Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lawrence vs. Grinnell: A Look Inside

Today in lieu of a game recap, I have a special treat. Some of you undoubtedly were aware that in addition to a handful of intriguing games involving all of my fair state’s division one college powers, there was a division three game of note taking place in Appleton, Wisconsin on Friday night. Indeed, I had a few friends email me about the fact that the game was available via webcast. What was so intriguing, you ask? That’s right, the Grinnell College Pioneers (from Iowa) were visiting the Lawrence University Vikings. Lawrence is off to an great start, going undefeated to this point in the season, making the Grinnell visit even more intriguing. Some of you may recall that Grinnell is the home of an innovative form of basketball that runs players in and out of the game in 1-2 minute shifts, and forces a tempo that’s as fast as possible. Shots, substitutions and fouls occur at record pace. It’s a novelty that was interesting enough to get ESPN to pick up a game of theirs last season. And it’s truly a bizarre thing to watch.

Of course, watching Grinnell last season, one of the things that crossed my mind is that running a game like that must be a logistical nightmare for the people involved in the game. Keeping track of what’s going on with so much action constantly occurring can’t be easy. How does one handle a game with substitutions numbering in the hundreds, and a virtual guarantee that 200 points will be scored?

Well, we’re all in luck, because today we’re going to be taking an inside look at what it’s like to be the man with the most important job in the gym during a crazy game like that. The one man, without whom, there would be no reason to play the game. That’s right–we’re talking to the scorekeeper.

You see, in an email to alert me to the webcast, my friend Ryan let it slip that he does scoring for Lawrence games, and would be handling the score book for the Grinnell game. Ryan, a former player at Lawrence, as well as a current employee (and general goodwill ambassador) for the school, is an avid basketball fan, and is near the top of my list of people who are fun to watch games with. Thus, while I was honored and thankful that he was willing to answer a few questions for me about the experience of working the table during an official scorer’s nightmare game, I was far from surprised that he was willing to do so.

So thanks again to Ryan, and without further adieu, here are his answers to a few questions that I posed to him on Monday:

1) Was there any mental or physical preparation that went into readying yourself for the challenge of scoring a game played at Grinnell's up-tempo style? I assume you at least did some wrist exercises to keep your writing hand limber, but anything else?

I was definitely nervous coming into Friday night. A lot of mental preparation went into scoring this game. I really focused on my technique and my "system" (yes, just like Grinnell, I have my own system) last weekend when I did the Ripon-Lawrence game. The Ripon game was only the second home game of the year for Lawrence, and they were somewhere around 46 days apart (they beat UW-Oshkosh at home on Nov 22 when UW-Zero was ranked #2 in the nation). The Ripon-Lawrence game was an exciting game and one that I usually really get into as a spectator. Scoring this game was a great way to prepare me for the Grinnell game. I lost my focus once during the Ripon game and the ref gave me a good holler to keep my focus. I got a little red in the face and flustered by this, but I needed it. I couldn't afford to do this during the Grinnell. Anyway, I definitely benefitted from working out a few kinks and tightening up my "system". I went into Friday night's game with two, fully-loaded Bic MatiC Grip mechanical pencils (0.5 mm #2), a Snickers bar, and a Gatorade. I like a writing utensil with a fine point and I also need something erasable in case I make a mistake (which I didn't), that's why I go with Bic mechanical pencils. I brought an extra pencil this game to be extra cautious, and made sure they were fully-loaded because I tend to press too hard and break the lead frequently. Over the last two years I've noticed that referees also press too hard when signing the scorebook and giving it the okay, and that is why I hand them a pen. (I used to hand them a regular old pencil, but thought that they might suspect me of being kind of a mechanical pencil snob and that way handing them a pen makes it look more official and permanent.) The Snickers and Gatorade were there to provide me with the energy and focus to make it through the game. I also took off my "LiveStrong" bracelet because I wear it on my writing-hand and I've noticed that wearing this changes the degree at which my wrist rests when writing, and the change in the degree of my wrist affects my speed.

2) I understand that the line changes for Grinnell are pretty consistent. Did the players individually report to you every time that they went into the game, or did they have some sort of expedited system (say, one of the guys telling you that the "B" group was going in)?

Funny you should ask this question. I think it's amusing that players always report to me. Why? Because I only mark them in the book the first time they enter a half and if they've already been in the game, I could care less who's going in for who. It's the only logical thing to do because the scorebook just doesn't allow you to record how often a player enters or leaves the game. The Lawrence Sports Information Director tracks all the stats during the game on his computer. A student assistant to the SID keeps track of players checking in and players checking out - that's all he does the entire game. I always make sure he knows who's going in for who, and sometimes when players report to me I refer them to the student-assistant. His job was a lot easier in tracking who's subbing for who because Grinnell does a whole-sale every 1-2 minutes. The gentleman who does the scoreboard is always asking players to get down when checking in. As Friday's game got closer and as Grinnell was going on runs, he really laid into them and barked at them to get down. I thought it was hilarious. He's a riot if you know him, and it was funny to hear his frustration let out on the unsuspecting Grinnell players when they were checking in.

3) As a man who used to pick up some spare change scoring high school games during his teen years, I've always wondered what happens to the box signifying that a player has checked in during a given half when that player checks in, say, eight times. On Grinnell's half of the book, did it just look like you were taking a standardized test?

I kind of touched on this one during my last answer. Seriously, what am I supposed to do? I've never bothered to ask anybody and it never seemed to matter. However, I did stop play during the game with about 1:15 remaining. A Grinnell player fouled out (one of three to do so) and Grinnell subbed five guys in before the first free throw of a double bonus (which Lawrence was in at about 12 minutes left in the second half). After the first free throw, David Arseneault, the coaches son, checked back into the game. Which I believed to be a no-no. We got the refs attention and he was sent back to the sideline. I had a good laugh because it was totally unnecessary with the game wrapped up for Lawrence with just over a minute left. Even Arseneault, the player, got a good laugh out of it.

Speaking of standardized tests, I must also add that Lawrence does not require applicants to submit standardized test scores for admission or scholarship. Lawrence is convinced that quality of high school curriculum and performance within that curriculum are better indicators of academic success than test scores. If students feel that their scores accurately represent their academic abilities, they may feel free to have them sent to us. If students feel that their scores do not accurately reflect their academic abilities, they need not send them. For more info about Lawrence's decision to adopt a test-optional approach, please refer to the following link:


(Hey, like I said, he’s a goodwill ambassador for the university.)

4) I understand that you have some pretty deep Lawrence ties. Any chance that you collaborated with the scoreboard operator to, you know, give a little assistance to Lawrence in getting the win? Come on, we won't tell anyone.

Well, I did mention that the scoreboard operator likes to yell at opposing players when Lawrence is losing or when the opposing team is going on a run. I try to remain nonpartisan (which is difficult at times) and I also try not to complain about bad or missed calls. However, you have to give referees a lot of credit. If people thought of referees as bullriders, I think there would be a lot less complaining. You see, everyone thinks they can ref. Few people actually think they could ride a bull. Reffing a game is a lot like riding a bull. You don't want to fall off or make a bad call, but it's bound to happen. I'd love to put an older, overweight lady in all-black Nike Shoks, dress her in vertical stripes, give her a whistle and tell her to officiate a game just as much as I'd like to see her bucked from a bull. If people thought of officiating in this way, there would be a whole lot less complaining at games. (Of course, some refs are actually rodeo clowns and deserve everything they get.)

Anyway, I usually make eye contact with the Lawrence assistant coach known as "The Giant" and give him a timeout update throughout the game and during timeouts. We have a system of full timeouts first, and then 30 second timeouts. For the away team, other than the courtesy one timeout remaining, they gotta show me some concern or inquire. I'm not going to go out of my way. That's about it when it comes to so-called "assistance" to the home team. I think the better your team is, the easier it is to be nonpartisan.

5) I assume you were pretty worn out from all the scorer's table action by the end of the game. So, were you able to make it home before going directly to bed, or did you just curl up in a ball in the corner of the gym?

I seriously had sweat through two shirts (both of which made from Nike Dri-Fit material - where was the wicking action!?) and had to stand during timeouts. The game got over at about 10pm. It seemed like we did a double-header. Grinnell fouled Lawrence 94 times during the game, and was called for 37 of them (see, what did I just say about bullriding). That and 36 turnovers resulted in a lot of stoppage of play.

6) Okay, two serious questions-I've seen neither team play this year (despite my touting of Lawrence as a team to watch during a radio interview earlier this year). Any legitimate basketball points you'd like to make with regards to this game? And since you'd be an expert on this, tell us why seeing a Lawrence game this year is undoubtedly a worthwhile experience.

Watching anybody grab 24 rebounds in a game is an amazing site. Chris Braier is of a higher power. His ability to be exactly where a missed shot caroms off the rim is comparable to David Blaine's ability to levitate - it's freaky. He's rarely (if ever) the tallest player on the court. He's pure will and determination. He is the MWC's round mound of rebound. He also had a double-double halfway into the first half.

Anytime Grinnell plays, it's not a real basketball game. I hated playing against Grinnell and ultimately now have a strong hatred towards Grinnell College; Grinnell, Iowa; Iowa; and states beginning with the letter "i". I hated scoring 29 points (on 11 of 14 shooting), grabbing 12 rebounds and handing out 8 assists at home against their "system" my senior year because anybody with reasonable basketball ability and intelligence can do it. To beat Grinnell, you need 5 players who can remain calm, make smart decisions, be strong with the ball, and can finish layups. It's all about discipline. It's like eating a bag of Cheetos and resisting the urge to lick your fingers until your done eating them (otherwise, eating Cheetos with freshly moistened fingers
only adds to your finger's ability to attract orange cheese at an exponential rate, increase your ability to make a mess, and make cleaning up a heck of a lot harder).

As much as I dislike Grinnell, they have some pretty good players. Paul Nordlund reminds me a bit of Dirk Nowitzki - he's a tall gunner. #12, John Grotberg is a legitimately great basketball player from Ann Arbor, MI. I was very impressed with his play. Grinnell's system allows shooters to shoot with great confidence. There's no worries to go 6 of 17 from behind the arc - which is exactly what this freshman did. Grinnell also has a 6'9" kid who has a lot of potential.

Lawrence is currently off to its best start in school history (12-0). They play Carroll College on Wednesday night who is also undefeated in conference play. Chris Braier is simply amazing and fun to watch. You can tell he's the hardest worker out on the floor and also, he smiles the most. He's having fun and I admire that - that's why I love watching him play. Kyle MacGillis is the most unconventional basketball player I've ever seen. I don't know why or how he's as good as he is. He dribbles with his head down and the ball comes up to his shoulders when he dribbles. Also, his shot is different every time he shoots. He's off-balanced when he shots, and the other night I saw him end up at the elbow after shooting a free throw. He averaged 26.5 points this weekend and he's also the team's best defender. I saw him go 1 for 9 against Ripon and then a week later go 10 for 13 (6 of 7 on 3s) against Lake Forest. I love this guy too. Keven Bradley is senior who transferred from UW-Stevens Point last year. He's playing like a senior and is incredibly poised. He's the rock on this team. I saw him do something I've never seen or heard of in my life before, last week against Ripon he scored the final 20 points of the game for Lawrence and went 8 for 8 from the floor (5 of 5 on 3s). Ryan Kroeger, a freshman guard, is a poor-man's Travis Diener. He's exciting to watch and has one of the prettiest shots I've ever seen in Division III. He doesn't play like a freshman and isn't afraid to shoot.

So there’s the insider's view. Thanks again to Ryan. And of course, I’d highly suggest to any basketball fan that they drop in on a Lawrence game this year if they have the chance. As Ryan notes, it’s high quality basketball. I’ve not been to a Viking game yet myself, but I guarantee there will be at least one that I squeeze in prior to the end of the year.


At 3:01 PM, Anonymous hank_gathers said...

Try to catch a Loyola Marymount game from the late-80's / early-90's on ESPN Classic sometime to see the archetype of this style of play. Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers, Jeff Fryer, Per Stumer and the boys would beat Grinnell by about 100 points. The overtime game against LSU and Shaq is particularly good.

At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fast break basketball is REAL basketball. What Dean Smith did with the 4 corners was not basketball. If it wasn't for the shot clock, the scores would be 14-13, who wants to play or see that garbage?


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