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Arseneault Jr. hired for the NBA D-League

Dave Arseneault Jr. ’09 (right) was recently hired to bring The System to the Reno Bighorns, the D-League team for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Photo by John Brady.

When the Sacramento Kings asked Dave Arseneault Jr. ’09 for a phone call, he didn’t realize his life was about to change.

He thought he would be offering an explanation of The System as he has done many times in the past. Instead, the Kings asked Arseneault whether he was interested in becoming the next head coach of their Development League (D-League) affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. Arseneault immediately showed interest.

“To be honest, I thought it was some kind of a joke,” Arseneault said. “I was a little bit curious and maybe even a little skeptical and just went with it.”

The Kings wiped away any doubt he had, officially naming Arseneault as the head coach of the Bighorns on Friday, Oct. 17.

“I went out to Sacramento [and] interviewed for the position, told them about our System, explained what I would want to do out there and they seemed very open and willing to experiment,” he said. “And the rest is history.”

Arseneault, the men’s basketball team assistant coach, is expected to implement The System, which involves ferocious three-point shooting, quick substitutions and hard-pressed, full-court pressure defense.

“It almost seemed like the position was too good to be true,” he said. “It’s not often that you hear a Division III coach making that type of a jump. I think the Kings’ organization is thinking outside the box and they’re wanting to experiment and certainly that’s one of the things I can bring to the table.”

Dave Arseneault Jr. ’09 (right) was recently hired to bring The System to the Reno Bighorns, the D-League team for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Photo by John Brady.
Dave Arseneault Jr. ’09 (right) was recently hired to bring The System to the Reno Bighorns, the D-League team for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Photo by John Brady.

While the jump to the D-League seems too good to be true, taking the position also means leaving the town and the school where Arseneault has spent majority of his life.

“I had to think quite a bit about it actually because I spent the last 26 out of 28 years of my life in Grinnell,” he said. “I grew up here, went to college here [and] coached here. What won’t I miss about Grinnell? There are just so many good things about Grinnell that I’m going to miss.”

After discussing the matter with Dave Arseneault Sr., his father and the head coach of the Grinnell men’s basketball team, and Nick Nurse, an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors and former head coach of the Iowa Energy and Rio Grande Valley Vipers, two D-League teams, Arseneault decided that he could not pass up on the opportunity.

“Is it the right time to leave home? Am I ready to take on this challenge?” Arseneault asked himself. “At the end of the day, the opportunity was just so great—to jump a number of different levels to get to there. It was just too good to pass up on.”

Even as Arseneault Sr. was offering advice to his son, he still could not mask his astonishment.

“I was surprised,” Arseneault Sr. wrote in an email to The S&B. “Not that David isn’t a capable coach but usually jobs like that are not open so close to the start of a season. We both knew if he were offered the position he would take it. Opportunities like that do not come along all that often.”

The System has certainly proven to be successful in Grinnell both at the individual and team levels. Jack Taylor ’15 scored 138 points against Faith Baptist Church on Nov. 20, 2012 to break the NCAA record for most points scored in a game. A year later, he broke the century mark once again by scoring 109 points. Pat Maher ’14 broke Arseneault’s very own NCAA record for most assists in a game last season by distributing 37 assists.

As a team, the Pioneers have qualified for the Midwest Conference Tournament eight of the last nine previous years and claimed numerous scoring titles within Conference. But with many differences between the professional league and the NCAA, including a limited roster size, shorter shot clock, different level of athleticism and back-to-back games, no one knows yet whether this kind of success will translate to the D-League.

The System Untested

“I honestly have no idea how The System will work at such a high level, especially with only 10 players on D-League rosters,” wrote Taylor in an email to The S&B. “But I trust that over the course of the season, Coach Dave will make the necessary adjustments to accommodate for the professional game.”

Ross Preston ’10, a teammate of Arseneault during his playing days in Grinnell and author of the book “The Road to 138,” agreed that huge challenges await Arseneault.

“It’s completely unchartered territory,” Preston said. “We haven’t seen The System at this level of athletes. The System has to be modified because it just can’t be the same.”

Nonetheless Arseneault, a three-time finalist for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award and the school’s record holder for most assists and most assists per game in a career, is excited to overcome any challenges.

“That’s what they’re bringing me out to do—to bring at least parts of The System,” he said. “There are a number of different ways that we’re going to have to modify. We’re certainly going to play fast, certainly going to take a lot of three-point shots, and we’ll see what happens.”

According to Nevada Smith, current head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, affiliate of the Houston Rockets, the hiring of Arseneault will bring positive energy to the league.

“Seeing people get creative with ideas is great for the game,” Smith wrote in an email to The S&B. “I think it will be interesting.  I would guess that this will be the highest level of athletes they have tried it with. Getting the players to buy in and having a relationship with them is a huge key.”

Overcoming Doubts

Keith Chamberlain ’08, a former D-League player and a teammate of Arseneault in Grinnell, has faith that his former point guard will fare well in the professional level. According to Chamberlain, Arseneault’s days as a player will help with his relationship with his players.

“I think definitely [The System] will be something new and it’s going to take an adjustment period, but I think the players will get adjusted to it fairly quickly,” he said. “He was a point guard and one of the leaders on our team in college. Point guards are almost like an extension of a coach and that’s why I think he will do just fine with relating to his players.”

Photo by John Brady.
Photo by John Brady.

Another key to his success will be working with other staff members of the Bighorns. The organization, besides Arseneault, recently hired Ben McDonald as an assistant coach and promoted Scott Schroeder to Director of Basketball Operations. Ross McMains is also returning as an assistant coach.

“We all got a chance to meet as the staff when I went out to Reno,” Arseneault said. “The staff that I have in place is going to be a great balance for what I bring to the table. None of them have experience coaching The System, but that’s what I’m coming in there for. They have experience in other areas that are going to be very, very valuable to help me become successful.”

Arseneault Sr. has no worries about his son’s transition to the next level.

“David is the type of person who is not afraid to ask questions when he does not know an answer,” he wrote. “He is curious and creative. This will assist him tremendously in this new venture, as the only way to shorten the learning curve will be to lean on others who have more experience.”

Arseneault has already begun familiarizing himself with the new league and trying to incorporate The System. He recently attended a D-League coaches’ meeting in Atlanta. He also observed an open tryout held by the Bighorns and has focused his attention on the upcoming D-League draft this Saturday.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’re looking at guys who have specific skill sets that’s going to help what we need and then I’m trying to figure out how they’re going to match up with guys that are coming back,” he said. “We would do the same thing at Grinnell through the recruiting process.”

Arseneault’s central goal this season will be to test out The System and see where it takes him.

“My short-term goal is to see how things work out this year with the Reno Bighorns—experiment and try new things,” he said. “I just want to take this year and see how it goes and see what we can do in Reno and reevaluate.”

Though Arseneault may still be savoring the moment, he is not forgetting his ultimate goal as a coach.

“I want to test the creative limits of the players,” he said. “I want players to have fun and experiment on the court. I want them to play hard. Most importantly, I want them to get the same enjoyment that I get not only as a player but as a coach. And then develop to help them in other aspects of their lives.”

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