learned their lesson, and since switched styles. The result is a 4-0 start.
Following a (23-4) campaign in 2006-2007 and a trip to the Ohio boy’s basketball state tournament, most coaches would be ecstatic. However, that wasn’t the case for Poland Head Coach Ken Grisdale and his staff.
The Bulldogs were tortured by eventual state runner-up Upper Sandusky with a frantic style of play to the tune of 89-58, which left coach Grisdale shaking his head in awe of the unique style. The Dogs have since switched.
Grisdale, who is in his 15th season as the Poland boss, and assistant coach Tom Fender remained in the locker room for some time after the loss and pondered changing to that style of play. With all the athletes and depth returning upon first thought it seemed like a good idea. After witnessing the Dogs in the summer and following their early season progress, it was not only a good idea it was a great move.
“We never experienced a game where we were never able to setup in offense, and that is exactly what Upper Sandusky did to us,” Grisdale stated. “I’m a big Tom Izzo fan and implemented a lot of his style, but after not being able to catch our breath the entire night and knowing what kind of athletes we had coming back it seemed only logical we tried this style.”
So, the Poland staff spent a day with Upper head coach Keith Diebler (the father of Ohio boy’s basketball all-time leading scorer, Jon Diebler) during the summer gathering some information. Now, the only thing left to do was sell it to his players and start implementing the system.
“The only downside is some of our kids (Ben Umbel and Anthony DeFelice) are used to playing 28 to 32 minutes a game, and now they are around 20 to 22 minutes a night,” the Dog’s boss relayed. “Both of those two are great leaders and great kids who understand what we as a team are trying to do.”
The Dogs are off to an impressive (4-0) start, the kids love it, and the style fits the team makeup to a tee. Grisdale is running the offensive end of the floor, while Fender controls the defensive end. The latter, who is the father of former Bulldog great Chad Fender, is in his 12th year with the program after a very successful stint as head coach at Austintown-Fitch.
The aforementioned Chad Fender is another assistant along with head jayvee coach Richard Black.
“This is sort of like a renaissance, and it’s very enjoyable to coach,” Grisdale commented. “Right now we have the personnel to do what we are doing, but in the future we may have to adjust again. But right now, we are just having a lot of fun playing basketball at a chaotic pace.”
This in-your-face-full-court-trapping-pressure leads to a lot of steals, easy transition buckets, and numerous shot opportunities. Also, playing a huge factor is offensive rebounding. The 1990 UNLV Running Rebels like pace creates total chaos, which allows Poland to be in position for offensive boards more often than not.
For example, in Poland’s recent 85-59 throttling of previously unbeaten Cambell Memorial, the Dogs attempted 91 shots compared to the Devils 46. However, Grisdale’s bunch shot the ball uncharacteristically cold by only making 33 of those attempts but that is what they style is all about. It allows a team to win even on a bad shooting night by creating more opportunities. The Dogs had been around 50 percent in their first three wins.
Poland created 37 turnovers with its pressure defense including an amazing 29 steals.
A roster filled with quickness, length, and athleticism but no one over 6-foot-5 the Bulldogs don’t seem on paper as a likely rebounding machine. Once again, don’t be fooled. The kids that are 6-foot-5 play as if they were 6-foot-8 and the 6-footers play like 6-foot-3. One doesn’t need to look any further than the 55-40 advantage on the glass in the win over Cambell. The offensive glass margin was 32-to-8.
So, how does all of this work and who are the names behind this action?
“I like to script out the first half of the game, and then we will go from there,” Grisdale said. “ I don’t like to call anyone starters, because we play nine, ten, and eleven kids. We put five guys on the floor for three and half minutes and then I bring in the chaos bunch along with a very talented sophomore big kid. We rotate players about every three and a half minutes.”
This frantic style is about to wreak havoc on the Metro Athletic Conference, whom for most teams in the conference have never seen anything quite like this pace.
“Teams will certainly need to adjust and as far as I know we are the only team in the area that plays this style,” remarked the Poland headman. “We go 10 or 11 deep and if the opposing team has limited depth it will be hard to keep up. It also takes two or three guards being able to handle the pressure and have kids off the bench to give those two or three a break.”
The squad starts with two seniors in guards Ben Umbel (6’3) and Anthony DeFelice (5’11). Both kids are extremely quick and can score outside, off the bounce, and in traffic. Umbel goes by the knick name “Spiderman” due to his long arms and everything sticking to his hands.
Umbel is averaging around 18 points per game including a 20-point, 10-steal, 5-rebound, and 5-assist night in the win over Cambell Memorial last night in just 22 minutes of play.
These are two names people may not be familiar with, but by season’s end the names will be dancing through many minds across the state.
“Ben and Anthony have been around for a while and worked extremely hard for our program,” Grisdale said. “They are very deserving of all they’ve accomplished thus far.”
The third senior in the first five is David White (6’4).
The two other kids rounding out the first group of five are sophomores Ben Donlow (6’4) and Niko Fatimus (6’0) both of whom are top 50 players in Ohio’s class of 2010. The latter, which is a lefty, owns one of the best strokes in the state. Donlow is a pure athlete that has unlimited upside.
The three kids off the bench Grisdale calls the “chaos makers” are senior Bryan Kosec (6’4), and sophomores Ben Brocker (6’1) and Luke Wollet (6’0).
The member of the second unit is sophomore David Baker (6’5), who is a kid with tremendous upside.
In all, Grisdale feels the Bulldogs can go as far as 11 or 12 deep. The roster shows four seniors, one junior, and 11 talented sophomores. Poland’s sophomore class ranks as arguably one of the best in Ohio.
Poland is averaging 89.3 points per game, while giving up just 60 markers an evening.
Don’t be surprised if this squad is right in the mix come mid-March. Be sure to keep a close eye on the Bulldogs throughout the year.
Poland will play Niles at home this Friday before entering a holiday tournament on December 27th and 29th at Youngstown Chaney High School where the Dogs will play Austintown-Fitch and Youngstown Boardman.