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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Bastardizing the Game of Basketball"

The Galesburg girls are off to a great start. Today I heard someone’s reaction to our success. They commented,  “It won’t keep working, it is a gimmick. It is bastardizing the game of basketball.”

When I first heard the term “bastardizing”, I was smart enough to know the person evidently had strong negative feelings. Before writing, I went to several religious internet sources to make sure if I wrote this I would not have problems later down the road- I am satisfied this is not the thing that will get me in trouble.

According to the definitions, bastardizing means:
-       to lower the quality of something.
-       to reduce from a higher to lower state or condition.

So basically this critic is saying that the “System” is not just a bad strategy decision it is something that is going to destroy the basic fabric of the game of basketball. Thank goodness it is just basketball we are talking about. After all baseball is the “national pastime” so if Arseneault had come up with the “System” in baseball, there might actually be federal laws he would have been violating.

Anyhow, it got me thinking. Is Arseneault’s System the first time someone has come up with something to “bastardize” the game of basketball. Do the following examples qualify as attempts to “bastardize” basketball or qualify as creative coaching strategy?

Gene Johnson at Witchita State in the early 1930’s comes up with the concept of guarding players even before they cross half-court. His concept becomes labeled as “full-court pressing.” Critics were concerned it was causing the game to have too many turnovers.

In 1957 John Thiel of Galesburg came up with an idea of holding the ball vs. talented Don Nelson and Rock Island. Galesburg won the game by a score of 21-19. Critics would say that is not how basketball was meant to be played, but it produced a win.

In the early 1960’s Dean Smith perfected the Four Corners offense. With Phil Ford in the 1982 ACC championship game, NC held the ball for 12 minutes in one stretch.

Jim Valvano came up with the strategy of milking the shot clock. It allowed huge underdog North Carolina State to defeat Houston 54-52.

With smaller NBA lane, the Philadelphia coach planted Wilt Chamberlain next to the lane and got him the ball every time until he scored 100 points.

From the 1970’s thru the 1990’s, Jerry Leggett at Quincy may have been the most successful coach in Illinois. His teams were famous for running 1-2-2 ¾ court ball press, 1-2-2 half court defense, and one million set plays. Unfortunately one of his assistant coaches became the Quincy girls coach in the 1980’s. After we lost badly to them, I commented to another coach that I think my teams needed more offensive structure like the Quincy teams. We needed to start running set plays. The coach replied, “That is not teaching basketball, that is just teaching plays.”

Whether a particular strategy is “creative” or “bastardizing” the game, is obviously the opinion of the viewer. For many I think the decision comes down to they see coaching basketball about “control.”  For those critics, they see Dean Smith’s Four Corners, John Thiel’s slowdown, Jim Valvano’s milking the clock, and Jerry Leggett’s set plays as “creative” strategy. Because in each of these cases, the strategy involves in their mind the coach is strictly controlling the actions of the players.

And conversely, they see the “System” as a “bastardizing” because their perception is that the coach is letting them run loose and has lost control of the game. The irony is that the “System” coach may actually be “controlling” the game more than any coach in any strategy. If the team is proficient, the opposing team has to play that style. So in that sense, when it works, the System coach is not only controlling their players but also the opposing players actions.

I don’t say any of this to mean that the System is right and other approaches are wrong. There are many ways to teach the game of basketball that can be successful. One style is not right and another wrong or even sinful. It is just a game.

Specifically, how is the System “bastardizing” the game of basketball?

Is it bad that it increases the number of players getting to play in games? Is it clearing the bench within the first three minutes?

Is it having more players being enthusiastic and feeling involved? Is it developing a greater sense of team chemistry because all the players feel involved?

Is it playing style that forces kids to play with high level of intensity and work hard?

Is it increasing the number of possessions per game so in effect they get to play more basketball?

Is it shooting more three point shots? Should there be a quota on number of threes?

Is it subbing five players for five players? Should it be done one at a time so each kid can have their name read?

Is it the constant trapping? Should there be only certain areas on the floor where you can trap?

What has the System done for my team this year? A year ago if I would have made the statement, “We’re not going to win the rest of our games.” None of my players would have been upset with me. They would have viewed that as a very practical statement.

As I look at the rest of our season, the rational side of me realizes, “We’re not going to win the rest of our games.”  But I know I better not say that in front of my players. They believe not just in the System, more importantly the System has given them the opportunity to believe in themselves.  So if we are “bastardizing” the game of basketball, I don’t really care.


  1. Thanks for the comments Evan. Amy and I have entrusted our daughter(s) to you over the past few years and we feel that you have responded remarkably! You have taught them a hell of a lot more than basketball, and we will be forever grateful for that. The person that feels you are "bastardizing" basketball comments frequently in the register mail(presumably from a lack of other important things to do). So, for the record, "I don't really care either".

    Chris Howard

  2. Coach,
    Really good stuff. As I have communicated to you in emails, we are going through some growing pains with the system and some negative perceptions as we have our struggles. Your points were put much better than I could and you have a fan here in Blue Island. Thanks for the thoughts and I hope that your team gets a chance to play that coach's team this year!


  3. From a fan's point of view: It's fun. It is fun because the kids are having fun. It is fun because their families are having fun, because the kids are having fun. And when the kids are happy, and the families are happy, then I am happy. (so much easier to sit in the stands with happy people)

    We bought into it the first summer........I still remember seeing a glimpse of it 2 years ago in Bloomington, where the sophomores came in and out and helped reduce a large Bloomington lead to nothing in a matter of minutes.

    So, I am far from a basketball guru, I only know what I like. I like fun, and this is it.

  4. Call it a whatever you want, but this team is enjoying a successful season as a result of the system. They have demonstrated all of the qualities we should look for in high school athletes. I am proud to watch these girls and coaches represent GHS every time they take the floor. We should all be so lucky to be "bastardized" in such a manner at some point in our lives. Keep up the good work coach!

  5. Coach, I enjoy your blog, but noticed that you mentioned legendary UNC guard Phil Ford in reference to Dean Smith's 1982 NCAA title team, but Ford was in the NBA by then. He did play in 1977 title game that UNC lost to Marquette. Also, whatever NC State's game plan was vs. Phi Slamma Jamma in the 1983 title game, it certainly didn't involve milking the shot clock as the NCAA tourney didn't feature a shot clock until the 1986 version. Just thought I'd pass along and again, I enjoy the blog.