Last summer, a vendor installed new sensors on the ceiling inside Fertitta Center and the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility for use by the men’s and women’s teams. Few in the Houston Basketball program understood what was happening, but they knew this was a Big 12 requirement. All men’s and women’s basketball teams in the Big 12 must use the technology during conference games. The sensors were forgotten until the start of 2024 when the Big 12 activated them for conference play.
So what is it?
It’s called ShotTracker, a sports technology that captures player performance data via sensors above the court ceiling, in players’ jerseys, and the basketball used in games. The company behind StatTracker says the sensors provide an autonomous collection of stats and analytics with sub-second latency.
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About a dozen ceiling sensors hang above the Fertitta Center floor and map the court in 3D. They allow for baseline stat collection when used with the other two sensors.
Shots are assigned an advanced zone number, 1-23, representing the location around the hoop where the shot occurred. The map below shows the shot advanced zone.
As an example, here’s one of many components of what ShotTracker provides. This is the app view of UH’s shot selection from the Texas Tech game where the Cougars shot 33/63:
In this game, UH was best shooting the three from the top, just right of center (2/2 for six points of 3 points per shot taken), and from the three zones left of center, where they were 4/8 for 12 points (1.5 points per shot). Dark red means the team shot 100% from that zone, a lighter red above 50%, orange is 50%, yellows are below 50%, blue is 0%, and black means no attempts. You can click on a player at the top to see his percentages from each zone.
At the start of league play, sensors were added to player jerseys and game-used basketballs. During pregame, the jersey sensors are charged in the backside base of the hoop closest to the tunnel at Fertitta. Players use the same dedicated sensor all season, and their numbers show which sensor corresponds to which jersey. This allows individualized data to be tracked over time.
Then, 90 minutes before each game, the sensors are placed inside the jersey over the right shoulder, next to a player’s name.
After the game, they are taken out before the jerseys are washed.
The jersey sensors help the technology determine who is shooting and where on the floor. But they also help the team determine, along with the sensors on the ceiling, who is setting a screen or throwing a pass.
The sensor-enabled ball has the exact same look, feel, and weight as a regular ball. The sensor-enabled balls are comingled with other Nike balls in practice and shoot-around.
The sensor in the ball helps determine passing and shooting statistics. Teams use their branded balls – UH uses Nike balls, for instance – and there’s no difference in weight or feel. The only way to determine if a ball is a regular or sensor ball is the ‘nipple’ where the sensor goes.
When the sensors are in use during practice or a game, the covering is taken off:
The new illuminated ball racks were one of the first public signs that something had changed. The rack is also a charging station, with a red light indicating the ball is charging, and a green means the charge is complete. One person inside the UH program compared the lights to the ones above parking spots in the stadium garage on the UH campus. Red means nope, and green means you’re good.
The data is processed through a proprietary algorithm and accessible immediately through an iPad or iPhone app that all players and coaches can access.
The data available in the app is seemingly endless: it tracks lineups, possessions, passes, and ball screens and breaks them down via the corresponding floor zone. On shots, the technology knows if it was off the dribble, catch and shoot, guarded or unguarded. The 3D map allows coaches to see shooting trends on the bench in real-time and draw up plays from selected areas where certain players succeed. A points scored per shot metric shows where the team is succeeding from different areas on the floor. And video has been integrated so coaches can use it as a teaching tool.
ESPN uses the Shottracker zones sparingly and a little differently. Instead of 23 zones, it’s just 14 to make it better for broadcasting and easier to follow at home.
Teams have access to the 14-zone map but typically prefer the 23.
The Cougars have all this technology, but they’ve not integrated it yet. As you might imagine, Kelvin Sampson is not interested in changing in the middle of the season. But the staff will start to get into the data and applications in the offseason. Kellen Sampson told me they will wait until “April, maybe May” to start figuring out the technology.
Coaches can determine which lineups perform the best with large amounts of data to back up their observations. Or if a player is better off the dribble or the catch or what the points per possession are when the ball goes down low and is kicked back for a three. But there’s so much more.
With the sensors installed at the Guy V., the possibilities are endless for practice or even shooting around. A player could come in at night, click in a sensor to his jersey, use a charged ball, and focus on his shooting. During a water break, he could open the app to see his stats and where he’s been best from the floor. The coaches can see what extra work he’s put in (number of shots) and when and where. From there, they can design drills to hone in on a particular skill or shot.
Other Big 12 schools – Kansas, Baylor, and TCU in particular – have been using ShotTracker to help them build practice plans and for in-game situations. UH uses a squadron of student managers to track stats similar to what ShotTracker does automatically. The men’s program expects to begin using the tech next season.