It's a radical transition, Rick White admits. It hasn't been tried in Maine, and it goes against much of what Mountain Valley basketball has been about in two decades of three gold-ball basketball.
Yet White, a veteran assistant in two sports at Mountain Valley, took over the basketball program from Dave Gerrish and, last summer, began shaping it into a new run-and-gun mold following a high-powered offensive philosophy referred to by many of its devotees as, simply, "The System."
"The System" is a style of play developed at Grinnell College, a Division III private liberal arts college in Grinnell, IA, by coach David Arsenault. It incorporates an up-tempo offense emphasizing the 3-point shot, continuous full-court pressure on defense, and frequent mass substitutions to keep up the pace. Playing this style, which calls for a shot to be hoisted every 12 seconds when it's at its most frenetic, Grinnell has set numerous NCAA scoring records and has won three conference championships in the last 10 years.
Having inherited an undersized roster for the upcoming season, White decided Grinnell's offensive system, combined with the Falcons' traditional hard-nosed man-to-man defense, could give them the best chance to win in the Mountain Valley Conference.
"We're going to be unconventional, that's for sure," he said.
Most new varsity coaches institute different philosophies from the ones their predecessors used. It makes for a difficult transition for high school basketball players, who have had to face the challenge in increasing numbers recently.
In the Sun Journal's coverage area, 13 of 20 boys' varsity basketball teams have changed coaches at least once in the last two years. Two, Jay and Winthrop, have done it twice in the last two seasons.
At Winthrop, Rollie Pelky was promoted from assistant and JV coach in October when Tyler Hunt resigned from the varsity position after one year to pursue his education.
Even though Pelky didn't have the luxury most new coaches enjoy of introducing a new system during summer basketball, he has made major changes to the Ramblers' system.
"We've got so many new kids. We lost nine seniors," said Pelky, whose team reached the Western C quarterfinals last year under Hunt. "The style of play is a little more up-tempo and we're working on a little more basic stuff. We're all pretty much starting new."
"We're taking things slow. We want to get good at the small things first," he added. "Our thought process is that if we do the little things really, really well, we can add the other stuff into it as we go along."
Getting the players to buy into the change is difficult for any coach. Pelky said he is fortunate that the players are already familiar with him and vice versa from his time in the program, but since he is the Ramblers' third varsity coach in three years, getting the players to take to his system quickly was one of his first concerns.
"That was the first thing that I talked with them about," he said. "It's really rough for them to have a third coach in three years. There's no stability there, and it's kind of hard for those guys to buy into what I'm saying. But everybody has really jumped on board with what we're doing and the way we're doing it."
The initial reaction among the Mountain Valley players was more mixed when White told them about their new style.
"I was excited," senior guard Chris Day said. "I was ready to put some points up on the board."
"Usually, 100 points seems like taboo in a high school game," he added, "but now it's our goal."
Senior guard Jacob Arsenault said he was initially concerned about the continuity of the offense and subs being able to get into the flow of the game. After giving it more thought, however, he could see where White was coming from. "We're small," he said, "so going fast is really the only way we can win a lot of games."
"The kids want to run," White said. "We've been talking about running, running and running, so we want to try. Whether we can or not ... some groups will be able to run and other groups won't be able to. Not every kid is blessed with speed. But so far, the kids love what's going on and have made the adjustment from Dave to me. We still have a lot of the same terminology we had with him."
'Invested the whole way'
Like Pelky, White has been introducing the new system piecemeal.
"It's going to be a huge learning curve for the kids because it's something different," White said. "We're not ready to run all that stuff right now. We've got kids that didn't play summer basketball so they don't really know what it is. To put that in right now and expect them to run it is asking them to do too much. Come playoff time, we should be invested the whole way."
"It's been step-by-step," Day said. "It's been cool to see what's next, what kind of plays we're going to come out with."
Critics of "The System" say it emphasizes point production at the expense of some of the fundamentals of the game. Try telling that to the Falcons, who get regular reminders that you can't run without the ball.
"We've had a bunch of box-out drills," senior forward Jonathan Benjamin said. "I'm sure we'll have a lot more of those."