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Grinnell College’s unusual formula for basketball success

Associate head coach David Arseneault Jr. (left) and head coach David Arseneault Sr. have drawn up a high-scoring, run-and-gun offense.stan grossfeld/gloe staff

GRINNELL, Iowa — The “Formula for Success” is no secret.

94 S + 47 3’s + 33% OR + 25 SD + 32 TO’s = W

Translation: If Grinnell College can get off 94 shots, half of which are 3-point attempts, rebound one-third of their offensive misses, take 25 more shots than the opponent, and force 32 turnovers, it will win 95 percent of the time.

Coach David Arseneault Sr., originally from Stoneham, Mass., is now in his 24th year coaching at Grinnell. His teams live and die with the 3-pointer. The Pioneers have ranked first in the country in 3-point shooting in 15 of the last 19 years.


In 1992, Arseneault instituted “The System,” which has brought five Midwest Conference titles since 1996.

An admirer of Paul Westhead’s aggressive Loyola-Marymount teams of the late ’80s, Arseneault Sr. also credits Dr. Paul Thomas of the University of Windsor with inspiration. They platooned with two groups of five players every few minutes and Arseneault liked the synergy of the groups.

He passed down The System to his son, David N. Arseneault Jr., who is associate head coach at Grinnell. They work together well. When Arseneault Jr. played for his father, he led the nation in assists per game (10.2)

“I am the king and he’s the president,” said Arseneault Sr.

His son provides details on The System: “We try to get a shot off every 12 seconds and get the ball back every 10 seconds. We sub the first whistle after 35 seconds of game time. We use different subbing combinations every game, but 15 different guys get on the court within the first three minutes.”

That allows fresh legs to press the ball as if the world is coming to an end on every possession. The Pioneers also do things that make basketball purists crazy.


“Goon ball is leaving two guys on the offensive end,” said Arseneault Sr. “People don’t like it. Why? Because we’re teaching people to test the boundaries of the game. Because we want our kids to think creatively. Because we like to have fun.”

They will gladly trade a layup for a 3-pointer.

When Arseneault Sr. arrived at Grinnell in 1989, the team had not had a winning season in 26 years. His first four years were miserable. His team was losing and players were quitting when they didn’t get playing time.

“One of those midnight dreams, I just woke up and said, ‘I’ve got to do something, we’re getting killed here,’ ” said Arseneault Sr.

Now everybody plays.

“Whoever has the ball at 12 seconds has to take the shot just to get the play going,” said the coach. “You wouldn’t believe how many bad shots we make because they don’t care about the result.”

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the rebounding totals of Grinnell College. The college rebounded one-third of their offensive misses.