Grinnell Super Scorer Jack Taylor Opens Up About Stats, Style of Play

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Grinnell Super Scorer Jack Taylor Opens Up About Stats, Style of Play
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One year ago today Grinnell College's Jack Taylor incredibly scored 138 points in one game. After 365 days it still looks like a misprint. 

The NCAA Division III scoring machine was back in the news on Sunday after accumulating 109 points against Crossroads College, becoming the first player in NCAA history to score 100 or more points in a game twice in a career.

Don't be surprised if the 23-year-old junior adds to that record in the near future as he continues to reap the benefits of the "Grinnell System." For a player like Taylor, who would love nothing more than to keep shooting until the scoreboard malfunctions, there isn't a more perfect basketball program in the world.

"Playing here is really a scorer's dream," Taylor told me in a phone interview.

How does a single player score 138 points in a single basketball contest?

In short, the system at Grinnell College relies heavily upon three-point shooting, full-court pressure and a rigorous offseason cardiovascular routine. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, everyone on the Pioneers is running at full speed. It's basically VCU's 'Havoc Defense' multiplied by the run-and-gun offense that Loyola Marymount used to run in the late 1980s, with some differences, of course.

On defense, the Pioneers double-team the player with the ball at all times and aren't afraid to give up a ton of uncontested layups in exchange for the number of turnovers that they turn into three-point baskets. To survive 40 minutes of constant effort, players rotate in and out in intervals of less than 90 seconds.

"Hockey on hardwood," assistant coach David Arseneault Jr. called it.

On offense, it's three-pointers, three-pointers and more three-pointers. Four men crash the glass after every long-range shot. Should they grab an offensive rebound, the ideal approach is to kick it right back out to the original shooter for another three-point attempt.

The Pioneers don't completely disregard uncontested two-pointers, but through two games, 137 of their 220 field-goal attempts (62.3 percent) have been three-point shots.

The offense doesn't necessarily need to run through an individual scorer—Grinnell won a game last season 136-65 without anyone reaching 30 points—but it's more fun when it does.

In just about every way, Grinnell's offense is like nothing you've ever seen on TV. If anything, it's more like what you might see in a pick-up game at the local rec center.

"There's no one way to play the game," Arseneault Jr. said. "A lot of people immediately want to criticize it because they aren't exactly sure what's happening. I'll be quite honest, when I'm watching our games live, everything is going so fast that I'm not even sure what's happening. But we've found something that has turned into a reasonably competitive strategy that's a little outside the box."

"A little outside the box" is an understatement. Through its first two games, Grinnell is averaging 158.5 points and 68.5 three-point attempts. Crossroads shot 73.8 percent from the field on Sunday and still lost to Grinnell by 50.

But it works, and it's tailor-made for Taylor.

"I knew it would work perfectly in my game because I am a scorer," Taylor said. "I like to create shots on my own off the dribble, and I knew that I would be a good fit in the system."

It took a while for him to make it to the dream system, though.

After averaging more than 20 points per game in high school, Taylor went to Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania in hopes of eventually being offered a D-I scholarship. Unfortunately, he suffered a nasty knee injury that not only cut short his one season there, but also caused him to sit out the following season at D-III University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

That didn't deter Grinnell from getting its man.

Head coach David Arseneault Sr. said, "He was a high school teammate of one of our players, so we'd known of him for a long time. Like most kids, he had aspirations of playing D-I, and he had a realistic chance before he blew out his knee."

The Pioneers had to recruit him three times before he finally committed.

"I couldn't even be a part of the third recruiting process, because I was so devastated about the first two," said Arseneault Sr. "I told my son, 'If you want to do it, go for it, but I'm done.'

"He's the best scorer I've ever coached, and it's not even close," said Arseneault Sr. 

For the most part, people tend to agree that Taylor is a special talent. Twitter blew up on Sunday night, praising his latest triple-digit scoring effort.

There are a fair number of people, though, who don't think Taylor is anything special. Deadspin's Barry Petchesky wrote last year that Taylor's 138-point game was a "sham record." It's a viewpoint that he reiterated on Monday after the latest scoring bonanza.

Petchesky interviewed a former member of the Grinnell team, who said that the coaches would plan from the outset of the game to set records against inferior opponents. Petchesky called it a "freak show designed to make SportsCenter."

Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports took it one step further in his column on Tuesday, suggesting that Arseneault only allows/mandates Taylor to score more than 100 points to sell more copies of his books.

There is certainly something to be said for the fact that Sunday's 109-point game came against a short-handed team from the National Christian College Athletic Association that lists the Mayo Clinic as its athletic trainer. At a certain point, you would hope that the coach would have his team take its foot off the gas and/or distribute the ball to get everyone involved.

Having personally been on the losing end of a 68-4 high school junior varsity game, I can promise that Crossroads wasn't having nearly as much fun as Taylor and Grinnell.

Really, though, how much different are Taylor's huge games from the stats that the No. 1 Alabama or No. 2 Florida State football teams will put up this weekend when they face Chattanooga and Idaho, respectively? Even if Arseneault does get to sell a few more $15 copies of his books, ask Baylor University how much money a Heisman winner generates for a school.

Taylor doesn't much care about the negative press that his records have generated.

"I try not to let that get to me," said Taylor. "A lot of that criticism comes our way, but for me as a player, I'm just playing in a crazy system and trying to be aggressive in scoring the basketball. Some people will say that I'm worse than I am. Some people will think that I'm better than I am.

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"I just try to let my game do the talking."

The Arseneaults certainly don't shy away from the criticism, either. In fact, they take pride in their record-setting tendencies.

I asked the head coach if he ever dreamed that a 138-point game might be possible in his system.

"To be honest, we thought about it... The thought of 'What would happen if Taylor took every single shot?' did cross our mind. If someone wanted to go to that extreme, you could probably get up in the range of 170 points.

"I don't care who you're playing. If you can score 53 points in nine minutes (as Jack did to start the second half in his 109-point game), that's incredible."

On whether or not Taylor could break Pistol Pete Maravich's all-time NCAA record for points per game in a season (44.5 PPG in 1969-70), Arseneault Sr. said, "We'll have to see where it goes, but we are sensitive to allowing people to break records, because that's kind of what we do.

"I think we're about to see a series of box-and-one defenses and I wouldn't want his scoring to negatively affect our team's chances of winning, but if we're out of the playoff hunt and he has a chance to break the record, I say, 'shoot it.'

"I'm not going to apologize for it. We have fun with it and the kids have some great memories doing it. Even the ones that aren't setting the record are just happy to be a part of history."

Grinnell is 11-3 and averaging a not-so-modest 127.6 points per game in the 14 games that Taylor has played for the program.

"The system has won multiple conference championships and we've won a lot of games," Taylor said. "It's pretty special because we have a lot of fun along the way. In our unique system, records are possible. We're not afraid to have a little fun and experiment with the game while winning at the same time."

Winning certainly wasn't always the norm at Grinnell, but since the start of the 2002-03 season, Grinnell has won 66 percent of its games for a record of 173-91.

It'd be one thing if the Pioneers were setting a bunch of records and still losing twice as many games as they win, but it's difficult to completely write off a successful strategy as a gimmick.

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Because of its success, I asked Taylor if he thinks the Grinnell System could work at a D-I level.

"I think it would be tough from a defensive standpoint," said Taylor. "We're so focused on trying to wear the other team down because we know that a lot of teams at the D-III level don't have very deep benches. Our goal is to take their legs out and get some turnovers. It might be tough just trying to trap guards at higher levels."

Could Taylor possibly have a future in the pros one day? Arseneault Sr. thinks so, but not in the NBA.

"He's too small for the NBA, but he could definitely play overseas," said Arseneault Sr. 

Sounds like we may never hear from Taylor again after he graduates, but he still has two seasons of eligibility left to blow our minds and try to bring another conference championship to Grinnell.

Will he score 100 points in a game again?

More like when will it happen again?

Grinnell plays Wartburg College on Wednesday evening, and yes, you can watch Taylor chase more history online.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer unless otherwise noted.

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