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The Eh Game

Former CIS coach the mastermind behind 138-point monster performance

Neate Sager
Eh Game

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Grinnell's Dave Arsenault coached in Canada in the '80s

Jack Taylor was likely mentioned in every Canadian newspaper's sports section today after the guard at Grinnell College scored a NCAA record 138 points on Tuesday night.

It probably goes without saying there wasn't space to explain how Grinnell's ultra up-tempo offence works or that the basketball brain it sprang from cut his coaching teeth in Canada. Or that their parquet patsy, Faith Baptist Bible College, has only 330 students, fewer than some high schools in Ontario's smallest high school classification. It probably also goes without saying those same media outlets never give the same amount of space to a CIS star such as Carleton's Phil Scrubb, a significantly better player on a significantly better team who would never dream of taking 108 shots, including 71 treys, since everyone knows that Ravens coach Dave Smart can read your mind.

Deadspin called it a "sham record." Nevertheless, it's worth playing up the fact that Grinnell coach Dave Arsenault, progenitor of the Pioneers' running to extremes style that makes it possible to set those sham records, has ties to the Great White North.

Arsenault came to Canada in the 1980s to take his masters' degree at Brock University in St. Catharines. He also coached in what is now Ontario University Athletics (it was OUAA instead of OUA at the time) with the Guelph Gryphons and McMaster Marauders before he landed at Grinnell, an academically elite liberal arts college in rural Iowa.

As he told Dave Feschuk in 2008, the type of student-athletes who arrived at Grinnell didn't take well to playing for a martinet who tried to make basketball a boot camp instead of a wonderful bit of exercise. Nor could Arsenault attract 6-foot-9 studs as passionate about Rimbaud as they were about taking the rock to the rim to Grinnell. That led to coming up with what Sports Illustrated has called "bizarro basketball" in which they "pressed nonstop, aimed to squeeze off a three-pointer every 12 seconds and expended so much energy gambling and gunning that Arseneault turned his lineup over minute by minute, like a hockey coach." The Pioneers dress 20 players for most games; they once had 19 players make a three-pointer in a single game.

Like a hockey coach, eh? Sounds like Arsenault picked up something in Canada.

The point of this is to try to demystify an admittedly an amazing feat. Arsenault's system, as coach Brian Jonker of Hamilton's Mohawk College once explained, employs "a primary shooter and a point guard who has the ball in his hands a lot." (In 2008, Jonker's Mountaineers ran a similar offence and sank 21 triples in one game, setting an Ontario Collegiate Athletic Association record.)

It's designed for one player to take a ridiculous amount of shots, although it might not always be the same player. The Division III record Taylor broke was held by his own teammate Griffin Lentsch, who scored 89 points in one game last season (or 82 more than he had on Tuesday). In 2007-08, the coach's Canadian-born son Dave Arsenault Jr. was credited with 34 assists in one game.

Basketball fans have become almost numb to hearing about Grinnell setting some record for team and or individual scoring or three-point shooting. It's what their system is designed to do, play at ludicrous speed and never stop shooting. It creates a place for short guys who can shoot all day.

There's the context, although Taylor deserves credit for having the cardiovascular capacity to play 36 minutes at that tempo. (My triceps are aching in sympathy just thinking about taking 108 shots.)

Opponents grumble about Grinnell, but there is no one way to play basketball. Who's to say what is a bastardization of James Naismith's invention?

Arsenault has taken some of the game's concepts to extremes. Stressing three-point shooting and offensive rebounding are proven winning concepts when done efficiently. That's a big part of the Carleton Ravens' M.O., but the difference is the Ravens' pace factor is annually among the lowest in the entire CIS. They frequently score in the 90s and 100s by focusing on high-percentage shots, rather than rushing to take any shot. They also share the ball, which wasn't happening on Tuesday.

Getting back to Arsenault, it takes someone with an open mind and a variety of life experience to have the confidence to turn out teams that play a style that some hoop-heads wouldn't even try in a video game. Sure, it takes an opportunist too. Rather than be negative, it's nice to think Dave Arsenault's years in Canada contributed to him having such an open mind about the possibilities, and absurdities, contained within basketball.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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