Veteran coach Mike Curta is ready to raise Eisenhower’s profile using the Grinnell System
Almost 30 years into a basketball coaching career that has taken him to five high schools and one college, Mike Curta is ready to embark on one of his more intriguing challenges.
“Have resume, will travel” might as well be Mike Curta’s motto.
Almost 30 years into a basketball coaching career that has taken him to five high schools and one college, Curtais ready to embark on one of his more intriguing challenges. And maybe to settle down, too.
“Now my role model is Larry Brown,” Curta said. “Hopefully this is the last one.”
“This” is his first time running a girls program, at Eisenhower, where he also is a teacher and had a successful seven-year run as boys coach.
It was during that earlier stint in Blue Island that Curta had a coaching epiphany.. He started running the Grinnell System, a frenetic, high-scoring style that features hockey-style, 5-on-5 lineupsubstitutions, non-stop pressureand nothingbut three-pointers and layups on offense.
“I have a differentperspective now,” Curta said, “It took a while. I wishI had the perspective when I was young and stupid and in my 20s.”
What Curta believes now is that it’s not about him, but about his players.
“These are high school kids,” he said. “(For most), this is it playing competitive basketball. I want our kids to feel proud of the way we play, the things they can talk about, the memories they are going to have, being unique.”
Eisenhower girls basketball has such a low profile it’s not even listed on the school’s IHSA season summaries page. That’s already changing, according to Cardinals athletic director Colleen Kelly.
“There has been a little buzz.” she said. “I’m hopeful coach Curta can help growour girls program.”
That’s also Curta’s hope as he figures out how to adapt the System to the girls game and to his personnel.
The Cardinals did get five contact days before worsening COVID-19 numbers shut down all prep sports, and that both helped Curta get to know his players and to understand the magnitude of the task he’s undertaken.
“The most difficult part is trying to grow the numbers,” he said. “Twelve makes it tough, 15 is nice. We had 18 the last year we ran it (with Eisenhower’s boys). I played 18 almost every game.”
Curta could see what was coming with the COVID-19 shutdown, so he spent the last two days of contact days showing his players film of college teams running the System to give them an idea of what they were getting into.
He knows there will be some tweaks,including fewer three-pointers.
“When we first started doing it (with the boys), we were modeling after what we saw at the next level,” Curta said. “Through trial and error we adjusted.”
The System remains an outlier in organized basketball, with its greatest popularity at the men’s and women’s small college level.
Olivet Nazarene’s women have set 18 NAIA records and led the nation in scoring 13 of the past 15 seasons. Greenville’s men are 0-4 this year, all against Division I teams on the road, averaging 99 points a game — and giving up 165.
On the prep level in Illinois, Eisenhower will be at least the third girls team to run the System, joining Fenton and Macomb.
Fenton coach Dave Mello is glad to have a kindred spirit in Curta and already has reached out to schedule a game with the Cardinals. He predicts a high satisfaction level for Curta and his players.
“The girls love playing (the System),” said Mello, who has been running it for three seasons. “What’s better than being on a team where you know you’re going to play?”
Conventional wisdom is what’s kept the System from being more widely embraced, Mello believes.
“A lot of coaches love to take control, I get that,” he said. “(But) I’ve never had more fun.”
The chance to gain attention for doing something different is a perk of the System. Curta’s Eisenhower boys hold the IHSA record for three-pointers in a game (25) and the national record for three-point tries in a season (1,411). Fenton’s girls have the national mark for three-point attempts in a season (1,767).
“I’ve caught heat from outsiders,” Mello said. “‘How about you try for the makes (record)?’ Believe me, we are.”
“You know there’s some that are going to come just to watch the train wreck,” Curta said. “Some come to watch a successful game.”
And maybe they’ll get to see history.
“We’re going to show them the record book,” Curta said. “We want to break records.”
And have fun while doing it.