Ohio High School Basketball: New philosophy has Poland Seminary rolling in the tournament – again


Poland guard Ben Umbel

After a state semifinal loss to Upper Sandusky last year, Poland Seminary head coach Ken Grisdale decided to employ a similar style of play as the team that ended the Bulldogs season.

With the boys basketball tournament in full swing, Poland is in a district semifinal match up tonight with Cortland Lakeview with hopes of returning to Columbus.

YOUNGSTOWN – It was the second time that Poland Seminary High School eclipsed the 100-point mark in a game this season.

The Bulldogs initially hit the century mark against Campbell Memorial earlier in the season and they did it again against Ravenna Southeast in a Division II, district quarterfinal match up at Boardman High School, methodically getting the best of the Pirates by a 103-55 margin.

Southeast didn’t know what hit them as Poland jumped out to a 29-0 lead before Southeast hit a three-point field goal to record their first points of the game with 3:17 on the clock in the first quarter. The Bulldogs led 37-5 after one period, 59-25 at the half and 83-36 after three quarters.

They’ve been scoring in bunches all season long averaging 90.5 points during the course of a 20-0 regular season.

“I think we’ve had some other opportunities (for 100 points) but honestly we’re not in this to humiliate kids,” said Poland head coach Ken Grisdale. “We didn’t try to run it up (against Southeast).”

It’s just their style of play this year. Right from the tip-off, Poland comes after teams in a full court press and they come in two platoons.

“Organized chaos would be the best way to try to describe it,” Grisdale said. “We’re trying to put as much pressure as we can on people, both offensively and defensively, and we try to make plays.”

Grisdale copied the style from Upper Sandusky who knocked Poland out of the state semifinals last season with this type of an all-out attack.

“As a coach of 14 years, I had never experienced anything like Upper Sandusky last year,” Grisdale said. “I like to call plays and I want the ball here and there but nothing worked. They simply said ‘Go make plays.’And if you’re good enough to go make plays for 32 minutes you deserve to win.”

The Poland coaching staff boned up on the approach that worked so well for Upper Sandusky against them.

“After the game Coach (Tom) Fender and I sat down and started talking,” Grisdale said. “We had some talented kids coming back so we wanted to find something to be able to put 10 to 12 guys on the court and so we started talking about ‘why can’t we do that?’”

They eventually settled on their new system during their spring break last year.

“We were in spring break in Florida and we started putting pieces together and we came back and we watched a lot of film. We had five films of Upper Sandusky,” Grisdale said. “We put it in this summer one day and just did it through shoot outs and summer leagues. And this fall we had a chance to spend some time with (Upper Sandusky head coach Keith) Diebler and he gave us some more ideas.”

According to Grisdale, the new system is tailor-made for his team.

“It just fits our personnel,” he said. “We’re long. We’re not tall but we have a lot of length and we get our hands on a ton of passes or shots.”

Poland doesn’t have a Jon Diebler on its roster but the sum of the six sophomores and four seniors who get most of the playing time seems to be greater than any of the individual parts.

“I think our cast fits their mold defensively but did not fit their mold offensively,” said Grisdale referring to Diebler’s team, which lost in the state final contest last year. “I think we have some guys on our team that could average 25 or 30 points per game in this system but if you look at our numbers, our leading scorer averages 14, second is 13, third is 12 and fourth is 11. And then we have a bunch of guys that are right between six and nine points per game. And every night it’s been somebody different.”

The seniors have actually had to make the biggest sacrifices.

“Our seniors have really fueled this but they’ve had to give up a lot of individual playing time” Grisdale said. “Ben Umbel and Anthony DeFelice played almost 32 minutes a game last year and now they’re averaging 20 minutes a game.”

But it wasn’t really a hard sell for Grisdale.

“Some of them said ‘I want more minutes’ at first but they understood,” the coach said. “Their stats are actually greater than they were playing 32 minutes. So they understand. Their ultimate goal is to be successful as a team.”

And ultimately advance to the state semifinal round again this season and beyond.

“I had said this a lot when I was being interviewed for the state semifinal (last year) that Upper Sandusky to me was from Mars and we were from Earth. They were so different,” Grisdale said. “My defensive coach for the past 14 years decided he couldn’t coach this year so Coach Fender stepped up and we said ‘why not try something different?’ ”

It wasn’t the easiest thing to transition to do but it worked pretty well from the very moment they tried it.

“It did fit our personnel and we scrimmaged a lot of the teams that we might see down the road so we think we can compete with quality people,” Grisdale said. “But it’s hard when you have 32 minutes and you have nine to 10 guys constantly keeping the pressure on.”

And having the success that they had last season, albeit with a different system, gives them all the confidence they need to try to earn a chance to play for a state championship this season.

“I told Ben Umbel when we sat down and started talking about it, and he got all excited, I said I think this team has a chance to be better than last year’s team, and this was last spring, and he looked at me funny,” Grisdale said. “And we were talking about that again the other day and he said ‘You know I think you’re right coach.’

“We, right now, can do so many different things that that team couldn’t do, but that was a good team. A very good team. Just to get to Columbus you have to be a pretty good team.”

Knocking down the three-ball is just one of the things that this year’s team is pretty good at.

“We think that we have probably eight guys that can shoot the three,” Grisdale said. “But our engine is driven by (Anthony) DeFelice and Umbel. Those are the two keys. If teams want to try to take (Niko) Fatimus or DeFelice away on the wing, that now opens it up to Benny Umbel’s penetration. And he’s a pretty good passer and we’ve got a couple of big guys that can roll off of screens.”

They’re not only good but they’re relentless.

“I think we’re hard to defend. And then when we get you tired it becomes more and more difficult because we’re not going to slow down,” Grisdale said. “Some people will press and then let up a little bit but we’re going to try to go as fast as we can.”

But no matter how fast they go, teams like Dayton Dunbar and Toledo Libbey will be trying to win the same state championship that Poland is competing for.

“It’s hard to look too far ahead but we’ve seen some of those teams,” Grisdale said. “We’ve seen Libbey twice and they’re as good as any Division I team in the state. We saw them play St. Ed’s and St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, we’ve seen Chillicothe and we’ve seen a lot of those teams. They don’t play the style that we play but they have more athletes. So, it will be interesting to see this style versus those athletes. I hope we have a chance to do that.”

They sincerely believe in their mission.

“We believe we have a chance,” Grisdale said. “And as long as we can stay healthy and we can stay together and play as hard as we do, then I think we have a chance to beat anyone we can play. I’m not being arrogant but I believe we have a shot to beat anybody that we play.”

The semifinal round is the farthest that Poland has ever got in the state tournament.

“In addition to last year we went down to the state semifinals in 2002,” Grisdale said. “We’ve faced LeBron (James) and then Diebler. So hopefully we’ll get another shot.”

But just being undefeated in the regular season, 21-0 now, is certainly a major accomplishment in itself for the Bulldogs. They were 19-1 in 2003.

“This team is the most successful team that I’ve ever coached but its style has created a lot of that,” Grisdale said. “If we had to play the style that we played last year with this group then I think we probably would have lost four or five games already.”

A state championship on the hardwood is something that they all dream about at Poland.

Even Grisdale.

“Everybody does. I think I’d be lying if I said anything different,” the coach admitted. “But I dream of it for them. My days are over, in terms of playing, but they’ve worked so hard and their dream is still alive. And I’d love to be a part of their dream.”


Poland head coach Ken Grisdale

Ben Umbel

Anthony DeFelice

Niko Fatimus

Ben Donlow

Luke Wollet

Dave White

David Baker

Bryan Kosec

Ben Broker

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