Not always Taylor-made


GRINNELL, Iowa -- I drove five hours in the rain, one way, to see The Scoring Machine score three points.

Can I get my toll money back?

Jack Taylor of Grinnell College scored three points, total, in the Pioneers' 88-79 win over Wartburg on Wednesday night. The two games before he'd scored 71 and 109, which is 61 points per game the hard way.

Taylor did have three assists, two steals and two guys (sometimes three) draped on him every second of the game, including bathroom breaks. It was one year to the day after he scored 138 in one game, the all-time college record. He came up only 135 short.

Thirty-five field goals last game. Zero this time.

"I can't remember the last time I didn't have a field goal," he said afterward. "Maybe ... never?"

Maybe this will shut up all the buzzkill columnists who say Grinnell's program is a sham and an embarrassment and an obscenity to college basketball.

"Of course it's a sham," says Grinnell's irrepressibly fun head coach, Dave Arseneault Sr. "We're as surprised as anybody. It's a sham in the sense of we really emphasize having fun. Everybody else takes sports so seriously. We're just having fun."

It's more than just fun, even when Taylor is clamped down. It's basketball and madness thrown into a Pyrex beaker, shaken up and spilled out on a Division III basketball court.

Tell me this isn't fun:

1. During practice, every player has to shoot 100 3s, while music blares.

2. During games, Arseneault is miffed if they don't get a shot off every 12 seconds, preferably a 3, Taylor or no Taylor.

3. "I get yelled at if I don't shoot," Taylor says. How many coaches ever do that?

4. Fifteen Grinnell players got in the game Wednesday night, 12 for double-digit minutes. Most teams are lucky to get their 15th guy on the floor once a year.

5. Grinnell's pregame locker room ritual is a bizarre Buddhist-style chant, followed by a song about Yao Ming, followed by everybody slamming each other off each other's lockers.

6. Arseneault doesn't even sit anywhere near the team. He watches three feet from the far end of the bench, sometimes with his granddaughter on his lap. His son, Dave Jr., does the coaching. The manager does all the substituting. Yes, the manager.

7. Grinnell (3-0) presses full-out, full-bore, all the time, which is why it subs five guys at a time every 35 seconds, like a hockey team. If it can't get a new line in, the manager holds up a fist, which means "Foul somebody."

8. The banners showcasing Grinnell's 18 national scoring titles are five times bigger than any of their Midwest Conference Championship banners. "OK, maybe I made those a little big," Dave Jr. says.

9. The Grinnell student body cheers wildly when the opponent dunks. As one fan in a wig told me: "We don't get to see many dunks."

10. Before Arseneault Sr. happened on his "system" that everybody in the country seems to think is the end of civilization, Grinnell had 27 straight losing seasons. Since the 1993 season, when Aresenault installed his current style of play, they've only had four losing seasons. "We wanted to make our gym a place people wanted to be," Arseneault said. After Taylor's 109 points on Sunday, 50 new recruits sent in their tapes.

Which would Arseneault rather have -- fun or wins?

"Oh, fun, by FAR," he says with a huge laugh.

What's a shame is that people take it out on the kid, Taylor, who's just an innocent in all this. He's a 5-foot-10, blue-eyed, buzz-cut junior who (I've heard) has a quick first step, a nice handle and a sweet J, when he's not wearing Wartburg players like a Burberry overcoat. Arseneault is the Professor Higgins in this show. Taylor is just Eliza Doolittle.

For instance, with Taylor locked up, Grinnell freshman Julian Marx had the night of his life -- 26 points and never took a 2-point try. He was so open you'd have thought he had the chicken pox. "We'd never even HEARD of him," said Wartburg coach Dick Peth.

Whack one scoring mole, another pops up.

"It really bothers me when people say I'm selfish," Taylor says. "I'm just doing exactly what my coach tells me to do -- shoot."

And when he's getting unfairly ripped, he's getting unfairly praised.

"I get people all the time thinking I'm going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft," he says. "They just don't get it."

That's life at the Arseneault Family School of Basketball Alchemy.

"Sometimes we sit around with the college record book, put our hands over our eyes and just point," Arseneault says. "What record should we go after today?"

He did it once with the college assists record, with Dave Jr. as the guinea pig.

"We had a rule that night," says Dave Jr. "Anybody could take any shot they wanted, but only if it came off a pass from me." His 34 assists that night are still the national record.

Another night they tried to set the record for most players to make a 3 in one game. "It was fun," Dave Jr. says. "Once a guy had his 3, we wouldn't let him shoot anymore. So he went to set screens for guys who didn't have one." That record still stands, too: 19.

"Now I'm thinking maybe we should be the first team ever to have every single shot taken by one guy," the dad says.

His son looks at him with an arched eyebrow.

"OK, maybe not."