Baranek: Employing the fun-’n-gun
Sami Wisniewski was huffing and puffing.
The Lincoln-Way Central senior was a picture of exhaustion as she stood off to the side during a timeout at the Lincoln-Way East Medieval Classic.
For the previous minute-plus, the 5-foot-8 guard had raced up and down the court four, maybe five times. She’d launched a couple of three-pointers and created some havoc on defense.
She’d later say there’s no better way to have fun.
And the exhaustion? She’ll just Grinnell and bear it.
They play girls basketball at Central a little different than most these days.
Many who watch leave a little confused — and possibly a little exhausted themselves — from swiveling their heads every 15 to 20 seconds.
Most opposing coaches aren’t crazy about it, but their teams usually wind up playing Central’s game.
And the funny thing is, their players seem to enjoy it, too.
They’re certainly having a lot of fun at Central, where the Knights already are halfway to last season’s win total and putting up points totals that are pretty eye-popping.
In their season opener they scored a school record 89 points. A few days later they set a new standard with 102.
The Knights use the Grinnell System, a type of play created by Grinnell College men’s basketball coach Dave Arseneault in the early 1990s.
It involves getting the ball downcourt as quickly as possible, to an open person as quickly as possible and have that person put up a shot — preferably a three-pointer — as quickly as possible.
When the other team has the ball the idea is to put on as much pressure as possible, force a turnover and get the ball going back the other way as quickly as possible.
Substitutions come quickly. Ideally, sets of five girls are exchanged every minute. A minute, 30 seconds is pushing it.
“You have to give 110 percent and it can be hard,” Wisniewski said. “That’s why we sub in so fast, but when you need that break you get that break.”
It’s been wild, but not always a success. Central has been beaten at its own game more than a few times and is 6-7 overall.
But when you consider that just a few years ago a Knights team in one game scored just eight points, this has to be a breath of fresh air — albeit a quick one.
“Everyone has been on teams where six kids play and seven kids sit on the bench and never go in,” Central coach Chris Fetherling said. “That’s not the case here.”
Fetherling explored the idea of using the Grinnell System with Matt Smith, who was the boys coach at Central from 2006 to ’10.
“We studied it for a while and we’ve gotten help from other coaches at the collegiate and high school level,” Fetherling said. “We thought it was a way to keep more kids involved.
“When I talked him into coming back and coaching (as an assistant) it seemed like a natural fit for what we had.”
The system was implemented after the 2012-13 season, when the Knights went 12-16.
It was an immediate hit with the kids.
“We love doing this,” Wisniewski said. “It can be frustrating (coming out) when you’re hot and you want to keep shooting, but someone from the other group will come in and get hot and you just feed off their excitement.”
Opponents seem to feel the excitement as well. On Dec. 13, Bradley won a wild one — 102-90 — over Central.
“It’s hard to play defense,” Wisniewski said with a smile. “We have the gist of it, we just have little bits and pieces we have to fix. Then we’ll be unstoppable.”