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Friday, December 24, 2010

The First System Team in the Midwest

No, it was not Grinnell College that first brought the System to the Midwest. And no, it was not me that was the first to bring the System to Galesburg. The real System pioneer was Brett Wolfe. He along with Jay Redfern coached the first System team in the Midwest and the first in Galesburg.

                                                 1988-89 GYBA- Galesburg's First System Team

Front row, from left: Devin Gunderson, Brian Peterson, Jason Price, Justin Ford, John Kimbell, Mike O'Dean and Jeremy Parcell.
Back row, from left: Coach Jay Redfern, Todd Fox, Jason Uhlmann, Brian Fulton, Jeremy Howard, Benji Henson, Troy Rosenberg, Wes Corzette and Coach Brett "Westhead" Wolfe.
First thing is that it is very difficult to write something about Brett Wolfe without starting with my usual lines about Monmouth College. I will try to stick to the story and not start by asking him where he went his last two years if he went to Monmouth College. 

We had been doing the System stuff for the last year and a half. Brett Wolfe is one of the regulars as a summer league ref at GHS, and his office is within 50 feet of my classroom. Never in a year and a half did he ever mention his interest in LMU or that he had tried to implement some of the System concepts with his youth basketball team. Earlier this winter, Jay Redfern in passing just mentioned, "You know Brett and I tried to put the System in with our team in the late '80's." 

We often hear horror stories of youth sports and specifically of youth coaches. Brett and Jay are examples of how youth sports can be a wonderful experience. It seems to me that in the '70's and '80's there were many young people like Jay and Brett who stepped up and worked with youth in sports programs. Today it seems the only people the YMCA and City Rec can find to coach are parents. I can only imagine what a wonderful experience these young boys had playing basketball for Brett and Jay.

By the time LMU made their NCAA tourney run, everyone was aware of them. But it appears that Brett and Jay not only were aware of LMU long before the tourney run, but they were on a mission to find out as much as they could about LMU. So yes, Galesburg girls are trying to run the System but they are really just following in the footsteps of the 1988-9 GYBA team. It is said to think that I was about 20 years behind a Monmouth grad.

Massey- What was the team you coached, when did you coach them, and most importantly - who was the head coach and who was the assistant?

Jay-   Brett and I were co-coaches of the Galesburg Youth Basketball Association  sixth-grade team for the 1987-88, 88-89 and 89-90 seasons. There were two teams at each grade level, and we, of course, had the team which included Churchill kids (we're both proud former Blue Streaks.) As far as who was the head coach and who was the assistant, it was pretty close to even, but I'd probably have to give the edge to Brett. He handled more of the Xs and Os, and I concentrated on fundamentals, discipline and referee relations (yelling at the officials.)  In other words, Brett was really the brains of the operation.

Massey- How did you get interested in Loyola Marymount?

Brett-   I became interested in "The System" when I turned on ESPN one night during the 1987-1988 season. I watched an 11:30 pm game (this in the days when I could stay awake past 9 pm) from the west coast and it featured some team I had never heard of - Loyola Marymount University. I recognized the Lions' coach, Paul Westhead, from his time with the Lakers, but I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Here was this tiny Catholic school in Los Angeles creating absolute mayhem on the floor and firing shots every 10 seconds. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.
              I gathered as much information as I could; reading college basketball magazines, reading LA Times articles (this was all pre-Internet), contacting LMU for press guides, and watching anytime the Lions were on TV. Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, the two high school teammates who transferred to LMU from USC, led the way as the Lions went 28-4, won the West Coast Conference Tourney, and knocked off Wyoming in the first round of the NCAA Tourney, before falling to North Carolina 123-97.
             The next year (1988-1989) I continued to follow LMU. Bo Kimble was often-injured, the Lions lacked consistent play at the point guard, and slipped to 19-11, losing to Arkansas 120-101 in the first round of the NCAA. Gathers became only the second player in NCAA history to lead the nation in scoring (32.7 ppg) and rebounding (13.7 rpg).

Massey- So what things did you try to do with your players?

Jay-   I had coached the Streaks varsity team in the summer for then head coach Dave Peck, so I had a good understanding of what Dave wanted. Both Brett and I grew up watching a lot of Bob Morgan and Barry Swanson practices, so we had a good handle on drills. I was fortunate enough to have played for Coach Bob and ran
many of his drills with our sixth-graders. We did run some of the Thiel-Morgan 2-1-2 offense. We took it seriously, but I don't think it was over-the-top serious. We had fun with the players, a lot of whom I've stayed in touch with to this day. It always was enjoyable to see the kids we coached in sixth grade go on to play at the junior high, and some for the varsity Streaks.

Brett-   It was during the 1988-1989 season that Jay and I tried to use a little of "The System" with our Galesburg Youth Basketball Association (GYBA) team. Basically, we had a bunch of "vertically challenged" sixth-graders who were remarkably similar talent-wise. Jay and I decided we could get everyone to play extremely hard, press relentlessly, and hope for the best. The 3-point aspect of the system was basically non-existent for us - not sure our kids were big enough to shoot the three. Our goal was to try and get as many transition points from turnovers created by the press.The results were mixed. I think our team was 12-8. Our roster consisted of a bunch of short, nice kids. The system allowed everyone to play a lot, kept us competitive, and allowed Jay and I time to discuss how we were going to explain our concepts to opposing coaches!

Massey- Who would have been your Bo Kimble and your Hank Gathers?

Jay-   Good question. We mainly ran the Loyola Marymount style with our 88-89 team, which had many kids of similar skill level. I don't think we had real advanced players like we did the year before with Ted Trueblood and Zach Shay, or the year after with a kid like Jason Lewis. Maybe our Bo Kimble would have been Benji Hensen or Johnny Kimbell. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some of the other 88-89 sixth-graders like Mike O'Dean, Jason Price, Brian Fulton, Jeremy Howard, Todd Fox, Jason Uhlmann, Troy Rosenberg, Devin Gunderson, Brian Peterson, Justin Ford and Jeremy Parcel, and the late Wes Corzette.

Massey- Did the varsity coach threaten to fire you?

Jay-   Dave Peck was too nice a guy to fire us, but the next year, we did have a couple of parents who tried to get rid of us because their kids weren't playing enough.

Massey- So, you made a road trip to see LMU in person vs. DePaul? Tell me about it. Was this when Kimble and Gathers were playing?

Jay-  Brett was big into Loyola Marymount's run-and-gun style. When he saw LMU was playing DePaul at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago on Dec. 23, 1988, we decided to make an overnight road trip to the Windy City. Accompanying Brett and I was Davey McDonald, GHS Class of 1986.  At one time, Brett, Davey, Jim Sneddon and I formed the best stats crew ever assembled at GHS.I remember arriving fairly early for the game, and we actually parked about 50 yards from the entrance. Gathers, the nation`s No. 2 scorer with a 32-point average, hit 23 in the first 12 minutes to stake the Lions to as much as a 9-point lead. He finished the first half with 25 points. Unfortunately, Bo Kimble was out with an injury and didn't play in the game. The game was tied 59-all at halftime

Brett-   During 1988-1989, Jay and I also made a trip (along with David McDonald) to the Rosemont Horizon in December. LMU took on DePaul in the Old Style Classic. Kimble was out with a knee injury, but Gathers scored 32 for the Lions. It wasn't enough, however, as the Blue Demons' Brad Niemann hit a 3-pointer with :40 left that helped DePaul hold off LMU 115-111. The highlight of our trip, however, was seeing Bill Jauss, the well-known Chicago sports writer, relieving himself, right outside the main entrance to the Rosemont Horizon.

Massey- What do you remember about the LMU tourney run?

Jay-   LMU went 20-11 the season we saw them play in Chicago, falling in the first round of the NCAA tourney. LMU scored 100 points on 22 occasions that year, including a 181-150 win over U.S. International. Of course it was the next year when LMU went 26-6, a season which saw the tragic death of Gathers during a West
Coast Conference game.

Brett-   Everyone remembers the 1989-1990 season. The Lions added Swedish-sharpshooter Per Stumer and point guard Terrell Lowery and seemed ready for another entertaining season. However, on December 9, 1989, Gathers collapsed while at the free throw line in a game versus UC-Santa Barbara. Doctors diagnosed him with a heart condition and prescribed medicine. LMU went on an extended win streak and seemed ready to win their WCC Tourney, being played on the Lions' home court. There, Gathers collapsed (and later died) after a spectacular dunk at the 13:34 mark of the first half. The tournament was cancelled and LMU received the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA. Loyola (seeded 11th in the West) became the "Cinderella" story of the tourney, posting emotional victories over New Mexico State (111-92), defending champ Michigan (149-115), and Alabama (just 62-60). The Lions drew eventual-champ UNLV in the Elite Eight and bowed out 131-101.

Massey- Anything else?

Brett-   A couple of differences between Westhead's "system" and the "Grinnell System". LMU relied less on the three-pointer and did not employ mass subbing. The Lions took whatever shots were available and attacked the basket relentlessly. LMU averaged just slightly over 9 made three-pointers per game during the 89-90 season. Only eight players saw significant playing time that season, with Gathers, Kimble, Jeff Fryor, and Stumer all averaging more than 30 minutes per game. The Lions averaged 122.4 PPG during the season. Anyone interested in learning more about the 1989-1990 Loyola Marymount Lions should go to The university honored the 20th anniversary of that team last year.

Brett- Yes, it's true. Jay and I (truly creative innovators) were "way ahead" of Evan in bringing "The System" to Galesburg!

Jay-  Yes, who do you think you are, Roy Firestone? Bob Costas? Larry King? Me? You really need to leave the interviews to us professionals.Seriously, your blog is awesome, especially the interviews. You have long been a master of promoting your team, so it's really no surprise to see you with a top-notch blog.

Brett:  Your blog is certainly the first, and probably the last I will ever look at.

Massey- It took a lot to talk Brett into responding to these questions. I think Brett is fearful that this whole blogging thing is some conspiracy by us liberals. So he is afraid after doing this that I will have him on some Ted Kennedy mailing list.

1 comment:

  1. Evan, feel free to have all of your System coaching friends contact us if they need any tips or advice. On second thought, have them contact Brett.
    Thanks for the awesome blog!