How often does this happen?
An assistant coach from the visiting team will walk into the gym at the University of Redlands this afternoon and step onto a court that bears his own name.
Gary Smith, the Redlands coach for 36 seasons until his retirement last year, returns to Currier Gym today as a volunteer assistant for Grinnell College, a Division III school in Iowa that plays the same pell-mell, high-scoring system he ran in his later seasons at Redlands.
“This will be a very strange feeling, to go back to play at a place I coached at for so long,” said Smith, 66. “Redlands has been my life. It was a hard decision to leave.”
Since Smith’s departure, Redlands has left behind the scoring-crazed style that produced games such as last season’s 153-149 victory over Whitman College and an NCAA-record 132.4-point scoring average during the 2004-05 season.
Under new Coach Jim Ducey, the frantic pace is a thing of the past, with 4-6 Redlands playing some games in the 50s and 60s.
“It’s more traditional. The way most sane people play, I guess,” Smith said with a laugh, adding that he knew the style he embraced would change with his departure.
“It was just time at Redlands,” he said. “And there’s great feelings. It was not in any way a bitter departure, for either side.”
Not long after his 17-7 final season -- the best since 1992 for a Redlands program that had become better known for its style than its success -- Smith had lunch at the Final Four in Atlanta with David Arseneault, the Grinnell coach whose system he emulated.
His retirement was quickly over, with Smith signing on for a one-year stint at Arseneault’s side.
He moved to Iowa for the season, leaving his wife, Carol, behind -- at first in Redlands, and now in Davis, where the couple recently bought a home to be near relatives.
Smith’s plan was to stay with Arseneault and his wife, Ellie, for a few days and find an apartment. He never did.
“I’m still there,” he said with a laugh.
The room he lives in belongs to the Arseneaults’ daughter Jennie, who plays on the golf team at Virginia.
“It’s not pink,” Smith said. “It has a lot of golf stuff in it. I have had a good time. They’re really nice people.”
The Arseneaults have a son, also named David, who is a junior guard for Grinnell (8-1) who last month set an NCAA record with an astonishing 34 assists against Minnesota’s North Central.
The previous record of 26 was set by Robert James of Division III Kean in 1989. The Division I record of 22 is shared by three players, among them Dallas Mavericks Coach Avery Johnson, who reached the mark at Southern in 1988.
“I’d probably never seen more than 17 in a game, half that much,” Smith said. “He crushed the previous record.”
Smith explains Arseneault’s record partly by saying that “the ball is in his hands all the time.” And in Grinnell’s system of wholesale substitutions -- five players at once -- for hockey-style shifts that often last less than a minute, Arseneault’s usual 20-minute game reached 38 minutes.
Grinnell won, 151-112.
The Grinnell system is even more all-out to score than the one Paul Westhead used at Loyola Marymount in the days of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, and it has produced staggering statistics.
Grinnell has led Division III schools in scoring every season since 1994 except twice, in 2005 and 2007, when Redlands did.
“Most people look at the stats and say, ‘You don’t play any defense,’ ” Smith said. “Defense is a very important part of the pace.
“A lot of it, statistically, comes to one key, taking a lot more shots than the other team. We’ve had games where the opponent shoots in the high 70s and we shoot in the 30s and win the game. The other thing you try to do is play the three-for-two game, with three-pointers. Those are the two things we’re trying to accomplish.”
Less than a year into his “retirement,” Smith said he has enjoyed seeing how the elder Arseneault implements his system, a little differently from the way Smith adapted it. But he said he probably would stay only this season.
“I don’t know what next year will bring,” he said. “I’m not ready to get out of the game. I do find a real attraction to this style of play. I enjoy being on the edge a little. I don’t think I could go back to the other way now.”
Before his retirement, Smith and Arseneault devised their plan for the two high-scoring Division III teams to meet for the first time.
That happens today, but with the two coaches on the same bench, and a Redlands team stocked with many players who know the style well but today will be caught between their old playing game and their new one.
“That, I think, is one of the great things about the game of basketball,” Smith said. “There are so many different ways the game can be played.”
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The list of annual team scoring leaders in Division III men’s basketball has been dominated for nearly two decades by two schools: Grinnell, coached by David Arseneault, below, and Redlands:
*--* Year School (Record) PPG 1989 Redlands (15-10) 100.3 1990 Salisbury (14-13) 104.5 1991 Redlands (15-11) 104.8 1992 Redlands (18-7) 100.4 1993 Salisbury (18-8) 98.1 1994 Grinnell (13-8) 109.4 1995 Grinnell (14-7) 115.3 1996 Grinnell (17-8) 103.5 1997 Grinnell (10-12) 102.5 1998 Grinnell (10-12) 110.6 1999 Grinnell (11-11) 114.0 2000 Grinnell (6-15) 103.6 2001 Grinnell (16-8 118.2 2002 Grinnell (12-12) 124.9 2003 Grinnell (19-6) 124.8 2004 Grinnell (18-6) 126.2 2005 Redlands (14-11) 132.4 2006 Grinnell (14-9) 117.3 2007 Redlands (17-7) 117.1 *--*