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Eisenhower's Mike White Jr. (21) goes up for a basket against Hillcrest. | Paul James Bergstrom~For Sun-Times Media
The Curta family flipped on the TV after getting home from scouting an upcoming opponent last week.
Nick, a senior at Eisenhower, couldn’t believe what he was watching. It was the final minutes of Jack Taylor’s record-setting night for the Grinnell College men’s basketball team.
If you’re any kind of a hoops fan, you probably know the details. Taylor, a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, went off for 138 points in a 179-104 victory over Faith Baptist Bible College on Nov. 20. That broke not only the NCAA Division III scoring record of 89 points (set last year by Grinnell’s Griffin Lensch), but also the all-time NCAA mark of 113 points established by Rio Grande’s Bevo Francis in 1954.
Taylor’s feat made him a media sensation, with Jimmy Kimmel, ESPN and “Good Morning America” among the many national outlets lining up for an interview.
It also made an impression at the Curta house, where, Nick said, “me and my brother were sitting there, yelling at the TV.”
No wonder Nick, his brother Vinny and his dad Mike, Eisenhower’s coach, were fired up. It was the latest chapter in the success story of “The Grinnell System,” the frenetic style of play dreamed up by Pioneers coach David Arsenault.
The “system” features non-stop, full-court pressure, a wave of three-point shots and five-on-five substitutions every 35 to 40 seconds. Other programs are picking it up on the high school and college level, including Eisenhower’s boys.
As is the case with change anywhere, some people think it’s the next big thing and others think it will ruin basketball as we know it.
Mike Curta and his sons are in the first camp, obviously.
“I would say everyone has their own opinion,” said Nick Curta, who’s in his third season in the system and will play at Grinnell next year. “You do what you can with the players you have. If all the guys on the team buy into it – I know [they do] at Grinnell and our place – it’s a perfect fit.”
The Cardinals are 1-2 this season, beating Fenger 104-84 and losing 84-82 to Marist and 92-90 to Shepard.
“If we slowed down and tried to run [a] Princeton [offense], we’d probably have the same record,” Mike Curta said.
But then the Cardinals would be playing less entertaining basketball.
After those Thanksgiving tourney contests, Mike Curta said, “people were walking out and saying, ‘What an unbelievable game.’”
Would they be saying the same after another game where both teams scored in the 50s? I’m guessing not.
Mike Curta, in his 22nd season as a head coach and third season running Grinnell’s system, has a question for those who don’t like this style of hoops.
“Then just tell me what’s the right way to play,” he said. “Don’t tell me it’s bad for basketball. To be honest, I don’t watch much basketball. I don’t want to see 22-20 [as a final score].”
So will any Eisenhower player pull a Jack Taylor? (The IHSA record, if you’re wondering, is 91 points by Cathedral’s John Battle against Roycemore in 1979.)
The stars would have to align for that, according to Mike Curta. The closest the Cardinals have come so far was Tyrone Terrell’s 50-point game against St. Laurence during a Christmas tournament.
“I think he made 13 threes on his own,” Mike Curta said. “When we subbed the five for five, we kept him out there.”
The possibility is there for a monster game by an Eisenhower player down the road, though Mike Curta said old habits may keep it from happening soon.
“I still have too much of that old-school basketball [philosophy] I’m trying to get out,” he said.
Still, never say never.
“I could see it happening,” Nick Curta said. “It’s got to be one of those nights when everything was working right.”
Like the night when Jack Taylor went off and the Curta brothers were yelling at the TV.