AUGUSTA — Rob Schmidt knew he was going to have few stars and little height coming into this season. But the Maranacook Community School boys basketball coach knew he’d have athletes. He knew he’d have depth.

And he had an idea.

“Last season, our coaching staff would continually look down our bench and … we just could not figure out who our definitive sixth, seventh and eighth men were,” he said. “And I just started thinking about how many good athletes and how many good basketball players we have.

“It just seemed like this was a time to take a fast-paced game up a notch or two.”

Or several. Schmidt made the decision before this season to switch to the Grinnell System, the approach made famous at Grinnell College that utilizes full-court presses, a barrage of 3-pointers and frequent, whole-team substitutions to maintain the energy to carry out the scheme’s hectic pace.

“The team has bought into it,” Schmidt said. “They’re enjoying it, and I think it’ll keep us in a lot of games this year, I think it’ll win us a lot of games this year, and I think they can see that happening.”

The Black Bears aren’t alone — Grinnell is starting to gain traction in Maine. Cony began to utilize the system last year. Lawrence has embraced Grinnell’s trademark presses, traps and 3-pointers. The system has even made its mark on the college game at the University of New England, where Ed Silva’s Nor’easters have taken over 70 3-pointers five times and over 80 three times in eight games.

“A lot of times we were up against teams that just had more talent than we had,” Silva said. “The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to try something that was really off the grid.”

The upside is clear — advantages on paper become less and less glaring as the tempo of the game is thrown more and more out of whack.

“If you play in the halfcourt, the team that’s more talented is always going to have an advantage,” Cony coach T.J. Maines said. “You get people in a full court and make them uncomfortable defensively, they have to play faster than they want to play and it gives us a fighting chance.”

And Schmidt thinks the system could be growing.

“I think this is going to catch on,” he said. “I think we are going to see a lot more schools doing it. … When teams are putting 80-plus points up on a given night, that’s fun to watch.”

Grinnell even has roots in Maine. Its mastermind, David Arseneault, played at Colby College and applied his amplified version of the run-and-gun style soon after taking over as the Pioneers’ head coach in 1989. Conventional basketball tenets of defense and patience on offense went out in favor of constant double-teaming the ballhandler, passing on close shots underneath for 3-pointers and sending in substitutes every 45 seconds, shrinking the court time of starters and upping the minutes of bench players.

The results were high scores and a buzz that followed Grinnell around, including to a sold-out Colby gym in 2004 when Maines was an assistant with the Mules.

“It was just fun,” Maines said. “At first, I was like ‘this is crazy.’ ”

After taking over at Cony, however, Grinnell began to seem more and more appealing for Maines. And last year, with the Rams sporting little drop-off behind standout Jordan Roddy, he decided to give it a shot.

“Jordan was our best player, but then after that it was a collection of guys where there wasn’t a huge difference between two and 10, 11 or 12,” Maines said. “This just happened to be a system we could use to play more guys.”

The Rams quickly became the talk of the KVAC. Fans, opposing players and coaches were baffled as Cony seemed to throw up 3-pointers without any rhyme or reason, then played defense with the tenacity normally reserved for a last-minute comeback.

“I was a little bit nervous, because there can be a lot of drawback from it,” Maines said. “(But) no, there was excitement. ‘Let’s go. Let’s try it.’ … I had people coming up saying ‘I love watching this.’ The parents were happy about it.”

One coach who was watching was Schmidt, and when he found himself in a similar spot as Cony roster-wise before this season, he made the switch as well.

“It just seemed like a perfect time,” he said, “because you have to go deep into your bench to run this system, and we do have a deep bench.”

Schmidt, however, knew he had a sell job on his hands if he was going to pull up the basketball floorboards. He told parents about the system, warning them of the allowed layups and bricked shots that are a part of the Grinnell life, and prepared for backlash from senior and junior starters told they’d be part of a frantic rotation.

“I’m sure in their minds there was a fair amount of (resistance),” he said. “If I was a senior in high school and all of a sudden the coach said this is what we’re going to do, and on paper it looks like my minutes are going to go down … I’d be skeptical, too.”

So far, however, the concerns have been unfounded. Players love the system. They love running, love shooting, love making their own decisions. With Grinnell, set and practiced plays are eschewed for more extemporaneous playmaking.

“When guys like Jordan, who’s your best player, are like ‘Yeah coach, I love this,’ it’s great,” Maines said. “And the kids that might have a hard time not playing as much, they’re getting their opporunity.”

So far, the results have been there as well. Maranacook, below .500 last year, played well in scrimmages against Class A Skowhegan and AA Lewiston. Cony, which missed the tournament in 2014, reached the A North semifinals last year, beating No. 2 seed Hampden to get there.

“I don’t think we beat Hampden playing straight up,” Maines said. “Playing this way, you can beat anybody.”

The system has its flaws. Defensive pressure means a lot of easy layups for teams that break it. A hot shooting night can beat anyone, but a cold shooting night will mean an ugly loss against anyone. Even Maranacook and Cony have walked back some of the shooting and defensive elements of the Grinnell system.

“We lost to Erskine at home. It was awful. We took 70 or 80 threes,” Maines said, laughing. “That game was kind of like a threshold. That was a little bit much.”

Coaches don’t want to stray too far, however. It’s not an easy style to play, and it requires commitment.

“It truly has to be an all-in or all-out situation,” UNE’s Silva said. “When you kind of go iffy with it, that puts kids in trouble.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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