Tampa Catholic's fast and furious style paying dividends this basketball season

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Thu. January 12, 2012 | Joey Knight | Email

Tampa Catholic's fast and furious style paying dividends this basketball season

TAMPA — For all his love of Hickory High, Jimmy Chitwood’s jumper and Gene Hackman’s locker room poignance, veteran Tampa Catholic coach Don Dziagwa is the consummate anti-Hoosier these days.

Four passes per possession? Maybe in the movies, but not in Dziagwa’s breakneck scheme. His newfangled frenetic style likely would run Hickory right out of its canvas high-tops.

“Some coaches, if you shoot up a (3-pointer) and miss it, the coach is gonna yank you out,” Dziagwa said. “I’m going to yank you out sometimes when you don’t shoot the 3.”

Meet the 2012 Crusaders (11-4), who rarely meet a shot they don’t like.

If all goes as planned in Friday’s biannual showdown with rival Jesuit, Dziagwa’s team will take at least 80 shots (including 30 from long range), try to force 25 turnovers, guard the length of the floor and race high on the embankments.

It’s an open-wheel system Dziagwa culled from two unconventional college programs in an effort to maximize his strengths. The result: TC is averaging 71.3 points — Dziagwa thinks it may be the highest of his 21 seasons with the Crusaders — with four games of 86 or more.

“I’ve been coaching 34 years, and obviously I don’t want to get away from stuff that I think has been very successful for me,” Dziagwa said. “But I kind of went out on a limb and said, ‘Look, we’re going to do this. I’ve got a team this year that I think can do this. Let’s go with it and see what happens.’ ”

The style is a hybrid of the virtual run-and-shoot offense made famous in the early 1990s at Loyola-Marymount, and a similar one employed for years at Division III Grinnell (Iowa) College.

According to its website, Grinnell has led all NCAA levels in scoring 16 of the past 18 seasons, ranking first nationally in three-point shooting 14 of the last 18 years. This year’s team (10-0) is averaging 118.9 points.

“They play that breakneck pace, but (their coach) will have 15 guys and he’ll play guys for like, a minute, and then he has five new guys come in,” Dziagwa said.

“I don’t have enough guys to do that, for one thing. …Loyola-Marymount, on the other hand, they played mostly eight players, but they got those eight guys in just great shape.”

To condition his smaller rotation (normally nine players) Dziagwa employed a rigorous offseason conditioning program that included the Navy SEAL workout, which includes a 1.5-mile run, push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups with minimal rest in between.

On other days, Dziagwa would put a 40-pound weight on a towel and have his players push it the length of the floor. The sweat equity is evident in the statistics.

Four players average at least nine points, led by lanky sophomore Chivarsky Corbett (18.6 ppg) and point guard Isiah Thomas (15.9). It’s Dziagwa’s trust in Thomas’ skills as a floor leader that encouraged him to use the style.

“It’s only as tough as your mind (says),” said Land O’Lakes transfer Jio Molina, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound forward. “It’s all in the mind. If you think it’s tough then it’s going to be tough, and if you don’t think it’s tough, you’ve just got to put your mind to it and work hard.”

The work, Dziagwa insists, doesn’t stop on offense. TC is averaging 10.7 steals and 31.2 rebounds a game. Yet the detractors — some of whom likely will be slathered in blue and white face paint tonight — remain.

“Let ’em play us and they’ll see how we play defense,” Corbett said. “We’re winning games, so that shows we’re playing defense.”

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@tampabay.com

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