Call It ‘Paul Ball’ : Westhead Resurfaces With Frantic, High-Scoring Style at George Mason


You can tell by the rush of records broken, and you can see it in the blur of basketballs tossed toward the rim.

“Paul Ball,” a pulse-pounding blend of basketball and chaos, is alive again.

“My system will always surface when I can get good talent and the players are willing to work incredibly hard,” Paul Westhead said Wednesday after his George Mason team’s quick workout at Pauley Pavilion. “So I always have a chance.”

“Of course, I always have a chance of destruction too.”

Mostly, you know Westhead and his quick-draw brand of play is back in college basketball by the response of coaches who have to face it.


“It’s a real interesting system, as he calls it,” said UCLA Coach Jim Harrick, whose Bruins play host to George Mason tonight.

“And the thing you have to beware of is catching the disease. Running up and down the floor like that is a disease. We just have to make sure we play our kind of basketball and not their kind of basketball.”

The “system,” of course, is the shoot-first, ask-questions-later scheme that elevated Westhead’s late-1980s Loyola Marymount teams to national prominence when infused with the talents of Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers.

Now, after a two-year stint with the Denver Nuggets, Westhead, 55, is in his second season at George Mason, and already he has the Patriots leading the nation in scoring, at a 117.4-per-game clip.

Asked if Westhead is everything he expected, sophomore point guard Curtis McCants laughed and said: “He’s even more , man. He’s a real intense guy, he gets after it every day.”

The Patriots have won four of five games, but the victories have come against soft opposition, and the one defeat was a 127-104 loss to Louisiana State, which fell by 20 last week to UCLA.

“(George Mason) is a little bit like Loyola Marymount,” Westhead said. “Both universities were kind of struggling and were in last place in their league. (At Loyola), I was able to kind of generate some interest and get some things going.”


Westhead won an NBA title with the Lakers in 1980, was forced out two seasons later and had coached LaSalle for nine years before that.

But his name was made at Loyola, where Westhead developed the philosophy of driving other teams into submission or exhaustion by going faster, harder and longer. The emotional run, including a 34-point victory over defending champion Michigan, in the 1990 NCAA tournament following the death of Gathers cemented Westhead’s reputation as an innovator.

Amid the tangle of Gathers-related litigation, Westhead left the next season for Denver, where the up-tempo pace produced only 44 victories in two seasons.

After a year off, Westhead jumped back in with George Mason, sure that his system could still create success.

Before Westhead arrived, George Mason had gone 7-21 the previous two years under Ernie Nestor. In Westhead’s first season, George Mason struggled, going 10-17 and averaging, for Westhead, a paltry 88.3 points a game.

Still, the 1993-94 team set a school single-game scoring record in Westhead’s first game in a 129-119 victory over Troy State, a record since smashed twice already this year--most recently during a 148-point outing Dec. 10 against Troy State.


This year, Westhead has added some new players more comfortable with the breakneck pace--three of the Patriots’ top four scorers are new, and the fourth did not start last year as a freshman.

Guard Nate Langley (averaging 18.8 points a game) and forward Kevin Ward (18) both were Proposition 48 casualties last season, McCants (15.8) was a backup last season and swingman G.C. Marcaccini (12.6) arrived this year from Italy after going to high school at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and brief stints at the College of the Canyons and UC Santa Barbara.

And 6-foot-6 Pharoah Davis, from Palmdale, is one of the most promising players ever brought to George Mason.

“I think if you can take a team that has been at the bottom and all of a sudden they’re moving up, and the attendance is going up and they’re starting to win more games, there’s always room for somebody who can do that,” Westhead said.

“The only question is, ‘How far can I take them?’ Can I get them into the NCAA tournament? Can we beat Michigan by 34 points and all that? . . . Who knows? But we’re certainly going in the right direction.”

And going faster.

“The only refinements that I’m always working on is making it faster--even from the (Loyola days),” said Westhead, who, as he did at Loyola, sends his players to specific points on the floor each possession and demands they shoot as quickly as possible. “If I can find a way to make my outlets faster or push the ball or getting into a good shot position. . . .


“We try to shoot in four seconds. If we can cut it to three seconds, we want to do that. We’re always trying to keep pushing the other side of the envelope. We want to go faster.”

Harrick, who was 3-4 against Westhead’s Loyola teams when Harrick was at Pepperdine (including a 142-127 loss that still stands as the most points a Pepperdine team has ever surrendered), witnessed the development of the system.

And Harrick points to Kimble’s failed NBA career as proof of the system’s limitations.

“It’s not fundamentally sound--that’s just my opinion,” Harrick said. “Here’s a guy like Kimble, who I thought was a great player. When I played against him as a sophomore, he was terrific. But I guess in the NBA. . . .”

Said Westhead: “I thought Bo Kimble had a great college career. I think my style of play enhanced that. I think he was a very gifted player, was able to use what I did to his advantage.

“But he’s not the first nor the last of high draft picks to struggle in the NBA. I don’t think that’s a reflection of my style of play or my system, nor is it for Bobby Knight at Indiana when some of his guys don’t make it.”