Numbers were dwindling, and the intensity of effort was waning.
“I wanted to do something that involved numbers and making sure we were going to play hard,” said Massey, whose team meets Country Club Hills Hillcrest on Monday at the Class 3A Pontiac Supersectional. “And I was frustrated with our conference because with Moline and Rock Island Alleman, no matter what we did, the score was going to be 36-32,’’ he said. “Half-court, we couldn’t score against them, and I thought we had to do something different.”
Massey knew he had some young players with athletic talent who were good shooters. And he always enjoyed watching “The System” when Grinnell College came to Galesburg to play Knox.
“And I always kind of thought, would it work in high school?” Massey said.
So during the offseason, he immersed himself in researching The System, a run-and-gun offense heavy on 3-pointers and a smothering, pressing defense with five-on-five substitutions every 45 seconds. He then presented the radical concept to his returning players.
Key to the plan were guard Jessica Howard and post player Jamie Johnson, who are now seniors.
“Howard had been a two-year starter going into her junior year and was playing 28 minutes a game,” Massey said. “So I was telling her she was going to go from 28 minutes down to probably 17 or 18 minutes a game. I think it was easier to sell her because I told her she was going to be able to shoot a 3 any time she was open.
“But with Jamie, who clearly was an inside player, I had to be honest with her and say, ‘We may never pass you the ball and you’re going to score on offensive rebounds or you’ve got to develop perimeter skills.’ And she did.”
The transition did not come without controversy. Galesburg is, was and always has been a basketball-crazy town. Fans and parents of players had to be willing to accept the risks, as well as the rewards, of this type of offense.
“When it goes good, like it has (this year), it looks like, ‘Why in the world doesn’t everybody do this?’ ” said Massey, who has coached at Galesburg for 33 years. “But when it goes bad, it doesn’t go just a little bit bad. It becomes horrible. And we had, in the first year, some games that we lost by 30 points and we’ve had some games this year we’ve lost by a large margin.
“I’ve had feedback from people who have said they’ll never go to another girls game as long as we do this. And every time we lose, there’s people that bash it.”
Last year, its first with The System, Galesburg finished 16-12, 3-7 in the Western Big Six Conference, and lost its first game at regionals.
This year has been a completely different story. The Silver Streaks are 28-6, finished second in the conference and are in the supersectionals for the first time since 2003. Galesburg has shot 1,418 3s this year and made 371, both state records. Howard has hit 125 3s and is averaging 15.9 points per game.
“With this group of kids, I don’t know what our record would have been if we’d played in a traditional way,” Massey said. “But I’m confident that they’re just a group of kids that believe in each other, and they’re very loyal to me and they would try to execute whatever we did and do the best they could.”
In spite of Galesburg’s success, Massey would hesitate to advise other coaches to adopt this approach.
“It’s been fun for us and it’s worked for our group, but if I was a young coach, I don’t think there’s any way in the world I’d do it unless you had support of your administration,” he said. “Because 80 percent of what we’re doing is contrary to everything that I’ve believed for 30 years in basketball. It’s not Basketball 101 the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Jane Miller can be reached at 686-3207or firstname.lastname@example.org