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Fenwick likes offense fast and furious

12/21/2012, 7:43pm CST
By George M. Wilcox | gwilcox@pioneerlocal.com

Fenwick has such a fast offense that Coach Dave Power uses substitutions of five players at a time. It seems to work as the Friats average 80 ppg.


Fenwick's varsity girls basketball coach Dave Power talks to his team during a time out of their game vs Marist played at Fenwick at 505 Washington, Oak Park, IL on Wednesday night, 2-8-12.Marist won 73-43.|Judy Fidkowski~For Sun-Times Media

Dave Power’s up tempo offense should have a catchy nickname, but it has been hard to find just one.

The only coach in Fenwick girls basketball history has created a madcap, run-and-gun offense that features ideas stolen from high-octane college programs, such as Grinnell in Iowa, Loyola Marymount under coach Paul Westhead and Olivet Nazarene.

Power, the second winningest girls basketball coach in IHSA history, prefers the Insane Friar Posse, a nod to his reserves or “posse” that regularly comes off the bench. Another nickname Power has heard is “Friar Frenzy.”

Power first used the offense for an entire season last year after pulling it out from time to time. The moment is right this year with a roster of nine guards and only one player over 5-foot-10, 6-1 junior reserve Selena Mullis.

The results have been impressive. Fenwick averaged 68.3 ppg while going 22-10 last season and losing in the Class 4A sectional semifinal to Trinity. This season, the Friars (10-1) are averaging 80.3 points. Their only loss was to Joliet Catholic, 73-70 on Dec. 13, when Angels freshman Nicole Ekhomu burned the Friars for 36 points. One of Fenwick’s goals is score at least 80 points each game.

While much of the focus of the Posse is on offense, there are defensive elements to Power’s grand plan. Much lies on getting the ball back quickly — by trapping, full-court pressure and forcing turnovers — in order to take more shots. Against Marist, junior guard Jade Owens scored, covered the player making the in-bound pass and then stole the ball for another basket all in a matter of seconds.

Freshman guard Deja Cage said the offense is difficult to learn. Even senior Maggie Reilly admits that she is skeptical sometimes that the team is in synch during practices.

“It’s kind of different,” said Cage, a South Side resident who attended Drew Language Academy last year. “You’ve got to get the hang of it. If you play (position) 2, or 1 or 3, there is a lot of stuff to remember.”

Cage said the toughest position is point guard, which is usually manned by leading scorer Owens, a Division I prospect from River Forest. The offense runs through her; last season Power tried to make sure that Meredith Boardman, currently a Yale freshman, received a touch on each possession.

“At point guard, you have to know every position,” Cage said. “You have to know where everybody goes and hit them with a pass.”

“At our practices, I’m always so confused,” said Reilly, a 3-point shooting guard from Western Springs. “It doesn’t look like we know what we’re doing.”

They looked like they knew what they were doing Dec. 8 in an East Suburban Catholic battle at Marist, then undefeated and ranked No. 5 by Season Pass. Ninth-ranked Fenwick won 99-97 in overtime, the second-highest scoring game in IHSA history. The Friars made 13-of-36 3-pointers and 24-of-38 2-pointers. Fenwick used 12 players to Marist’s nine and four Friars scored in double figures, paced by Owens’ career-high 28 points.

After Marist scored 28 points in the first quarter to put the teams on a pace for nearly 120 points, Fenwick scored 28 in the third quarter. The teams combined for 20 points in OT.

“That Marist game to me (was perfect),” Power said. “I applaud those girls for them to have that opportunity. That was a fantastic game. I don’t know if the girls realize that has never happened before in the history of girls basketball.”

Power’s daughter, Erin, a Fenwick player from 2004-07, was the first to suggest going up tempo after giving her father a tape of Grinnell’s offense from 2004. Grinnell made national news last month when guard Jack Taylor scored 138 points against Faith Baptist Bible College.

“What I like is that this offense gives the girls the feeling that they are part of it even though they do not get mega minutes,” Power said. “We’re not trying to beat teams by 40 to 50 points. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Assistant coach John Weaver has watched YouTube videos of Grinnell’s offense and attended an offseason coach’s clinic that discussed the offense. He joined a chat group on Yahoo! that discusses run-and-gun basketball offenses. Weaver reminds Power on the sideline when the action slows down too much.

“This is the most fun way to coach,” Weaver said. “I can’t imagine any player not enjoying this system. It’s Mach 5, playing with your hair on fire. Win or lose, we want teams to remember they day they played the Friars.”

First-year Oak Park-River Forest coach J.P. Coughlin was an assistant last year during Fenwick’s 101-91 overtime win over the Huskies. OPRF trailed by 20 points at the half, but scored 54 points in the second half despite using only eight players. OPRF’s Stekara Hall, now at Illinois State, scored a career-high 37 points.

“We tried to play the next game two nights later and couldn’t move,” Coughlin said about a 72-59 loss to Hinsdale Central. “That was probably the best basketball game I’ve ever been a part of.”

Coughlin became such a believer that he hopes to add portions of Fenwick’s up tempo offense to his own program.

Lake Zurich coach Christopher Bennett has not forgotten playing Fenwick in its second game of a doubleheader Jan. 28 at the Sweet 16 at Lake Zurich. The Bears beat Providence earlier in the day and upset the Friars 74-65 with only seven players against the Posse.

“It was fun. It was a lot of fun to play, but I could never coach that way personally. I’d go crazy,” Bennett said. “You really have to have athletes. I’m not sure about the shots (quota) or the score. You have to have kids that can make the plays.”

Power doesn’t want opponents to catch their breaths, so he tries not to call timeouts.

With mass substitutions of five players at a time, the job of coordinating the bench falls to assistant coach Andrea DiCanio, who finished her career with the Friars in 2006. DiCanio maintains a roster with boxes for checkmarks next to players’ names. During games, she looks at her clipboard and indicates which players will check in at the next break. The assignments are choreographed before the game, but change when a player gets into foul trouble or as the game progresses.

“We watch the clock. There are not set times (to sub), but our goal depends on how well they play,” DiCanio said. “You have to know who is in there and who is on the bench. With the names and boxes (on the sheet), you have to keep track so no one is (playing) a double shift.”

Weaver also reminds Power when certain players have to be on the floor, such as making sure Owens is on the court in the fourth quarter during a close game.

At this pace, Fenwick may just break the IHSA record for most points scored in a game, set by Young when the Dolphins dropped Orr 177-16 on Jan. 31, 1990.

After all, the Posse scored 42 points in the first quarter of a 93-46 win over Johnsburg Nov. 19, 2011.

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