Wednesday morning the nation awoke to the story of Grinnell's Jack Taylor, the 5-foot-10 guard who scored an NCAA record 138 points in a college basketball game, which undoubtedly has evoked a collective, coast-to-coast, "Whaaaaaaaaat?"
How could anyone score 138 points in a 40-minute game, even if Taylor – and his teammates – were trying to run up the total?
The answer comes from the mind of David Arseneault, who 22 years ago launched an all-out assault of 3-pointers and full-court presses that's now known as the Grinnell System.
Here's how the system works:
• The first shot is the best shot, no matter if it's from 5 feet or 25 feet, preferably 25 feet.
• Take as many 3-pointers as possible.
• Defensively, giving up an uncontested layup is better than forcing a shot-clock violation.
• The ball-handler is double-teamed at all times.
The result is a frenetic, full-court attack that leaves the Grinnell players spent after a minute of action, at which point all five are subbed out and five new ones enter, kind of like in hockey.
As I explained in a story for The Morning Call a few years back, Arseneault's philosophy is thus: Pressure defense creates turnovers; turnovers create more offensive possessions and, by extension, more shot opportunities. Offensively, 3-pointers pay more than 2-pointers, so launch as many treys as possible. While you might miss more threes than your opponent makes in twos, the difference will be made up by taking more shots overall.
Going into Tuesday night's game against Faith Baptist Bible, Grinnell had made 10 fewer field goals than its opponents, shot .375 from the field compared to .556 and made only 27 percent of its 3-pointers. They were 2-0, outscoring the opposition by an average of 120-100.
Arseneault's system was born out of futility. When he arrived on the Grinnell campus in central Iowa in 1989, he took over a program that hadn't had a winning season in 25 years. Things didn't get much better in his first two seasons at Grinnell as he tried and failed using a traditional eight-man rotation.
"Then a couple of kids quit, which was not all that uncommon, so we didn't even have enough practice players," he explained a few years ago, "and I'm thinking, 'These guys aren't having any fun. I'm not. And the only three people in the stands are my wife and kids.' "
He needed to make a change, a dramatic one, and thus the Grinnell System – a variation of Paul Westhead's Loyola Marymount scheme, only on steroids – was born.
The results have been staggering: Arseneault's squads have won five conference championships, been to the postseason 11 times and led the nation in scoring at all levels of college basketball in 17 of the past 19 seasons. Attendance has improved, as well. Last year tiny Grinnell, enrollment 1,693, averaged 765 fans at home games, easily the most in the Midwest Conference.
"Once we started being different, the kids bought into it," Arseneault said. "Once we got the participation part covered, the practices became better. Once we became more different, we became competitive."
Head-scratching offensive performances are not unusual at Grinnell. Griffin Lentsch scored 89 points in a game last year, in what was then the Division III record. Jeff Clement heaved up 52 3-pointers in a game back in 1998, making 19 of them – both Grinnell records. And the Pioneers once scored 148 points … and lost … by 19.
Huge offensive numbers are what the Grinnell System produces, and if you just happen to be on your game one night, well, it's possible to produce a stat line like Jack Taylor did Tuesday: 52 of 108 from the field, 27 of 71 from 3-point land, 7 of 10 free throws, 138 points.
Maybe the most surprising stat of the night isn't one that counts shots or points, but minutes. Taylor played 36 total; no other Grinnell player logged more than 15. The former is the shocker, the latter how the Grinnell System is executed – five players out, five in, only Tuesday night it was four.
There was no planned effort to have Taylor set a national record, Arseneault told Yahoo! Sports, "although we left open the possibility if he got to off to a great start. And when he got off to a great start, everyone encouraged him to see what he could do."
By halftime, Taylor had 58, though he thought he only had 30, a testament to the frenzied Grinnell pace that he didn't have a clue where he was scoring-wise.
"Coach came in [at halftime] and told me I had 58, and the team was really excited about that and wanted to continue getting me the ball," he explained to ESPN.
Which they did, again and again and again, just as fast as they could.
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