Crystal Lake Central reads, reacts and wins

Crystal Lake Central reads, reacts and wins
January 20, 2013, 9:08 pm
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You've heard about John Wooden's UCLA offense, the Princeton offense, motion, triangle, flex, pick and roll, swing, shuffle, triple post and dribble-drive. They are as numerous as there are plays in a playbook, as simple or as complicated as you want.
But what about the read-and-react offense? Sounds like football's triple option. Should I hand off, run with the ball or pitch out? Well, Rick Torbett's innovation may not be as popular or as revolutionary but it has been very effective for Crystal Lake Central this season.
"It's something I saw at a clinic at the Final Four in 2007," said Crystal Lake Central coach Rick Czeslawski. "Prior to that, we were running the Princeton offense. I studied it for a few years, put it in and we went 24-5. It's a versatile offense, easy to teach.
"It isn't a hot offense, more of a grassroots game working its way up. A growing number of coaches are using it, like Pat Ambrose at Stevenson and Mike Bailey at St. Patrick. You can run it with any personnel against any defense, man-to-man or zone. It's a way of teaching offense."
The read and react offense is basically a motion offense but with specific rules and reads for players without the ball. There is more player movement and less standing around. A player is free to do what he sees best--drive, shoot or pass and cut.
"The big thing is spacing," guard Jake VanScoyoc said. "It gives players more freedom to pass and drive to the basket. We are athletic. Anyone can score. The offense suits our team really well. It isn't like a set offense. We look to reverse the ball, make sure our spacing is right, then drive to the basket or kick it back out. There is so much more freedom."
Czeslawski has made it work despite returning only one starter from last year's 22-6 team that lost to Belvidere in the regional.
"We hang our hat on defense. What stands out is we do a good job on defense and share the ball on offense. Our kids have bought into the concept of positive energy," he said.
Whatever it is or whatever it does, it is effective. Crystal Lake Central is 15-2 going into Tuesday night's game against Grayslake North. The Tigers, who had a recent 14-game winning streak snapped by Woodstock, will meet Johnsburg on Friday.
Last Wednesday, Crystal Lake Central bounced back from its stunning 54-53 loss to Woodstock on Jordan Turner's game-winning shot with four seconds to play by smashing Grayslake Central 75-53. Corban Murphy scored 18 points and VanScoyoc and Brad Knoeppel each contributed 11.
"It was a wakeup call for us," VanScoyoc said. "We didn't play a bad game but we learned we must be sharper against teams we play. We didn't come in with as much energy as other games. We were missing two starters but that's no excuse. We've got to play in the present and come out with a lot of energy."
The read and react offense has turned around Czeslawski's program. His teams were 10-20, 15-13, 6-22 and 9-18 before he adopted the new strategy. In the last two years, the Tigers were 24-5 and 22-6. They won the school's first regional championship since 1998 and its only sectional title since 1974. Now they are hoping to make history.
"We have a lot of good kids," Czeslawski said. "It took a few years to get the culture turned around, to expect winning. We had a good group of kids coming through in the first few years and they bought into the system. The school hadn't had much success and we needed to turn it around."
Czeslawski founded a Thanksgiving tournament and got his players involved in a summer league and a summer shootout. While attending a dozen clinics a year, he came up with the read-and-react offense and a concept of positive energy that he discovered after hearing Jon Gordon, author of the book "Energy Bus." Interest was stoked. More kids began to come out for basketball. They wanted to work hard and make a commitment.
The lineup includes Corban Murphy (15 ppg), a 6-foot-3 senior who was one of two unanimous all-tournament selections at the Jacobs Holiday Tournament (with Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough); 6-foot-7 senior Kyle Fleck (8 ppg, 8 rpb, 3 blocks); 6-foot-6 senior David Panicko (9 ppg, 7 rpb); VanScoyoc (10 ppg); and Knoeppel (10 ppg, 6 assists), a 5-foot-9 senior point guard. D.J. Thomas (7 ppg), a 6-foot senior, and Corban's brother, 5-foot-11 sophomore Cavanagh Murphy, come off the bench.
They probably couldn't make the roster at Whitney Young or Simeon. There aren't any Division I prospects. A few are being recruited by Division III schools. But put them together and they have a pretty good idea of how to win basketball games and make opponents very unhappy.
"We focus on each possession," Czeslawski said. "We want to make the other team uncomfortable on each possession. We average 16 assists per game. We want to spread the ball around and find the guy who has a match-up edge or has the hot hand."
The coach describes VanScoyoc as "our glue guy, our best defensive player, the guy you least want to go into a game without."
Added Czeslawski: "He has an uncanny knack when he makes a mistake, he makes up for it within the next possession. When he turns it over, he comes right back and steals the ball. His response is to make up for a mistake immediately. He keeps us together. He keeps us going."
A year ago, VanScoyoc was the seventh man. Even though Corban Murphy was the only returning starter, he shared his coach's high expectations for this year's team.
"As sophomores, we went 21-1. We have a lot of team chemistry. I knew we had some talent," he said. "We are versatile. That's our edge. If one guy is having an off game, another steps up. Anyone can score on any given night."
Their goal is to win the sectional. "Our first ever," VanScoyoc said. Not so. Many in the Crystal Lake community don't recall that coach John Swenson's 13-14 team won the school's only sectional title in 1974. Led by Dan Osmun and Rich Sexton, the Tigers lost to Oswego 64-47 in their only trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
"Our goal is to win the sectional," VanScoyoc said. "We don't talk about it too much. We just focus on the next game. No other team in school history has ever started 15-2. But we're just looking ahead to our rematch with Woodstock (on Jan. 29) at their place."