This past summer, Kansas State women’s basketball assistant coach Chris Carr, who considers himself a forward thinker, brought an idea that could change the program for years to come.
He had heard of NBA teams using ShotTracker, a software program that, true to its name, tracks shots and just about everything else you could want. It’s part of the growing analytics movement in the sport, with teams craving as much information as they can get.
“For me, being the skill development person, it’s a huge opportunity for me to further indulge into my mad scientist brain and figure out different ways to be the best we can be,” Carr said.
When Carr told K-State head coach Jeff Mittie of the technology, the conversation went quickly.
Can this help us?
Do you think it’ll make us a better team?
“‘OK, I’m leaving it up to you,’” Carr recalls Mittie telling him.
Thus, the program gained an asset that puts it at the cutting edge of the numbers game — at least among colleges, Carr said. The K-State men’s basketball team also uses it. Carr said the Wildcat ladies are only one of a handful of women’s programs that have ShotTracker, which boosts competitiveness on the floor and in recruiting.
Bruce Ianni and Davyeon Ross, two former college hoopers, invented ShotTracker in Overland Park. The sensor-based system became available in November 2014 and has since become more popular each year.
In 2015, the company announced a partnership with Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson. Current Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, an NBA legend, became an investor in 2016.
With ShotTracker, players clip a small chip on their shoelaces and use a basketball with a programmed chip inside of it. The chips work together with cameras that are mounted in the team’s practice facility to provide real-time feedback through an internet-based program.
In terms of what can be tracked, take your pick.
Field goal percentage. Effective field goal percentage. Offensive pace of play. Plus-minus for every player on the floor.
It also displays distance traveled, so if Mittie sees his players ran 5 miles in practice — which he said is typical for a tougher practice — he might lighten the next day’s load.
“There are so many different avenues you can go with it,” Carr said. “It’s just based on what data you want, and how you want to utilize it.”
Gone are the days of pen and paper. Now, team managers monitor a laptop with the ShotTracker feedback instead of tirelessly tracking analytics themselves. Carr said analytics have been in the game for a long time, but it’s just a matter of how they’ve been kept.
For K-State senior point guard Kayla Goth, it’s been nice not to have to write down how many shots she made out of how many she took during a workout. Often, she said, players forget. Or sometimes they just choose not to because it’s annoying to walk back and forth to write down makes and misses during a workout.
ShotTracker also helps with accountability. In addition to providing the hot-and-cold shot charts, which are similar to those seen on NBA broadcasts, it just gives raw numbers of how many shots were taken.
When K-State installed the software, Goth said players were a tad nervous because of that. They knew Mittie would be able to see everything he needed — who’s in the gym, who’s improving, who’s taking shots they’ll actually take in the game and who’s not.
“I think it’s been really beneficial for our younger players to get them in the gym and say, ‘Hey, you’re not in the gym — period,’” Goth said. “It’s easy for people to say, ‘No, I’m in there.’ But you’re not in there for enough time. It’s helpful across the board to see A, who’s in there, and B, who’s improving.”
Freshman guard Chrissy Carr, Chris Carr’s daughter, added: “I think it kind of helps everyone out by showing where everyone’s at on the spectrum of if whether they’re getting up enough shots. But also it gives them an idea of how well they’re shooting from beyond the arc or inside of the arc also.”
Chris Carr said technology isn’t necessary for players to improve. “That’s an inner drive and an inner passion that you have,” he added. When he played, he felt he had that. He wanted to be better, so he got in the gym and hoisted countless shots.
With ShotTracker, there’s no hiding and no excuses. Just like anything else, Carr said, you’ll get out what you put into it.
“(Players) set goals,” he said. “They dream about doing certain things. Then, the overall output of the work you put in has to align with your goals and dreams, or it’s unattainable.”
Goth hasn’t learned anything from the software that she didn’t already know. Being in college for three years, she said she’s aware of her hot and cold spots.
But she’s seen improvement in Laura Macke. A freshman forward, Macke and the other young Wildcats will be case studies for this technology. While coaches can monitor the results on a daily basis, players can use the tools to develop over four years in the program.
“That girl gets up more shots than everybody on the team,” Goth said of Macke. “Every week. She’s been consistent since she’s gotten here, and you can definitely tell her improvements over time. Her 3-point shooting has improved drastically since when she got here.”
When it comes to utilizing the data, Carr said associate head coach Brian Ostermann is the “game analytical person” who gives Mittie percentages.
Carr, on the other hand, works with Mittie to develop the best game plan based on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. ShotTracker helps because it shows the coaches where players can shoot and where they can’t, where they make 3-pointers and where they don’t.
“Whenever you’re formulating a game plan on what’s the best way to maximize your player’s potential and your team’s potential, you want to try to put those players in their spots they’re really good from as many times as you can in order to have a better impact in the the game,” Carr said.
When Mittie gave Carr permission to move forward with the ShotTracker plan, Carr called the company for more information, then pulled the trigger.
In doing so, he believes he helped put the Wildcats ahead of the curve, which is where they hope to stay as they continually discover more ways to use this new toy.
“I’m a very cutting-edge forward thinker in terms of how we can continue to push the envelope to provide opportunities for our players to improve and for us as coaches to improve,” he said. “That’s where my mind kind of thinks.”