Hoopsville Rant: 138 points – What was the point?

Forgive me if this seems a bit late in coming, but I wanted to give myself time to think before just putting my thoughts immediately to a keyboard. I was worried that if I wrote immediately afterward, emotions may get the best of me. I also worried that in light of allowing my emotions to carry me, I might actually hold back my thoughts. Now I am here… and ready to rant.

I was not even all that sure that writing about Grinnell’s Jack Taylor’s record 138-point night is a great idea. Why would I want to give even more attention to something I have so many problems with? Why should Grinnell get any more attention than they have by being featured on ESPN, Today Show, Nightly News, and elsewhere? But with those questions in mind, why shouldn’t we in the Division III community take the time to give our two cents? Why should only the major media outlets, which only seem to cover Division III when something like this happens, be the ones that dictate the content? I have already read some very good opinions from many including some in the D3 family like coach Bob Walsh of Rhode Island College, so I am writing about the game … and I hope to keep my emotions in check.

Simply put, the game makes me sick to my stomach. Not because Taylor scored 138 points. I am sick to my stomach because this isn’t how records are made to be broken. This isn’t the way you represent your school. This isn’t the way you garner respect for a school, program or division. And this isn’t the way Division III athletes and programs should be recognized. Not for a gimmick. Not for embarrassing an opponent. Not for something that seems to fly right in the face of the NCAA’s sportsmanship initiative.

You know, something that “demonstrates one or more of the ideals of sportsmanship, including fairness, civility, honesty, unselfishness, respect and responsibility.” We’ll get back to that.

I should say now that I was impressed with Taylor’s effort. He did score 138 points in a 40 minute game, after all. He did shoot the ball 108 times without his arms collapsing at his sides. He did accomplish an incredible feat. However, that is where my congratulations and being impressed stops.

This isn’t Taylor’s fault. This wasn’t necessarily his doing. This was clearly the brain-child of Grinnell head coach David Arseneault and this isn’t the first time we have seen this gimmick from him and his program. Remember, his son “broke” the assist record for a game a few years ago. And remember current senior Griffin Lentsch “broke” the Division III scoring record with 89 points almost exactly a year before Taylor’s 138-point night.

Arseneault runs and touts the infamous “System” which allows teams to score plenty of points in games while playing upwards of 15 players, subbing them in and out of a game every 30 to 90 seconds. Many other schools have implemented the system in the past for all kinds of reasons (Redlands, Muhlenberg, North Central). Some want their players to enjoy the game when they aren’t competitive, some because their coaches believe in the system, and others for other reasons. It has resulted in records for points in a game and it has garnered national attention. That’s fine. It works for the coaches and teams that implement it. I have no problem with it. But those other programs didn’t target games or opponents just to break records.

This wasn’t the prototypical “system.” Grinnell rigged the system, as they have in the past, simply to rig a record. Sure, people will claim that coaches can change their game plans per the game and the opponent. I understand that. But this is specifically changing the game plan not because of the opponent, not because of the game, and not because it might help you win… this is to break a record and in the process embarrass the opponent.

But there are other fish to fry here and questions to be raised like why in the world would an institution like Grinnell keep letting this happen? If you don’t know, Grinnell is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. U.S. News and World Report’s annual Best Colleges issue has Grinnell ranked 22nd in the list of National Liberal Arts Colleges. The college prides itself on the quality of their academics and their institution. In fact their mission statement reads “to educate its students ‘for the different professions and for the honorable discharge of their duties of life.’” It goes on to state, “the College aims to graduate women and men … who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”

So how does telling your team the goal is to take advantage of the fact the coaches scheduled a weak out-of-conference opponent that won’t be able to stop a record-breaking attempt educate students so they can honorably discharge their duties in life or help them serve the common good?

It started out, according to several reports, as emails from the coaching staff the weekend before the game, according to several interviews and reports. Then at Monday’s practice, under the guidance of the coaches who put in a scheme to achieve this goal, the team decided to elect Jack Taylor as the man to set the record. Mind you, they did NOT select last year’s honoree, senior Griffin Lentsch.

Here is some food for thought:
– Jack Taylor has claimed in several interviews that the team and the coaches wanted to get him out of his shooting slump. Going into the game against Faith Baptist he was shooting 11-for-41 from the floor, just under 29 percent, and 6-for-34 from beyond the arc, 17.6 percent. In the record-setting game, he shot over 48-percent from the floor and 38-percent from beyond the arc. Then in the last two games, where he has only scored an average of 19.5 points, he has shot over 36-percent from the floor and over 29-percent from downtown.

Two thoughts here: maybe Taylor needs to figure something out with his shooting overall; or Grinnell should have Taylor shoot 100-plus times a game all the time if they want any hope of him actually shooting well.
– Taylor played 36 minutes in the game; about the same amount his teammate Lentsch did last year when he broke the D3 record. The rest of Taylor’s 19 teammates played no more than 15 minutes each and combined for 28 shots and 41 points. As for Lentsch? He had seven points on three shots.
– Taylor played 36 minutes in a game that ended up being a 75-point blowout. He was still shooting the ball with less than two minutes remaining and the score 169 to 101! He had already shattered the record by 23 points!
– Faith Baptist did indeed have a player score 70 points in the loss, but I could do that in a pick-up game if the defense is going to let me have a layup every time down the court.
– Oh, and by the way, Taylor has only started two of the team’s five games so far this season. Though his best shooting performances have come when he has started. So, maybe just starting Taylor will help with his shooting slump, not having him try and score more than 113 points.

Last January, when Grinnell was having a good season, we had assistant coach and former player David Arseneault Jr. on Hoopsville. Arseneault Jr. was the interim head coach while his dad was on sabbatical working a book about the “system.” But Arseneault Sr. was the head coach during the Lentsch’s record breaking night two months prior. When asked about the game, the younger Arseneault stated that they had no intent to break any record that night against Principia in the season opener. Arseneault Jr. said on the show that they looked at the box score at halftime and saw that Lentsch had 40 points so they decided to go for the record. Of course, Lentsch had played 17 of the 20 minutes so far in the game (no teammate had more than nine minutes) and he had taken 27 shots, 21 of them from beyond the arc.

Sure, there was no intent to break the record at the start of the game? Why would we think that? He had only played nearly the entire half and fired off 23 more shots than any of his teammates!

Let’s also consider the opponents: Principia played just seven guys in that game and finished the season 0-25. Faith Baptist? They played their entire 10-man roster and are currently 0-5.

Combined, Principia and Faith Baptist played 17 men in those two games – Grinnell played 20 just in this year’s game alone. And the two teams have a record of 0-29 against Grinnell – in fact Principia has lost 27 games in a row overall and Faith Baptist has won just one in the last two seasons.

Which gets me back to the NCAA sportsmanship point; do you remember the quote? “Demonstrates one or more of the ideals of sportsmanship, including fairness, civility, honesty, unselfishness, respect and responsibility.”

How does picking Faith Baptist to set a scoring record against demonstrate ANY of those sportsmanship ideals? Furthermore, how does continuing to pour it on when a) you have already broken the record and b) you are leading by 70-plus points demonstrate ANY of those sportsmanship ideals?

You aren’t being fair by picking teams that can’t do anything about it and making a mockery of them and the game. You risk civility if any of the opposing players decide enough is enough (and I wouldn’t blame them!). You are not being honest when you can’t break a record in the spirit or normal flow of a game; you have to rig your own system to get what you want. Unselfishness? Sure, for the other 19 guys who turned down wide-open layups and just kept passing to Taylor for more three-point shots.

This might explain why Grinnell was posting several times over the offseason looking to fill open dates for men’s basketball. Who wants to be a party to this kind of display?

This gets me to the last two ideals of sportsmanship: respect and responsibility. You haven’t earned anyone’s respect for the shenanigans being pulled in any of the record attempts. Many people would argue that the assist “rules” were actually circumvented or stretched just so Arseneault Jr. could break the record. And in the two record scoring games, you didn’t earn anyone’s respect … you in fact may have lost respect.

And responsibility … that lies in the following.

I hear from coaches all the time about “teachable moments” for their athletes. Grinnell is not only a nationally recognized liberal arts college, U.S. News and World Report ranks it as the third best undergraduate teaching college. So, how is rigging a game against an inferior opponent a teachable moment? What in the world do gimmicks like these actually teach the young minds of this team and the rest of the college? If you want to go out there and get national attention by embarrassing your opponent and scoring as many points as you can despite the fact almost every other coach in the country would have called off the dogs in a blowout … you can do it here and this will prepare you for your future in life?

What makes it worse? The college is still touting the achievement on its main website. I’m not talking about the athletic website; I am talking about the college’s main site.

There are plenty of responsibilities for coaches and programs, especially as the competition levels go higher. In Division III, I feel the most responsible thing is to consider that while many schools are putting their best foot forward and bringing in students to help win conference and maybe national championships, it isn’t the only thing that is important to these student-athletes. There are also institutions that may not compete for titles, but feel it is in their best interest for a variety of reasons, including making their students better people, to field teams and teach student-athletes the values of being part of a team and a bigger purpose than individual aspirations.

You don’t see the Amherst’s, Williams’, St. Thomas’, Wash U.’s, Johns Hopkins’, MIT’s, etc. of Division III or any division decide that, against what could be called an inferior opponent, destroying that team and those players just to break a record is acceptable. You also don’t see those teams putting just one player ahead of the entire rest of the team and applauding them for a ridiculous individual achievement in something that is considered a team sport.

So I congratulate Jack Taylor for an impressive 138-point night, but I ask one simple question: What was the point? To quote a very good sports information director at Washington College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Phil Ticknor, Cory Weissman (whose incredible story from last season is being made into a movie) scored one point in his career. Jack Taylor scored 138 in a game. Weissman’s was more impressive.”

This is Division III. If we get on ESPN or the Today Show or any national media, we should be happy because it was a story like Cory Weissman’s and not Jack Taylor’s. This was clearly a moment that was NOT “why D3.”

2 thoughts on “Hoopsville Rant: 138 points – What was the point?

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