Scott Venci column: Shaw Ball gets its due

The tempo is tedious. It can be hard to watch. Isn't it wonderful?

12:45 AM, Mar. 11, 2013  |  Comments
  • Filed Under

Boring is beautiful.

Don't tell Dave Shaw otherwise. The Pulaski boys basketball coach has been criticized in the past for using a slow-it-down system that sometimes drains both minutes off the clock and the entire crowd watching.

Isn't it wonderful?

Most coaches and players who go up against a Shaw system don't enjoy it. Respect it? Sure. Like it? Not so much.

There aren't many opposing players who want to play defense for two straight minutes while Pulaski takes the three-passes-before-a-shot motto to a whole new level. A person attempting to count during one possession would run out of fingers.

There also aren't many teams who want to have their up-tempo offense bogged down because they never have the ball.

It was easy for people, even some in Pulaski, to complain about the system during Shaw's first three seasons. It had, after all, never produced the ultimate win.

Until now.

Pulaski won the WIAA Division 2 state title with a 48-40 win over Wisconsin Lutheran on Saturday night at the Kohl Center, giving Shaw the chance to finally say, "I told you so."

He didn't do that when asked if he felt any redemption, but the little smirk on his face indicated that maybe he'd like to do so.

"I feel a lot of satisfaction, but I'm happy for the kids that they understand that good basketball can be played in a lot of ways," Shaw said. "They are very successful in doing what they do, and we feel very good about it."

It helps that Shaw can be a stubborn guy. He has been aware of the chatter regarding his system and those questioning it.

But if anything, it made him more determined to prove it could work if his players believed.

When he arrived at Pulaski from Whitefish Bay four seasons ago, he had a promising freshman class that included future stars Cody Wichmann and Jordan Stiede.

Wichmann started on varsity as a rookie and quickly developed into a standout in the Fox River Classic Conference, but it was worth wondering at times if players like him were being held back because of Shaw's philosophy.

"I mean, when he first came in, obviously it was different," said Colin Abendroth, who was a senior forward during Shaw's first season. "We were worried as to what the tempo and the style would be. We were nervous.

"But I think as Coach Shaw got into us and as everything kind of developed, we got used to it. We were fine."

After starting 3-5 that first season, Shaw remembers he and his staff decided to do something crazy: They somehow found a way to slow down the pace of an already slow offense.

Pulaski ended up going on a winning streak that stretched to 12 games. In half those games, opponents were held to 39 or fewer points. Only one team during the streak scored more than 47.

The Red Raiders ended up finishing 17-7 overall and in second place in the FRCC. Since that slow start in 2009, Shaw has led his team to a 76-17 record and one big championship.

Winning has a way of helping people embrace a philosophy, whether they agree with it or not. The whispers never have entirely gone away, but it doesn't matter now that Shaw's players buy what he's selling.

Even the student section has gotten into the act. They were chanting "Patience" during a semifinal win over defending state champion and top-ranked Onalaska on Friday.

Consider them all believers, too.

"A lot of people didn't buy into the Shaw ball," Abendroth said. "It was a process. You had to buy into it. I myself bought into it, and I think the community eventually bought into it."

Abendroth was asked before the title game if Shaw got the last laugh, considering his team made it to state and did something while there.

"He's here now," Abendroth said. "The guys have relished off his system. Maybe it's not the most exciting thing in the world, we are not going to be doing the most flashy things, but we are going to get the win. We are going grind it out."

The win over Wisconsin Lutheran in the title game not only was a victory for the players, the school and the community, but also was one for the Shaw family.

Shaw's father, Brian, was the original slow-it-down coach while guiding Manitowoc to state in 1979 and 1980. It lost both times in the opening round.

His brother, Jesse, led Antigo to state in 2010. It also lost its first game.

With that, will any complaints about the system be over now that a gold ball sits in Pulaski's trophy case?

"I hope so," Shaw said, laughing.

"But we will take on all challenges."

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
579 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
862 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
1025 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
1279 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports


Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports