For years, the Davis High School boys basketball team played at a methodical, low-scoring pace expected of their bright though sometimes athletically challenged players.
The result: Six losing seasons and two playoff appearances in the past seven.
One week before the start of this season, a radical change in philosophy was made.
The result: The Blue Devils have morphed into an up-tempo, full-court-pressing monster that leads the state in scoring at 81.3 points per game and averages nearly 83 shots including 39 three-point attempts. They have scored 100 or more points three times and entered the week 8-5. That puts them just two wins short of their total last season, when they averaged 48.9 points.
In comparison, Sheldon led area teams in scoring last season at 71.1 points per game.
While they still struggle at times, the once-staid Blue Devils are creating plenty of buzz on and off campus.
"Everyone wants to see us try to score 100 points," says Blue Devils senior co-captain Tyler Sousa. "Last year, we'd get lots of fans when we were winning, but they stopped coming once we were losing. Now, there's always going to be high scoring no matter the result, and that's what fans like lots of offense."
The Blue Devils approach each game with some unusual goals playing "The System."
Shoot within 12 seconds of each possession.
Outshoot opponents by at least 20 attempts, with half of those three-point attempts.
Force at least 25 turnovers.
Avoid fouling, even if it means giving up an easy layup.
Substitute five fresh players every 30 to 90 seconds.
"When people first watch us, they think all we're doing is running up and down the court as fast as we can, but there's actually a lot of structure," said Ilanko Nataraajan, the Blue Devils' other senior co-captain.
Credit or criticism goes to 13-year coach Dan Gonzalez, a math teacher and basketball traditionalist suddenly viewed as a hoops radical.
"It's been exciting for me," Gonzalez said. "It's opened up a whole new way of coaching for me."
Gonzalez admits he wouldn't have made the change without a test run by the Blue Devils' junior varsity last season or without the architect of "The System" agreeing to come on board as a varsity assistant.
Gary Smith coached 36 years at the University of Redlands its basketball court is named in his honor and his 2004-05 team averaged 132.4 points, an NCAA record.
After retiring at Redlands, Smith and his wife, Carol, moved to Davis to be near their daughter Karen and her family.
He started helping out with the Davis JV program and introduced a hybrid of "The System" last season. The Blue Devils' JV team won 21 games and averaged 80 points.
"It's really a different take on basketball objectives," said Smith, who still considers himself "defensive-minded." "Most basketball traditionalists feel that field-goal percentage is the most important. Paramount to our system is getting a lot more shots than our opponents."
Smith says few high school or college teams try the approach because it's unconventional.
"It's anti-establishment basketball," Smith said. "It looks like chaos and is a high-risk system. So when opponents score easy baskets, it doesn't make you look good.
Sousa and Nataraajan, both guards, admit they were both intrigued and skeptical when they learned shortly before the start of fall practice the coaches were going all in on "The System."
"We knew it worked, but we also were aware it's really complex," Sousa said. "If you don't have it down, especially the defensive rotations, it can hurt you because the other team gets a lot of fast-break layups."
It has led to extreme ups and downs so far.
The Blue Devils lost their opener 104-67 to Liberty of Bakersfield "a game we probably win playing the old way," Sousa said then a few nights later beat Santa Maria 100-65 in the same Morro Bay tournament.
Davis trailed Will C. Wood of Vacaville by 20 points in the second quarter, yet rallied to win 84-80.
"We got a lot of layups early, but then we got tired and started rushing shots and taking shots we normally don't take," said Wood coach Mark Wudel. "We got caught up in their game by trying to run with them. So far, I'd say it's been pretty effective for them."
Davis trailed Rio Americano by 21 points late in the third quarter before closing to within 81-80 late in the game, but missed go-ahead three-point attempts. The Raiders won 86-80.
"We're learning how to play through the runs," Nataraajan said. "Last year, if we were down by 20, there was no way we were going to come back. Now we don't worry when a team gets a big lead. We still have a shot."
Wudel, an area head coach for 26 years, has never seen a prep program try to play at such a tempo.
"It's like the old Loyola Marymount," Wudel said of the famed run-and-gun college team of the late 1980s. "But it's a little chancy because you give up a lot of layups, and you live and die by the three-point shot. But their kids seem like they're having fun with it."
Win or lose, Gonzalez has noticed a unique bond developing among his 17 players.
"In the old system, I might only have five or six who got much time," Gonzalez said. "Now every kid has to be ready, and we need every kid to make this work. It's created good team chemistry."