Definitions for “system” in Webster’s dictionary include: A complex unity formed of many often diverse parts, subject to a common plan or serving a common purpose.
In regards to basketball, the first time I heard the use of “the system,” was when I heard Paul Westhead speak at a clinic.
In the late ‘80’s, he labeled his approach as “The System.” In the ‘90’s Westhead signed his autograph writing “Run The System” under his signature. Listening to him speak, the “common purpose” of his system was to simply get as many shots and possessions as possible. For him, it centered around the numbered break that he got from Sonny Allen. In the numbered break, each player was designated a job to do on the break and a place to go. Initially Westhead refused to put in any set plays or any secondary break. His logic was that if he put those things in, the team would slow down and run them.
Our first step in “Running The System” was in the summer of 1987. Mike Jaskoski was helping me with summer camp. The girls were shooting free throws. Jas and I were talking about the numbered break and whether it was something we could use. Jas said,”Let’s try it.” And with no more discussion, we tore up the rest of the day’s plans and put in the numbered break. It was a spur of the moment decision. We have run the numbered break every year since then at Galesburg.
Referring to what you do as “The System,” as opposed to just calling it “a system,” seems offensive to some coaches who then mocking tone say, “The System.” Obviously there are many ways or many “systems” which can work in basketball. In fact most successful coaches don’t have a piece meal approach, they have an organized, well thought out plan.
One of my favorite coaches is Bo Ryan of Wisconsin. He uses the swing offense along with a compact man defense. Both of these “pieces” are intended to limit the number of possessions in the game. On offense the emphasis is getting only high percentage shots, and on defense to give up only lower percentage shots. He doesn’t randomly pick out things to do, he has his system.
Huggins has a “system” with his defense. His teams play with great defensive pressure and force lot’s of turnovers. But his system is predicated in keeping the ball out of the middle. So although he wants to put a lot of pressure on the offense, he is not initially going to deny the ball to the wing. You can’t say you want the ball out of the middle but you are going to deny the ball from being passed initially to the sideline. All of his defensive concepts fit together, he has a defensive system.
Roy Williams wants to apply pressure on defense to speed the game up, and wants to fastbreak at every instance. The Carolina system involves getting great athletes lots of possessions in the open court.
The part of the Grinnell System that differs most from the LMU System, is the extreme use of defensive pressure. Grinnell is going to apply defensive pressure in every possible situation—after made baskets, after missed baskets, on deadballs, in the full court, and in the half-court. This defensive decision is designed not only to speed up the game but to try to make it impossible for the other team from slowing the game down. Arseneault actually believes it is better for his defense to give up a layup in the first 10 seconds of a possession than to get a defensive stop at 25 seconds. Remember- the key is the number of shots your offense is going to get.
Arseneault has found through analyzing Grinnell’s games, his formula for winning is:
94S + 47 3's + 33%OR + 25SD + 32 TO's = W
“A complex unity formed of many often diverse parts, subject to a common plan or serving a common purpose.” The following are all the “diverse parts” that Grinnell chooses to use to reach the “common purpose” of increasing shots attempted:
The intent of the Grinnell System is to force the opposing to play the game Grinnell’s way. So the hope would be that the other team has to make special preparations for playing Grinnell. The focus needs to be on Grinnell.
Three aspects of The System that are attractive to a high school coach:
Some of the major concerns about The System:
2- Can high school players make enough threes to be successful? When they first put the three point arc in, I was asked if it would be a factor in girls basketball. My comment was that the only time threes would be a factor in girls basketball was at the end of periods when players threw up a last second shot. My answer was, “When they throw up a prayer, if the prayer is answered, now they will get three points instead of two points.” I quickly found that if you throw down a challenge (the arc), kids will work to be able to meet the challenge. We are finding more and more of our kids have worked to become effective three point shooters. And if we miss, then there are just more offensive rebounds.
3- Is there enough depth on a high school level to make it work? This is a good question. Obviously not all players are equal in ability. In our short time running The System, we have found that early in the year we are playing some players who really are not ready for the varsity level. But by getting game action, many of them by late December become productive players.
4- Is The System going to take too much away from the “star” who is now playing fewer minutes. In our last year playing “traditional” style of basketball Jessica Howard averaged about 28 minutes per game and 8 field goal attempts per game. In our first year running The System, Jessica went down to about 20 minutes per game and up to over 14 field goals attempted per game. While she was playing fewer minutes but actually playing more possessions.
Running “The System” is just one way to play the game of basketball. The great thing about the game of basketball is there are many styles that can be used and can be successful. The System is not for everyone. Monday Morning QB’s may become unhappy with a coach’s choices of style. In Hoosier’s it was “the only thing that will work with these boys is zone defense.” My thirty years of experience have shown that critics may attack any style of play but the reality is that they have bigger issues than just the style. We had critics in 2008-9 because our scores were in the 30’s and we did not give players enough freedom, we were too disciplined. In 2009-10, some of the same people were critical of The System because it gave too much freedom in their mind.
I chose to go to The System in 2009-10 for three reasons:
2- I was unhappy with the effort level and enthusiasm of some recent teams. I wanted a style that would force our players to play hard.
3- As I looked at the players in our program, I thought our strengths were that we had decent depth and decent shooters. So The System looked like it might increase our chances to win.