In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, Washington State head coach Kyle Smith joins the Basketball Podcast to share on Nerdball analytics insights.
In his first three seasons at Washington State, Smith has rebuilt the Cougars putting himself in rarified air at WSU as he has finished his first three seasons at .500 or better joining Tony Bennett as the only Cougars head coaches to post .500 or better records in their first three seasons after taking over a sub-.500 club. In addition, he has posted back-to-back winning seasons, the first time in over a decade at WSU.
Smith began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater Hamilton College. He then moved to Division I as an assistant at Air Force, Saint Mary’s, and San Diego.. He got his first head coaching job at Columbia University in 2010, where he led the Lions to three postseason appearances and a 101-83 record in six seasons.
In 2016, Smith was hired as the head coach at the University of San Francisco, where he continued his success with three consecutive 20-win seasons and two postseason berths. He also implemented his signature “Nerdball” system, which uses analytics and data to evaluate players and opponents.
Kyle Smith Quotes:
“We’ve been able to get some four star guys and some highly touted guys that have embraced it [use of analytics] and really improved themselves . . it really gives them ownership of their career and their ability and it really attracts the guy that wants to bet on himself.”
“Eventually we built it out to 50 stats in pretty much every aspect of basketball. And we’re always adding and maneuvering a little bit, trying to improve it year over year.”
“You’ve got to be efficient with your time and we just don’t have enough time to stop each possession and teach. Everyone learns differently but I’m really leaning into the smart and responsible guys. They’re going to get the feedback and they get the good, bad, and indifferent.”
“Now, with technology, you can send them clips, ‘Here’s areas you can get better at. Here’s what you’ve done well, reinforce it.’ So, the more analytical the player is and more willing to put the time outside of the practice time, the more stuff we get done.”
“This has to be something special . . So, I’d take the first ten minutes to really talk to them and engage them and give them the ‘why.’ Guys want to know the ‘why.’ So the emotion part is like, ‘Why are we doing this today?’”
“Over time, I think those habits become second nature and they end up doing it. You can become a little machine-like which is great, but you want to have the joy, you don’t want to steal the joy of the process and being a team and what really, hopefully, brought you to playing basketball – that camaraderie, the accomplishing things together.”
“I’ve been on a team since I was nine. Every year, it’s part of who I am . . it just gives me meaning. I think it gives everyone a little purpose. Just that camaraderie. I think everyone does want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
“You can’t run from the accountability. Bottom line. We’re probably a little more accountable than others in really trying to sharpen the edges, but it’s going to hunt you down in life. If you want to be successful, you’re going to be held accountable, and you’ll want to take on the challenge.”
“We’ll go over these sections and areas . . I want to hit the positives. We call it ‘confront the brutal facts’ a lot. Let’s see where we’re at.”
[On defense] “It’s hard to do and it takes a lot of heart and you got to do things over and over. The repetition, having the mental and physical discipline to do things every time . . I think the two most important things are be able to stop the ball and protect the rim. You’ve got to be able to do those things. They can’t just be driving the ball in the paint all night.”
“Offensive rebounding is one of the best things you can do in basketball. It gives you another possession. Anytime you get us a possession, it’s worth 1.1 points. So, if you get on the floor for a loose ball and we come up with it, you got us another possession that’s worth a point. You get more shot attempts, more possessions, you’re giving yourself the best chance to win.”
“The system is supposed to tell you who your five best competitors are . . You’re not looking at us talent. You’re looking at production. Who’s producing out there? Who’s doing what we ask? . . when you have a little individual talent and you have a little leverage . . you’ll try to drag it your way as a player and it’s like, ‘No, come on, let’s do the things everyone else is doing, too. And that makes us good.’”
“It depends what kind of resources you have to deal with it. The one thing you have to do is, if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it every day . . whatever you’re doing, if you’re publishing it and sharing with them, they’re going to see what you emphasize.”
Kyle Smith Breakdown:
1:00 – Washington State Rebuild
5:00 – Nerdball System
9:00 – Data and Analytics
14:00 – Removing Biases
20:00 – Mindset Training
23:00 – Improvement
24:00 – 50 Categories
28:00 – Idea of Turning Threes
29:54 – 30:56 – Hoopsalytics Ad 3
34:00 – Watching the Process
37:00 – Isolation Efficiency
39:00 – Data
46:00 – Shooting Ball Handling
51:00 – Offensive Boards
56:00 – NBA
59:00 – Adopting the System
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