Coach Arnold has taken his System knowledge to another Michigan high school, this time traveling to Manchester, Mich., to coach the boys' team at the local high school. This is particularly important to me, not just because I'm such a big fan of his, but I'm a big fan of Manchester, too. Well, not really the high school, although I am sure it is a fine place to educate the minds of the teenagers in that part of southern Michigan.
No, I love the town itself, a quaint village (seriously, it's called the Village of Manchester) of about 2,000 people located on the River Raisin, with a simply beautiful downtown area. There is an old-school Dairy Queen located on Main Street, near a bridge over the river. Wurster Park features a gazebo that is home to a weekly concert series in the summer.
I'm sure you are thinking at this point, "How do you know so much about Manchester?" And if you're not thinking that, hmm, have you been paying attention to the stunning detail of an area about 700 miles from my home? Well, I used to travel through Manchester on several occasions, a couple of weeks a year, taking one of my grandfather's famous shortcuts (man, I miss HP) to what is now called Michigan Speedway. On the way back to his house from the track, we always stopped at DQ for a quick dose of ice cream, and I marveled at what a wonderful town Manchester was.
Who knew that all these years later, I would have another brush with that fair village?
OK, enough about me and my childhood memories of that area. This update is to let everyone know that Coach Arnold is ready to take The System to Manchester this season, and few have done it as well as he has in the past. I mentioned the record he posted a couple of seasons ago at Whitmore Lake. In case you've forgotten, and I can't imagine why you have, here are some other eye-popping numbers the Trojans accumulated in his final year:
- Set a school record with 356 3-pointers in 1,225 attempts
- Scored 88.9 points per game
- During a 10-game winning streak, averaged nearly 95 points and 20 3s
- Set the Michigan record with 29 3s on Jan. 21, 2010, in a 117-80 victory over Morenci
This is what the good people of Manchester have to look forward to this season. Coach Arnold, as always, was gracious enough to respond to my email for details on the new job and what he plans to do with The System. You won't be disappointed.
(First of all, you will run The System, right?)
Dave Arnold: "Absolutely! Two schools in the conference have dominated basketball over the last 15-20 years. Even Manchester’s best teams, which were very good teams, have only managed third-place finishes. Therefore, I think it’s vital for us to attack them with something different, see if we can get them on their heels and force them to adjust us rather than the other way around."
(Whew, OK, good. What drew you to the job there?)
Dave Arnold: "Manchester has a strong athletic tradition, especially in football. My thinking is if you have enough athletes with the character to build and sustain a quality football program, you should be able to build a successful basketball program with those same kids."
(What has been the reaction so far from your team?)
Dave Arnold: "We didn’t have much time during the summer to introduce the basic concepts before we started playing. In our area, there are two basic options for summer leagues and shootouts: 1) You go to the small colleges in the area that host events. Every school you play is your size or smaller, and in our case, virtually every team in the league plays in these events. 2) Head into Detroit and play bigger schools and better programs.
"I don’t care so much about winning during the summer; I like to play big, quality teams. We usually take a few beatings, but you never see athletes or teams like that in our league, so there’s a huge upside for us that’s not always readily apparent. By our last season at Whitmore Lake, we were able to compete with and beat these teams. This summer, I chose to go big.
"Truthfully, the schedule was tougher than I even would have liked. We were able to hang around with some quality teams from schools five and six times our size because of the offensive concepts. However, I was also trying to introduce the defense, which just turned into a layup drill against these teams because of the quality of the guard play, team ballhandling and coaching we were competing against.
"That was a bit of a negative, but the overall reaction has been fairly positive."
(Last season at Monroe didn't work out as you had planned. Did that change your view of The System?)
Dave Arnold: "I don’t think it changed my view of The System, but it did open my eyes to adjustments that need to be made at times. At Whitmore Lake, we were just as athletic as the teams we played against, so we took a very straightforward approach – this is what we do, and we don’t change for anyone. We were able to get away with that approach because of the relative similarities in terms of athleticism and talent.
"At Monroe, we played three games against teams that were in the Michigan and Ohio 'Final Four' in big classes the past two seasons. Needless to say, there was some exceptional talent on those teams, including two or three mid-major DI guards. I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that attacking those guards defensively wasn’t the best idea, but you’re torn between establishing a philosophy that says we do what we do, period, and making necessary adjustments, which can also be misunderstood by kids early in the process.
"If we had played either of these teams at Whitmore Lake, I may very well have held the ball. But because our kids knew me and understood the system, they would know this was a one-time change of pace to give us the best chance to win. With a new group, you constantly sell this run, shoot, trap, repeat philosophy, but the first time you play a good team you put on the brakes. There’s a big difference in how that is perceived.
"However, in looking back not only to last year, but this summer as well, I see ways and opportunities for us to incorporate adjustments that would allow us to compete against superior quickness without selling out our core principles.
"You still haven’t seen anyone at the college level in a BCS conference run the system, and this is why. The skill and athleticism is too good – teams finish way too much against the press and you just can’t be effective always taking the ball out of the net.
"That’s what happened to (Paul) Westhead with the (Denver) Nuggets. Kids in our league miss layups because of fatigue or lack of skill. High-level college players and pros don’t miss dunks. Yet protecting against those situations goes against the core values of The System, so there’s a struggle to find some balance."
(What is the biggest challenge in introducing The System to a new team?)
Dave Arnold: "The biggest challenge is getting the kids to understand what playing hard REALLY means. They typically have little or no idea in a conventional system, so to add the level of effort and intensity required of our system on top of that change can be a bit overwhelming.
"The schemes aren’t difficult; I could send the opposing coach a cocktail napkin before the game with our offensive and defensive sets. Getting kids to break habits related to 'normal' basketball can be a challenge at times – getting them to think shoot before pass, getting them to understand that a bad 3 is still better than a forced pass to a cutter that leads to a turnover, etc. It’s tough at times to get them to understand that less is really more with the system.
"We don’t do much at either end schematically, but we do what we do so with such intensity that it is still effective. There will also be plenty of questions early on, especially from the parents, because what we do is so different. Everyone gets caught up in the mass substitutions, 3-point shooting and quick-shot approach. However, just like conventional basketball, The System really works only when you defend in terms of forcing turnovers and rebound at both ends (especially offensively).
"This is the same formula you see winning at every level, but it’s not nearly as obvious with us because of the pace of play. Once everyone understands the 'method to the madness' and we have some success, the questions go away, although there will always be a few dissenters."
(Finally, what advice would you give some of The System newbies out there?)
Dave Arnold: "Keep it simple! One of the coaches described The System as, 'Run, shoot, rebound, press, repeat.' Sounds about right to me! The more you coach, the less System-oriented you become, quickly. Get them running, get them shooting, get them to attack the glass, get them to press hard (start with one scheme and stay there), get them to understand how to do it for 32 minutes and you should be fine!
"Truthfully, I agree with a fellow System coach who would really prefer to not see others running it. I know this comes across as selfish, but for me, it’s all about competitive advantage.
"You always hear coaches suggest it would be a great game if two system teams hooked up. This has happened, and the games have reportedly been rather ugly. Defense dominates, so neither team gets in an offensive rhythm. You have tons of turnovers and missed shots – not exactly a recipe for exciting basketball.
"I know if I was playing a System team, I would probably revert to conventional basketball. I had success against two very good System teams and coaches doing that in the past. One of the great strengths of The System is the contrast in style from the conventional team or the team that really wants to slow it down. We can talk aesthetics, but it still comes down to giving your team the best chance to compete."
As I said, I knew you would appreciate his knowledge, his honestly and, most of all, his passion for The System and basketball in general. I wish Coach Arnold the best of luck. Maybe I can get up there at some point and buy him a vanilla cone at the Dairy Queen.