Former Redlands coach helping out at Grinnell

Once watching their respective teams rival each other for national scoring titles, David Arseneault and Gary Smith are now sitting on the same bench.

Arseneault (left photo) is in his 19th year coaching the Grinnell College men’s basketball team, and the run-and-gun system he developed for the Pioneers in the early 1990s continues to make national headlines. Smith (right photo) is recently retired from a 37-year coaching career at the University of Redlands (Calif.). During that time he ran up-tempo offenses in two different stints, the second a direct offshoot of Grinnell’s style.

Frequent meetings and a shared philosophy forged a friendship between the two coaches. That led to Smith’s decision after retirement to move to Grinnell, where he lives with Arseneault’s family while serving as a first-year volunteer coach for the Pioneers.

In fact, before Smith’s retirement was official, the two coaches had managed to set up a game between their programs on Jan. 6, 2008, in California. Although still an anticipated battle for Grinnell, the contest won’t feature the intended unique twist as Redlands has converted to a more traditional style of play this season.

Arseneault and Smith share equal praise for each other and what each brings to a basketball program. “David has a very intuitive sense and feel of the team,” said Smith. “He does a great job of seeing how things are presented in practice and then making the necessary adjustments.”

“You couldn’t have two more different coaching styles,” added Arseneault of Smith. “He’s the most organized person I’ve met and I’m at the reverse edge of the scale. I think it’s good for our players to see that other side rather than just my style.”

Arseneault can still remember introducing his system a few years after starting at Grinnell. “We had a group of recruits who seemed really enthusiastic to play this style. They had a different mentality than the returning core of players, a group that maybe lost one too many games over the years. I tried to keep them apart for that reason, so we formulated groups. I didn’t want the upperclassmen not to play, but also didn’t want them to affect the exuberance of the newcomers. So that’s kind of how it started.”

As time went on, more and more coaches wanted to know the finer points of the system, which implements up-tempo play, plenty of 3-pointers, pressure defense and frequent five-player substitutions. “I’d say that’s what a third of my job duties consist of, answering inquiries about our system from all over the country,” Arseneault said.

Smith actually ran up-tempo ball at Redlands two decades ago. “We played fast before there was such a thing as the Grinnell system,” he recalled. “Back in the late 80s and early 90s we were running, only that was more of the Loyola Marymount system. But we eventually went away from that due to personnel.”

After some time back in the traditional mode, Smith longed for a return to the fast style. “I wanted to get back into it,” he said. “I missed it and knew what Grinnell was doing back here. I like playing fast and our program needed a shot in the arm. We’d hit a down slope and I figured something different might work to turn us around.”

That led Smith to track down Arseneault and learn what he could. “Gary contacted me and said he felt his kids could run, so he was wondering if he couldn’t learn more about our system,” said Arseneault. “He tried it for a year and it wasn’t working very well I could see that on the game film he sent me.”

Smith agreed with Arseneault’s assessment of the trial period. “Let’s just say the first year was not very productive,” Smith laughed. “In hindsight, I think I tried to complicate things too much. I sent David the game films and then came back here the next summer. That’s when I got that close-up look and found out how to do it the right way.”

That close-up look eventually paid dividends. After Grinnell won 11 consecutive Division III national scoring titles from 1994-2004, Redlands broke that string in 2005 with a still-record 132.4 points per game. Grinnell regained the scoring title the next season, only to have Redlands win it in 2007.

“Sure enough, once he got the hang of it he went on to break all of our records,” Arseneault said with a laugh. “The one year his team averaged 132 points a game. I thought it was pretty impressive the year we scored 126, but 132 I don’t get it.”

Smith will have mixed feelings when he returns to Currier Gym, the home court for Redlands. “It will be fun getting back there, but it will also be very different to be in that gym with my (former) team sitting on the other bench,” he said. “I don’t really know how to describe the feelings that will be going through me.”

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Cal State men have momentum after 2-0 showing in Las Vegas

The Cal State San Bernardino men’s basketball team looked impressive in its two games at the Great Western Shootout in Las Vegas last week. The Coyotes (9-1) defeated Central Washington, 83-60, and Western Washington, 71-65, to improve to 4-0 against teams from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference

That could loom large down the stretch because the California Collegiate Athletic Association, GNAC and Pacific West conferences all are battling for the same spots in the Division II West Regional come March. More impressive is the fact that all four victories came on a neutral court.

“That is going to help us down the road but we still have to take care of business in the conference,” coach Jeff Oliver said. “The conference is very deep this year. There aren’t going to be any easy games.”

Oliver saw a huge bright spot in each of the games. Central Washington went in averaging 92.8 points per game and were held to 60 by the Coyotes’ “monster” defense. The Wildcats managed only that many because Oliver emptied his bench early.

Then against Western Washington, the Coyotes bounced back from a 13-point, first-half deficit to pull out the game in the last two minutes.

“We showed a lot of character and really kept our composure down the stretch,” Oliver said. “Our guys made the plays in the end when they had to.”

Six of the Coyotes’ nine victories and 7 of 10 games have come against teams with a winning record. Cal State’s seven above-.500 foes have a combined 38-15 record, and two teams have lost only to the Coyotes.

The team’s balance is paying off as six different players have led the Coyotes in scoring in the 10 games. Senior guard Lance Ortiz leads Cal State (13.4 points per game) but is followed closely by senior center Michael Earl (12.4 ppg) and senior backcourt mate Marlon Pierce (10.2 ppg). Ortiz and Pierce are the only Coyotes to have started all 10 games.

Earl leads the CCAA in field-goal percentage (.703) and blocked shots (30); Ortiz leads in steals (28), is second in assists (5.40 pg) and third in free-throw percentage (.875).

The Coyotes will return to action Jan. 4-5, hosting games back-to-back nights against Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Dominguez Hills, bottom-tier teams in the past which had great recruiting classes and are expected to contend this season.

After that, the Coyotes will play 8 of 10 on the road.

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La Verne women win in Cancun

Undeterred by the scenic backdrop and tropical climate of Cancun, Mexico, the University of La Verne womens basketball squad kept its focus to deliver an 82-54 triumph over Kings College (PA) on Day 2 of the Caribbean Hoops Showdown at the Moon Palace Resort.

Marissa Raya continued her momentum from a night earlier and sparked the Leopards offensively with a game-high 30 points on the evening. Raya finished 13-of-21 from the field including a 4-of-10 effort from three-point range.

Trenecca Jones collected 10 points along with 14 rebounds to post her third consecutive double-double and fourth overall this season. Ashley Paul tallied 14 points while Lindsey Shiomi distributed a career-high 13 assists.

The Leopards dominated the opening 20 minutes and rode the hot hand of Raya, who torched the Monarchs for 16 first half points to help stake the Leopards to a 39-13 halftime advantage.

La Verne grabbed an early lead of 14-5 in the first four minutes and never looked back. ULV would extend its advantage to 27-9 at the 9:34 mark behind the hot shooting of Raya and Ashley Paul, who totaled 11 points in the opening frame. Moreover, La Verne enjoyed a decisive 25-12 edge on the boards and limited the Monarchs to a shooting percentage of 21.4% in the opening stanza.

After Kings scored the first 6 points of the second half to get within 20 points, the Leopards responded with 10-0 run to build a 49-19 advantage. A Charleen Guerrero jumper with 2:29 remaining gave La Verne its biggest lead of the game (35) at 82-47.

With the win, La Verne joined seventh-ranked Messiah College (PA) as the only teams to go undefeated during the six-team, two-day holiday tournament. It opened the tournament the previous day with a 60-56 win over Carnegie-Mellon, led by Jones and Raya.

ULV returns to action on Dec. 29th to host Transylvania University as part of a Leopard mens and womens doubleheader. Tip-off is 3 p.m.

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