this one.
- Players love basketball
- Players get better every day
- Players have fun
- Players are truly part of the team
- Players do things you never thought were possible
- Players smile
- It is fun to watch
- No one can deny the educational value of maximized participation
- Basketball is supposed to be fun
- The score is irrelevant, yet it still helps you win
- Happy coach equals good coach"

(What do you hope to achieve from going to The System?)

Coach Horton: "I want my players to improve and love basketball. I want them to learn that aggression is a good thing. I want them to learn to trust their ability and talent and attack at all times. And if you fail, fail going forward 100 miles an hour. No one can ever regret that type of mentality."

Simply incredible reaction there from Coach Horton. I can't wait to see how his team competes when the season begins. As one of his players told him, I can't wait for November. The best of luck to him and the Braves.

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