There is a lot of new coming to Chaifetz Arena for the start of the 2019-2020 school year and basketball seasons. In addition to five freshmen recruits, two transfers, and most importantly a very nice “2019 A10 Champions” banner, the Billikens have added a state-of-the-art piece of technology to the practice facility. The system is called “Shot Tracker” and the Billikens hope they can use it to take their game to the next level by working smarter and not harder.
Shot Tracker provides hundreds of thousands of data points all instantly, and while yes, some of the more obvious data points were collectable previously, the instantaneous nature of the program makes acquiring and utilizing that information infinitely simpler. Information like shooting trends, hot zones, shot distance, and passes made can all be tracked as they happened and reviewed in an instant. That being said, the program also acquires/collects data simply to difficult or inexact for human instincts to track. Things like footspeed, ball rotations, release angles, repeated tendencies and more are all immediately made available or recorded and stored for future use.
While the technology involved is incredibly complex, the physical products involved are relatively simple. The programs physical aspects include chips implanted in basketballs, small plastic tags attached players shorts or shoes and about 49 sensors anchored to the roof and walls of the facility that pick up all the movement below. The plastic player tracking tags will also be getting even simpler as the Billikens will be getting game jerseys with small chips implanted in the shoulder. Those components all funnel information to an iPad or iPhone app that collects and displays the information instantaneously.
The 49 sensors create a 3D virtal map of the entire facility and are programed with “Make or Miss” zones for every hoop in the gym. The mapping and tracking ability of the sensors is so precise, it can precsisly locate a player and a basketball down to an eight of an inch.
The Billikens currently have the practice facility completely wired up with Shot Tracker currently operational and will have Shot Tracker installed in Chaifetz Arena some time in August. Chaifetz Arena is currently undergoing a variety of renovations including some new lighting and updated flooring, once those are completed Shot Tracker will go up and will be available to the Bills.
I had the opportunity to watch and engage with the program first hand in the “Pavilion” Practice Facility in order to better understand how beneficial the program is. Billiken Men’s Support Services Coordinator Michael Wilson took me through a walk-through to show exactly how the program is operated.
Lucky for me, just as I was arriving Billiken Sophomore Guard Fred Thatch Jr was finishing a shoot around session so there was a fresh and relevant set of data available for me to observe.
The process starts with a set of custom-made basketballs arranged in the lounge of the locker rooms. The Spalding basketballs have a microchip implanted in the leather that tracks ball movement in the gym. The balls sit on a charging rack that makes sure they are consistently ready for usage. Each player then has a specifically assigned tag that loops through the laces of their shoes, this is the most vital aspect that players have to keep track of as should they wear the wrong tag their training data and stats would be assigned to the wrong player. From there all the player has to do is enter the gym and conduct business as usual.
As it stands right now there is no “team rule” as to enforcing the use of the program, but according to Michael Wilson, that doesn’t seem to be a problem, “The guys seem really excited about using it and seeing their progress…we’ve already seen guys adapt using the data to better themselves.”
Each player is tracked automatically. For individual sessions, the system is completely automated. A player goes through their practice, and once they leave the gym for more than 15 minutes the session is ended and an hour later the stats are available. Team practices are a little more complicated and require some manual attention. In addition to some stats needing manual tracking, like deflections and blocks, the coaching staff is keen on tracking the results of the various different drills they run which requires a human operator to differentiate and program the timing of into the app.
While the coaching staff has access to all of the data Shot Tracker has to offer, the players are limited to their own data, all of which is available on their iPhone app. This is for a few reasons. The first, and the least impactful reason is the iPhone app available to players isn’t powerful enough to process the vast amount of data provided. The next and certainly most interesting reason is the staff’s desire to not overwhelm players with numbers.
The technological addition to the program is a long time coming. Coach Ford has talked about upgrading the facility since coming to SLU but only now has he found the program to do it. This is also not the only program they considered but ultimately pulled the trigger based on its superior stat tracking ability and price point.
The coaching staff hopes this addition of specific advanced analytics adds another tool to the toolbox when approaching development. Coach Ford has regularly preached an appreciation for advance stats as a valuable tool and this addition adds to the that. The team has tracked most of these key stats by hand in the past, so not a lot of change will come in that sense, but the simplicity of the program will surely make tracking stats simpler and will allow the coaching staff to focus their energies elsewhere.
Once Shot Tracker is installed in Chaifetz Arena a whole new world of opportunity opens up. Unfortunately, that opportunity may require some patience. Shot Trackers benefits for in-game scenarios create opportunities for in-game adjustments and long-term stat tracking that would be too complicated to do by hand. But unfortunately, there is no way for the Billikens to force other teams to wear the trackers, a vital aspect of gaining the full scope of Shot Trackers data. Nor will the Billikens be getting the Shot Tracker data while playing in away stadiums. Another wrinkle in the plan comes from the basketballs. SLU plays its home games with Nike produced basketballs and are currently running shot tracker with Spalding balls. While they hope to get Shot Tracker enabled Nike balls before the season begins, but when faced with not having those available right away, they went with the balls they would be using in the A10 Tournament.
It shouldn’t go without saying that there will be an impressive added benefit to Billiken fans. When the Billikens tip off the 2019-2020 season, there will be a Shot Tracker fan app available for IOS and Android phones. Fans will be able to track Billikens players game and season stats from their phones. The app can be used from home or in the stadium for instantaneous feedback.
The Billikens staff and players are still adapting to the system, and they admittedly have a lot to learn in regard to using it to the fullest. But the addition, even in its infancy, is an overwhelming positive to the SLU Basketball programs.
Video’s and feature image provided by Shot Tracker