Valley Christian basketball works ‘The System’
League championships and postseason appearances have become the norm at Valley Christian Academy, and when teams win, everyone tends to be happier.
But something was missing within Lions coach Brad Gunter Jr. — in his mind, his gut, his heart. Come playoff time, playing time shrunk for some.
“The last couple of years, it’s really hit me, the better we got,” Gunter says outside the gym at Sacramento Adventist following Valley Christian’s 84-45 victory over the Capitals on Feb. 14. “And at some point, unless you win the state title, the season ends, and I was left with kids that busted their hump all year and didn’t get to play anymore.
“What am I in it for? I’m in it for the kids to have fun. It’s not about the wins, not about anything else, so I’m gonna go for it. I’m gonna jump out on a limb, go extreme. I’ve always been a run-and-gun guy. Everybody’s gonna play; everybody’s gonna get to shoot.”
Gunter introduced Valley Christian to the Grinnell System this season, and it will be on display — at continual warp speed — tonight, when the Lions (19-6) put their 16-game winning streak on the line against visiting Woodland Christian (19-7) in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs.
Fans are more in tennis-match mode when watching The System in action. Fathered by David Arseneault at Grinnell College in Iowa, popularized by Paul Westhead at Loyola Marymount with Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers putting up amazing point totals, and captured in writing by successful coaches Doug Porter and Gary Smith, “The System” counts on the achievement of a set amount of goals in each game: Make five-for-five substitutions every 35 seconds, force more than 22 turnovers, shoot more than 35 three-pointers, rebound 33 percent of your misses, take a shot within 12 seconds of gaining possession and try to regain possession within 12 seconds.
“That’s if we’re going the distance of the floor. If we’re not, we want a shot off in seven seconds, and you’ll see it; it happens,” Gunter says. “The shot clock is not an issue for us whatsoever. In other words, we’re training 100-meter track stars.”
The players didn’t buy in immediately. The Lions started 3-6. Today, Valley Christian is the top-scoring team in the state and No. 8 in the nation at 84.2 points per game. Davis, which also runs The System and where Smith now is an assistant coach, is second in the state at 82.2 points.
Everyone on the team plays, and everyone shoots. Senior Jason Gish, the Lions’ leading scorer last season at 19 points per game, is averaging 19.5 this season.
Valley Christian gave 15 players court time against Adventist, and 14 scored. The Lions have had games where everyone scores. Gunter even suited up Danny Metz, important in his role as team manager, for two games, and he scored 10 points against Elk Grove-Lutheran.
“Honestly, that’s what it’s about,” Gunter says. “We don’t run The System to win ballgames; we run The System so kids can play. I wanted them to enjoy their experience. What more is there to enjoy when the coach says, ‘Guess what, you can shoot.’”
Valley Christian has compiled incredible numbers this season, including a 44-point quarter, 71 three-pointers taken in a game, 19 three-pointers made (twice) and 112 total shots in a game — a 32-minute game at that. The Lions scored a season-high point total in their regular-season finale Friday night, a 110-98 victory at Yuba City-Faith Christian. It was their third 100-point game this season.
“They keep putting in five guys, and all of them can shoot so it makes it real difficult, especially when you don’t have a defense to be able to maintain the intensity the entire game,” Adventist coach Nathanael Dunn says. “That’s where they wear you down. You might be able to stay with them for a little bit but eventually, the press and the three-pointers are going to catch up with you.”
Says Valley Christian senior Wright Hagerty, who also was the school’s quarterback, “It’s fast paced. You’re going all the time. It’s fun. It’s good. It keeps you in shape. I’ve never done this before.”
While Valley Christian’s offense comes from Grinnell, Gunter says its defensive concepts are from Smith and Porter. In short, the Lions run a full-court press from the opening tip. The Lions swarm the ball, reach, poke and dive, but they don’t want to foul.
“We do not want to stop the game,” Gunter says.
The Lions don’t mind giving up a layup or two, just not a three-pointer in transition. They want to make one solid attempt at a steal in the full court and another in the half court.
“After that, we want the ball back, as long as it’s not a three-point shot, and that keeps the pace of play going the entire time,” Gunter says. “People say all the time, ‘You’re giving up layups.’ My kids are busting their hump. It’s just a gambling defense for 32 minutes. We’re gambling on everything we do.”
The Lions’ constant defensive mauling, multiple bodies on the offensive boards and Daytona-size speedometer wear down and frustrate opponents, too. An Adventist player was called for a technical for an extra shove during a battle for a loose ball late in the game.
“We were waiting to see it in their faces,” Gunter says. “I told the guys, end of the third, fourth quarter, because they’re running with us. We just kept attacking. They had 30-some turnovers. Ten to 12 of those were them just throwing it out of bounds out of true being tired.”
Gunter, meanwhile, has newfound energy. He says he hasn’t scouted a game this season because The System is a simple offense and he knows every press-breaker a team will run. If an adjustment needs to be made, the Lions will make it with the next group substitution. The players are happy. They don’t miss practice and have taken ownership of their program. He’s now able to spend more time with his family, including freshman son Micah, a recent call-up from a JV team that went 20-6.
“I love it,” Micah Gunter says. “The games are faster, and guys dunk. I’m not used to that.”
Brad Gunter says the switch to The System has added life to his coaching career. He took time one day to e-mail Arseneault and thank him “for going out on a limb, because what he meant for it to be is what I found, and it’s not running it to win.
“Because next (season), we probably won’t be as talented as this year. But guess what, we’re still gonna launch 50 threes, we’re still gonna probably shoot about 90 to 100 times, we’re gonna attack the offensive glass. But all my kids are gonna get to play, and that’s why I ran it.”
SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION PLAYOFFS
WEDNESDAY’S LOCAL GAMES
No. 12 Granite Bay (14-13) at No. 5 Vallejo-Jesse Bethel (21-6): The Jaguars won the Solano County Athletic Conference with a 9-1 record. Bethel has scored 90 or more points five times this season, including three times in the last five games. Daseion Cole has scored 26 and 21 points in recent victories over Fairfield-Vanden and Vallejo.
No. 11 Woodland Christian (19-7) at No. 6 Valley Christian (19-6): The Cardinals tied for third in the Central Valley Christian League and have four players averaging in double figures — 5-foot-9 junior guard Benny Mitchell (14.5), 6-1 senior forward Torry Kelly (13.0), 6-4 sophomore center Anthony Castaneda (12.7) and 6-foot sophomore guard Robbie Miller (10.9). Kelly also averages 6.2 rebounds, four assists and three steals.