It was the 1970-71 college basketball season and the germ of an idea was planted in the mind of Bob McKillop, a junior guard at Hofstra who aspired to one day be a coach.
While that season might best be remembered for UCLA winning its fifth national championship - or for Villanova having to vacate its runner-up finish because star Howard Porter had already signed with an agent – another story unfolded at Fordham, located in the Bronx and just a few miles from McKillop and Hofstra’s Long Island campus.
Coach Digger Phelps was doing things differently at Fordham. Instead of playing a traditional lineup of a center, two forwards and two guards, the Rams often hit the floor with five guards, driving opposing coaches crazy by stretching their confounded defenses to the limit. It worked well enough that Fordham went 26-3 and made the NCAA tournament.
Skip ahead to the 2017-18 season and to Davidson, where McKillop enters his 29th year as coach. When the Wildcats hit the Belk Arena floor Friday for their season opener against Charleston Southern, they’ll do so with a starting lineup that will include three point guards – sophomores KiShawn Pritchett and Jon Axel Gudmundsson and freshman Kellan Grady -- and a forward – senior Peyton Aldridge – who is also adept at handling and passing the ball.
Davidson’s signature free-flowing offense encourages freelancing but is infused with screens, cuts, handoffs, back-door plays and 3-pointers.
“It became embedded in my psyche,” McKillop said of how the Phelps-coached Rams (that was the only season Phelps spent at Fordham before he left for Notre Dame) played and how it would eventually affect his approach to the game. “That was the darling team in New York. They had five interchangeable pieces. All five could play point guard. They were small, but it became a very difficult matchup.
“I always said if I could, I’d love to have five interchangeable parts at Davidson. I almost do this season.”
McKillop has taken many of Phelps’ principles and translated them over time into what is now Davidson’s signature free-flowing offense, one that encourages freelancing but is infused with screens, cuts, handoffs, back-door plays and 3-pointers.
I can name a lineup where we can throw out there five guys who can bring the ball up. That’s crazy.
Davidson guard Rusty Reigel
So when McKillop mulled how to replace graduated point guard Jack Gibbs, who left as the program’s third-leading career scorer, this is what he came up with. It’s not the first time he’s played with multiple point guards in his starting lineup. It’s worked before with Stephen Curry and Jason Richards; Nik Cochran, JP Kuhlman and Tom Droney; and, most recently, Gibbs and Brian Sullivan two seasons ago.
What’s different about what McKillop describes as this season’s “point guard by committee” of Pritchett, Gudmundsson and Grady is the different yet complementary style each player brings to the Wildcats. Also, there are other guard options coming off Davidson’s bench, including seniors Rusty Reigel and Jordan Watkins and freshman Carter Collins.
“I can name a lineup where we can throw out there five guys who can bring the ball up,” said Reigel. “That’s crazy.”
36.9 Minutes played per game last season by forward Peyton Aldridge, most on the team
One of them is Aldridge, a versatile All-Atlantic 10 player who is on pace to pass Gibbs on the program’s scoring list behind only Curry and John Gerdy.
“We have five guys who can bring it up or even get a rebound and push the ball up the court,” said Aldridge, who averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season. “We all have the ability to adjust and get to our spot. It messes up the defense when they’re trying to get back and match up. We’ve got different guys in the corner and it gets the other team mixed up. It’s another weapon we have.”
McKillop said he’ll trust the point guards on who will bring the ball up the court and when. Sometimes he’ll draw up a play in a timeout for one of the point guards to direct.
Something else about the three point guards: their youth. They’ll play together for at least three more seasons.
David Scott: @davidscott14
‘Point guard by committee’
Here’s a look at Davidson’s starting point-guard trio:
6-5, freshman, Boston
What he brings: A natural scorer (had 28 points in 24 minutes in an exhibition victory last week against Hampden-Sydney) and great shooter with a wide wing span that will help him adjust to playing defense on the college level.
McKillop says: “He’s quickly getting to understand our system. He’s so explosive offensively. He’s understanding that in college every play counts, offensively and defensively, so he can’t relax on any possession.”
Jon Axel Gudmundsson
6-4, sophomore, Grindavik, Iceland
What he brings: Tenacious defender who likes to attack the defense off the dribble.
McKillop says: “He’s the prototypical European point guard. Not old school, where he comes out and sets things up. He’s in attack mode all the time. He’s probably our best defender and he’s willing to take a risk. But sometimes I get very upset about that.”
6-6, sophomore, Mooresville
What he brings: Hasn’t played point guard in college yet, but did at times at Lake Norman High and in AAU ball (in a system similar to Davidson’s under former Wildcats guard Brendan Winters). His size will make him tough to cover, especially when he goes to the basket.
McKillop says: “He’s got a terrific change of pace. He can go at two different speeds very easily. Because of his size, he’s a difficult matchup. He’s got a very good feel and the IQ of a point guard.” David Scott