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Originally published July 12, 2013 at 11:36p.m., updated July 13, 2013 at 01:13p.m.

HoopTube: New video technology boon to KU men’s basketball

Jeff Forbes, Kansas University's video coordinator, helps KU players and coaches use technology recruit, study and analyze the game.

Jeff Forbes, Kansas University's video coordinator, helps KU players and coaches use technology recruit, study and analyze the game.

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This is the first of a two-part series on how Kansas University’s men’s basketball team uses new video technology. Read the second part here.

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Jeff Forbes, Kansas University's video coordinator, helps KU players and coaches use technology recruit, study and analyze the game.

When he was an intern in 2009, Kansas University’s men’s basketball video coordinator Jeff Forbes volunteered to assist with a project for men’s basketball coach Bill Self.

The mission? Pull out every video clip of the season when KU ran its ball-screen offense so the staff could measure its effectiveness.

The task was daunting. Forbes pulled out 30 DVDs of game film shot on camcorders from the rafters and, playing the videos at double-speed, spent 30 hours picking out each ball-screen possession. He then spent another 30 hours going back through the tape to make sure he hadn’t made any mistakes.

Thanks to new video technology, Forbes says the same project would take him about two hours today.

“That’s the power of Synergy,” Forbes said.

“Synergy” in this case refers to “Synergy Sports Technology,” a video and analytics tool that started its rise in college basketball about five years ago.

The service, for which KU and most other Div. I schools pay thousands of dollars each year, has reshaped how KU’s coaches recruit, study and analyze the game — all since KU won its last national championship in 2008.

How it works

So what exactly can Synergy do?

Forbes — he’s 32 and heading into his fourth season as KU’s video coordinator — gives a demonstration while pulling up the service on one of the three computer screens in the KU basketball offices.

Forbes finds former KU guard Ben McLemore in the database, and when he clicks through, McLemore’s entire statistical profile pops up in a mountain of data.

The screen shows that McLemore scored 21 percent of his points in transition last year. After that, he was also effective on spot-ups, jump shots, scoring on the perimeter and coming off screens.

In a matter of seconds, one can already start to put together a mental scouting report of the dangerous offensive player.

“He’s running on you, he’s going to get jump shots on you, and then as soon as we set up the jump shot, you’re going to get nailed with a screen all the time,” Forbes said, “so you’ve got to be able to get over screens, chase him around screens and get a hand in his face.”

What’s also telling is where McLemore doesn’t rank as high. Though he scores pretty well on pick-and-rolls when he’s the ball-handler, he doesn’t have that play run for him often. He also doesn’t have many shot attempts off isolation.

Using those clues, one could make the assumption that McLemore might not be a gifted ball-handler.

The real magic of Synergy comes through a few seconds later, though. Forbes clicks on “transition” for McLemore, and in a few seconds he’s able to pull up a four-minute video showing the last 50 times McLemore scored in transition.

Though it might not be evident at first, patterns start to emerge, like McLemore floating to the corner often in transition to spread the defense and also set up for one of his favorite shots: the baseline three.

That quick video, though, is just a glimpse of what is possible with the new technology.

How it’s used

The biggest benefit of Synergy is that it saves time — time that coaches can use for other breakdowns if needed.

Forbes gives this example: Let’s say a KU assistant coach watched Kansas State’s last 10 games, but he believes the Wildcats might try to surprise KU with something from earlier in the season.

With a click, Forbes can download video of every baseline out-of-bounds play that K-State has run all season. Now the Jayhawks shouldn’t be surprised by anything.

“Having more information allows you to do things that maybe you didn’t think of otherwise,” Forbes said, “and continue to grow and learn.”

This technology also helps each KU assistant put together the scouting-report video for the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent.

Before each game, the assistant coach in charge of the scouting report produces a 10- to 15-minute video with help from new director of basketball operations Brennan Bechard.

Let’s say KU is playing at Iowa State. In the Jayhawks’ final practice at home, the team will watch the video together, with the assistant coach pointing out certain teaching points. The team then watches the same video again at dinner the night before the game, then once again on the day of the game.

Typically, the first eight minutes show the opponent’s most-run plays, the next two minutes focus on the team’s defense, and the five minutes after that are devoted to the team’s best players and their moves.

“You can cram a ton of information in 15 minutes,” Forbes said. “So much so that if you watch it three times, every time you watch it, you can get something new.”

Forbes actually is starting a summer project with new assistant coach Jerrance Howard to analyze the effectiveness of KU’s scouting reports from a year ago. This also will help Forbes become familiar with Howard’s scouting-report style so that when the season starts, Forbes and Bechard will know what types of video Howard likes to include.

Getting specific

With Synergy, KU’s assistants can get specific with what the players see.

For example, if KU is playing Baylor, it can easily show plays that have been effective against the Bears’ 2-3 zone.

The video also makes it easier to come up with new ideas.

Forbes said former KU assistant Joe Dooley was especially talented at studying other teams’ plays, then taking the best part out and implementing it in KU’s offense.

If Synergy’s stats show Michigan State coach Tom Izzo runs the best sideline out-of-bounds plays, teams can download that video in seconds to see why the Spartans are so effective.

With Synergy’s NBA database, KU also can gain knowledge from the pros. Self might request a breakdown of the San Antonio Spurs out-of-timeout offense, and, quickly, Forbes can pull up those plays to try to diagnose why they’re so successful.

Each KU coach uses the video in different ways. Forbes said assistant coach Kurtis Townsend gets most of his scouting information from watching the opposing team’s last five to 10 games.

Self uses a mixture of video. Not only will he watch full games, he also will watch offensive and defensive cut-ups from each game, which often is put together by Bechard.

Self-scouting is important, too. An additional program called SportsCode allows KU to label individual video clips after each game.

From there, KU can look at the success of certain plays and gauge whether certain sets are more effective than others. If the “head tap” play scores on 25 out of 30 possessions, while “nose touch” scores on 10 out of 30, then KU’s coaches might consider running the former more times than the latter.

Forbes said recommendations can be made based on the data, but usually Self has a good feel for which plays are effective and which plays aren’t.

“Not only does he see our offense two to three passes ahead, no matter what we’re running, he immediately can recall and diagnose what’s wrong with the play, whether it’s a mistake on any facet of the play,” Forbes said. “He can immediately diagnose it and then communicate it.

“I’ve never met anyone like that, not with his ability to do it.”

How it helps recruiting

Synergy also helps recruits see how they might fit in at KU.

Let’s say KU is hosting a recruit who is versatile big man who can shoot from the outside. The coaches can put together a cut-up of a previous player like him — Markieff Morris is an example in this case — and show the different ways the recruit could be utilized in the offense if he were to choose KU.

Forbes, meanwhile, also is in charge of much of the Jayhawks’ digital recruiting.

Forbes, who graduated from Lawrence High and grew up going to games at Allen Fieldhouse with his family, produces the popular “Pay Heed” videos, which show behind-the-scenes footage of KU basketball that are posted to YouTube and also shared with potential recruits via Twitter and email.

Forbes says his goal with each video is to produce something that a recruit’s friends, parents and girlfriend will all like.

It’s a long process. Forbes captures game video from under the basket at each game and also has help from interns, who assist with the shooting.

Forbes then gets together with former KU player Wayne Simien, who narrates the series, and puts the most interesting clips together before presenting a video to assistant coach Norm Roberts.

The coaching staff gets final say on what is in the videos, so Roberts and Forbes talk about what clips should be added and also which ones should be left out.

A long discussion took place about a now-famous dance from McLemore in the Ohio State locker room last season.

“I didn’t want to anger Ohio State and give them bulletin-board material,” Forbes said. “But it turned out it was one of those moments where it wasn’t showy; it was just jubilation. Ben celebrating with his teammates in a non-scripted rare moment of joy.”

“Pay Heed” also included postgame locker-room talks from Self this past season, which Forbes believes helps fans “peek behind that curtain a little bit.”

Forbes also is in charge of distribution. He runs the “KUHoops” Twitter account and emails potential recruits with entertaining material about KU, which has previously included highlight videos and also last year’s team “Harlem Shake” dance number.

Though he’s not a recognizable member of KU’s coaching staff, Forbes said he’s happy to be a part of a bigger team. He works from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days and sometimes pulls all-nighters to finish up “Pay Heed” episodes.

He says there’s no job in the world he’d rather have.

“What I really want out of this is for us to win,” Forbes said. “As long as that’s happening, I don’t care who gets the credit. I really don’t.”

Comments

Steve Corder 1 year, 5 months ago

A hard working young man who is well on his way to a great career in this business.

Phil Leister 1 year, 5 months ago

So, how exactly does this work? Doesn't someone, somewhere have to code all the individual plays so they can later be pulled up on the spot? Or does the video system itself just recognize the plays/players and log all the info?

redlegger 1 year, 5 months ago

I had the same questions. The article seemed to imply (although subtly) that the system has the ability to index the plays and players, which would support the time savings idea.

Jesse Newell 1 year, 5 months ago

Good questions, and sorry if it wasn't clear. Synergy hires people to code each play, as listed in the McLemore example above. Examples are "transition," "spot-ups," "jump shots," etc. It's not perfect (coding is open to interpretation), but you can always double-check Synergy's logging by pulling up the video to watch for yourself.

It also saves time because a third party pulls out the clip for every single play so KU's guys don't have to. In the first example, Forbes can pull out every offensive play of the season at the click of a button with Synergy, instead of having to wade through DVDs to pull out each play himself.

Mike Bratisax 1 year, 5 months ago

Isn't this based on a system very similar to what was used in the movie "Money Ball"? It uses a massive amount of information and crunches it down to analyze plays, players and pretty much everything that would take an assistant coach far too long to collate. I'm not completely sold on how it evaluates high school players as it often is completely wrong analyzing players for the draft but it is much more effective at predicting tendencies, analyzing the most effective plays and lineups.

Anyways, that was what I got out of it. The NBA has been using Synergy for nearly 5 years now. The NBA does use it to analyze draft picks and players considered in a trade. I don't see much improvement in picking draft selections but I'm sure the percentage of draft busts has gone down numerically.

This page gives a good example on how it is used: http://www.mysynergysports.com/synergystats/

phogthedog 1 year, 5 months ago

So can't other teams use the same process to analyze and prepare for games against the Jayhawks? It still takes great coaching to use the data effectively.

texashawk10 1 year, 5 months ago

Other schools do use this technology and realistically, it's still about execution.

jaybate 1 year, 5 months ago

The software could be driven any number of ways. But here is one primitive approximation way. Basically the floor is mapped as a matrix and spatial algorithms track color intensities or thermal gradients, depending on cameras used, moving as vectors around the floor. Vector patterns and rates of motion for various types of motion are pre loaded and the software tracks actual motion and compares actual to motion typologies and categorizes and tags events for retrieval. This primitive approach is probably augmented by AI routines to make the software "learn" during the software's r&d phase and then again when it is being used by specific teams. Individual players uniforms might be tagged also, or players skin and hair color might be profiled and loaded to enable accurate identification of players in motion.

This type of software is probably derived from many different softwares ranging from surveillance and weapons guidance software used by satellites and drones to distinguish, track and destroy ground targets, to employee and shopper surveillance software, to remote sensing software used to remotely track farming and construction activities from satellites. But I'm old school. There could be lots of new techniques. :-)

KGphoto 1 year, 5 months ago

Or it could be inspired by something as simple as a home computer.

I’ve used iPhoto’s “Faces” feature for at least 7-8 years now. It’s amazing how well it can recognize a face after you tag it once. After you confirm the face in a different picture it learns more about the face. It’s actually scary how well it works.

Granted those are still images, but that was nearly a decade ago.

jaybate 1 year, 5 months ago

Good point. But yes, you would have to plug that recog ware into a spatial/GPS/GIS framework for it to enable them to do what they do.

jaybate 1 year, 5 months ago

I am not quite sure how to respond to an allusion to a reputed Shawnee Mission Northwest graduate of 1996 that has reputedly made 347 adult films (Source: potentially unreliable Wikipedia page for Samantha Ryan viewed a few moments ago).

So I will just say this: if the Sam Cam works for you and your honey, and deprives the divorce lawyers of their blood monies, more power to you both.

Mike Bratisax 1 year, 5 months ago

I guess I'm just a little less skeptical than jaybate, but then again, I don't spend my free time designing algorithms just for fun.

I personally think the Samantha Ryan software package could be a useful tool not only in marriage but in finding a compatible person you might be waking up to the next 40 years or so.

jhox 1 year, 5 months ago

“Not only does he see our offense two to three passes ahead, no matter what we’re running, he immediately can recall and diagnose what’s wrong with the play, whether it’s a mistake on any facet of the play,” Forbes said. “He can immediately diagnose it and then communicate it."

This is one of the things that has always amazed me about Self. Most people can isolate on one player, or if they're really good, maybe two. I've seen Self in news conferences talk about what 3 or more players were doing at any one time on a play. He's a human computer on things like that.

mikehawk 1 year, 5 months ago

I'm old school. And I'm old. Sounds like Coach does the supreme job using his God-given "Blink" abilities, yet still recognizes the use of technology and data as a must in today's world. When I hear of the capacities like those described, not sure whether I'm amazed, intimidated, or even a little scared. It will be interesting how long before this 'cutting edge" technology is outdated. Still, what coach does will always reign supreme and these tools will remain that...tools.

Jack Wilson 1 year, 5 months ago

Interesting to see that Karviar Shepherd was ruled ineligible (non-qualifier) along with another top recruit from his school in Dallas (Prime Prep).

Shepherd almost picked KU. If he would have picked KU, we would certainly have not landed Embiid, who chose schools about a month after Shepherd. To me, at the time, Shepherd seemed like the perfect fit. Top 50 guy, obvious that he'd be a minimum 3 year player, seemed to fit what Self wanted, etc.

Two schools that really needed a top guy or two got stuck by this Prime Prep deal -- Jordan Mickey had signed with LSU (and Shepherd TCU).

Sometimes a bit of luck helps in recruiting, like when Josiah Turner picked Arizona. If we would have landed Turner, we wouldn't have Tharpe.

But if Embiid turns pro after one developmental season because of his "upside" and lure of quick NBA money, and Shepherd ends up playing three seasons and becomes a top player in the Big 12, we might have to reassess.

soapisurfriend 1 year, 5 months ago

So what does that mean for Mudiay? Is Prime Prep another Christian Life Academy?

jaybate 1 year, 5 months ago

So, Karviar joins the Ben McLemore/Jamari Traylor sit a year and get better treatment. Worse things could befall these players.

Mike Bratisax 1 year, 5 months ago

With all the previous issues, Josiah Turner had the chance to learn how to play under Larry Brown. One of the few coaches who exceeded on both the NCAA and the NBA, and Turner passes it up.

Good luck Josiah Turner....you will need it.

Preston Dwiggins 1 year, 5 months ago

I got a chance to meet Jeff this summer at my kid's basketball camp, he's an amazing individual. Class act all the way. RCJH!

ahpersecoachingexperience 1 year, 5 months ago

The only downside to Synergy Sports Technology is the short google quiz one must take before watching each play.

Mike Bratisax 1 year, 5 months ago

By far the best sarcasm regardless of the target.

David Brown 1 year, 5 months ago

Excellent article. Thanks to Jesse Newell of the LJ World staff. More "behind the scenes" articles, please!

Andy Tweedy 1 year, 5 months ago

I think I'd pay KU athletics to do that job!

206Jayhawk 1 year, 5 months ago

Great read. Very interesting. Rock Chalk!

jaybate 1 year, 5 months ago

After this year's NBA debacle, er, draft, some questions about NBA leadership arise:

  1. Is NBA management fighting a literacy problem?

  2. Is NBA management being targeted by basketball counterrorism organizations wielding microwave crowd control devices on them that make them hear voices in their heads telling them to draft ineptly?

  3. Has NBA management collectively taken the stupid pill?

  4. Was the Da Vinci Code really about an NBA management conspiracy to draft so ineptly that Lebron is guarantied to win 10 consecutive rings?

  5. Is the NBA thinking of changing its initials to the NTA (National Tipesh Association)?

huggybearhawk 1 year, 5 months ago

Three is the magic number: 1. Great summer/off-peak season article. 2. Jeff is about as sincere & level-headed as they come. He is one of us in fandom, however, his aptitude affords him a front row seat to the most sacred & amazing spectacle in the history of man. 3. Could HCBS remain our basketball coach if he's elected POTUS in '16?

RCJH.

s6u6r6f 1 year, 5 months ago

Great tech efficaciously employed. Give Mr. Forbes a raise. And I agree with BrownJuan above: in this downtime, more "behind the scenes" articles would be great. Just who are our student-managers, and what all do they do? Rock chalk.

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