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Trackers in the toolbox: How OSU basketball uses technology to gain an edge

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OSU WBBall Bedlam-13.jpg

OSU coach Jim Littell looks to the scoreboard during Oklahoma State's bedlam basketball game against Oklahoma on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman.

The app carries a price tag equal to that of a 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan.

Merely labeling it an app though, does not do the ShotTracker justice. The $45,000 system utilized by the Oklahoma State men’s and women’s basketball programs consists of a network of cameras and wearable sensors hooked up to apps and iPads in the OSU practice gym.

What does the equipment that sounds straight out of a James Bond movie (and is worth a car that Bond would drive) do?

“ShotTracker is a revolutionary sensor-based system that delivers statistics and analytics to teams, fans and broadcast networks instantly,” the ShotTracker website reads. “Enhancing the experience of the game – both on and off the court.”

The fairly new technology already has its converts.

“It will tell you where you made your shots, where you didn’t make your shots, rebounds, turnovers, assists, it does it all,” OSU women’s basketball coach Jim Littell said. “It has been a great tool for our players and coaches to look at after every practice and evaluate where we are at.”

ShotTracker utilizes sensors attached to the ceiling of the OSU practice gym as well as small, wearable trackers to gather real-time data. Even the basketballs themselves have computer chips in them to monitor shooting drills. Statistics are gathered by those specially-engineered pieces and displayed on courtside monitors in digestible caches of information.

“There is a lot of things you can make technological in this world that I’ve never thought of,” OSU men’s basketball coach Mike Boynton said. “I never thought you could hang sensors in a building and tell me what I was good at on a basketball court.”

It may seem far-fetched, but the ShotTracker is recognized by some basketball aficionados as a useful tool. The tech is currently used by six teams in the Big 12, and Boynton said he received positive feedback from fellow coaches who he reached out to about the ShotTracker before it was installed in Stillwater.

“I think it’s helped me a lot,” junior center Kassidy De Lapp said. “We have a little TV that we put up on the court and after every practice, they show us our stats and what percentage we were at. Who was the best for the week who was the worst in that category. And I think seeing that after every workout and practice was really good.”

This is the first year that the Cowgirls have started wearing a tracking piece in games. The tracker is a small, white piece of plastic resembling a flash drive. Before games, the Cowgirls clip one to their shoelace and one to the back of their jersey.

“It’s comfortable,” De Lapp said. “It goes right on your laces and you just close it. The only problem, and it’s not a big thing… is if somebody steps on it. It rarely happens but it’s an odd surface. And the back of your jersey you don’t even feel it.”

The equipment may be comfortable, but not everything it reveals is.

“You know, sometimes stats don’t lie and it tells a kid, ‘Hey I’m turning it over too much’ or, ‘I only got three rebounds today,’” Littell said. “So it’s a good thing and a bad thing for the players sometimes because it doesn’t lie. It tells you what you are doing.”

For all the important trends and stats that the ShotTracker reveals, it cannot measure what is arguably the most important part of a basketball player – hustle.

“One thing that it doesn’t measure is your heart,” Littell said. “How hard you play. Are you willing to dive on the floor or go get a 50/50 rebound, that’s a human element that stays in. Sometimes I think we get too carried away with analytics and numbers instead of your heartbeat.”

For Littell and Boynton, the ShotTracker is another tool in their toolbox to help them build the best programs they can.

When players combine dedication with the newest technology — like in the story Boynton likes to tell of entering the gym at 7:00 AM on Thanksgiving Day only to be greeted by the sounds of freshman guard Cade Cunningham putting up shots by himself — then it leads to a potent form of improvement.

“I think you’ve got to use all the resources at your disposal,” Boynton said. “Just try to give your guys the best opportunity to grow...we want to do everything we can to provide access to our guys to continue to get better. If they get better individually, our team gets better and we play better. It’s really simple to me but sometimes I think we can overcomplicate it.”