This is the second of a two-part series on how Kansas University’s men’s basketball team uses new video technology. Read the first part here.
During Conner Teahan’s first summer as a walk-on at Kansas University, guard Sherron Collins repeatedly crossed him over, making him look silly more times than he cared to remember.
The 6-foot-6 guard Teahan faced an immediate reality: He was never going to have the same athleticism as the guys around him.
Teahan, who played at KU from 2007-12, was well aware of his limitations. Defensively, he was not a great on-ball defender. He also was a step slower than most teammates.
Within two years, though, something changed. While playing on the scout team against KU’s rotation players, Teahan found that he was able to stay in front of both Collins and quick KU point guard Tyshawn Taylor in practices.
The reason? Teahan knew all of KU’s plays, so he knew exactly where each player was going to be before he got there.
“Defensively, I needed some work,” Teahan said, “so I needed as much advantage as I could have.”
Teahan also found he could stop teammate Travis Releford in transition, just because he knew his favorite move: an in-and-out crossover that would lead to a spin if the defender was overplaying. It got to the point where Teahan could even bait Releford to go to his spin move if he thought he could get in a better position to defend him.
Teahan’s thoughts immediately switched to KU’s opponents.
“I was like, ‘OK, if I can get to a point where I know the other team’s plays the best I can,’” Teahan said, “‘then I’ll be able to play better defense.’”
For help with that, Teahan turned to film study, especially during his senior year when he played 21 minutes per game on a KU team that reached the national championship game.
His support came from two main sources: Synergy Sports Technology and KU video coordinator Jeff Forbes.
Teahan’s example is just one way that college players have used new video technology to improve.
So what exactly did Teahan do?
Before every game, he’d meet with Forbes to talk through his potential defensive assignments for the next game. For example, against Missouri his senior year, Teahan could potentially be matched up against guard Marcus Denmon, Matt Pressey, Kim English and even Michael Dixon if there was a defensive switch.
From there, Forbes would pull 5- to 6-minute clips on each player from Synergy, then deliver the video to Teahan via CD or by sending it over email.
Most times, Teahan would get clips of each player’s scoring plays from the last four or five games, with 10 to 15 seconds shown beforehand so he could see how the play developed.
Depending on how much time there was between games, Teahan’s goal was to watch each player’s video between two and three times on his computer. He’d watch it in various places, whether it was by himself in the locker room or in bed before he went to sleep.
He was looking for a lot. He’d study a player’s moves, and would try to see how that person would use those moves to get into a shot.
He’d also take note of each player’s shooting release point, which would help him know where to put his hand up when defending a shot. Teahan said former teammate Brady Morningstar was especially effective at using that information to knock the ball out of opponents’ hands before they could even get a shot up.
Teahan also would look for patterns. Did a player prefer to go left or right on the dribble? What plays were run for a particular player when he went one-on-one? And were there plays when his man was simply a ball-mover, which might allow Teahan to play additional help defense?
“Through his effort of studying tendencies, it made him half-a-step faster,” Forbes said, “because he could anticipate.”
Teahan also could pick up a player’s strengths and weaknesses based on the plays that were being run for him, as coaches typically run sets that accentuate a player’s best skills.
For Teahan, the goal was always to play good enough off-ball defense so that he could make body contact with his man when he had the ball, allowing him to better anticipate where the player might be going next.
More than anything, Teahan said the extra study gave him confidence.
“The more you watch the film, the better you feel about it, the less nervous you are,” Teahan said, “and the more you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve seen this guy. I know what he does or what he tries to do or what he’s good at.’”
KU’s players still get plenty of prep even if they don’t go the video lengths Teahan did.
The team watches a 10- to 15-minute video three times before each game that goes over the opponent’s offense, defense and best players. In addition, each player is given a paper scouting report, which includes a team’s most frequent plays drawn out and a page devoted to players’ strengths, weaknesses and go-to moves.
The scout team also mimics the opponent’s offense in practice to give players even more familiarity.
Forbes has seen players succeed in different ways. He said former KU forward Thomas Robinson oftentimes limited how much video he watched, as doing excessive film study made him more nervous on the court.
Taylor, meanwhile, liked to watch all his individual clips — in addition to a cut-up of the entire game over again — after every contest KU played.
“Different guys learn different ways,” Forbes said. “If you’re a visual learner, this is a good way to do it.”
Studying the stars
Especially in downtimes — like the offseason — many Jayhawks also use Synergy’s extended video library to study other players similar to themselves.
For Teahan, it was former BYU guard Jimmer Fredette. Though the two did not share similar roles on their college teams, Teahan still was able to study the way Fredette dribbled and scored.
Some of this year’s Jayhawks have already found new role models.
Forbes has gotten with No. 1-ranked recruit Andrew Wiggins to start a study of NBA player Kevin Durant. Next up after that is Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady — all long wings who had successful NBA careers.
Sophomore forward Perry Ellis is watching former KU big man Marcus Morris, with Forbes hard-loading the video right into an iPad for easy viewing.
Sophomore Andrew White III, meanwhile, has taken tape of Ray Allen to try to copy his footwork. White started with some recent clips of Allen, then later added on some earlier film where Allen could slash a little more.
Forbes, who consults with Self and the coaches to determine what film each player should watch, said the goal is to take a closer look at one or two things that each of the studies does well.
He hasn’t gotten to everyone yet, especially many of the freshmen who are still learning KU’s system.
Still, there’s help for that as well. Available on each player’s iPhone is an app that holds KU’s entire video playbook. That way, if a player has forgotten what he’s supposed to do when “Five up” is called, he can pull video up on his phone for a quick reminder.
Expanding the system
So what’s the next step in terms of video technology and basketball?
Forbes believes someday teams might not have to wait for plays to be coded by humans; perhaps computers will become smart enough to do that, which would make video available even quicker on digital devices.
This much is certain: With the boom of video technology — and the additional way videos can be accessed, edited and shared — KU’s coaches will have to continue to refine the ways they scout and coach to keep up with the latest advancements available.
“The information has exponentially exploded,” Forbes said. “Even five years ago, near the start of Synergy, I think people were doing digital scouting in a useful way, but I feel like the access to the information now allows you to see the game in ways that you never would have before.”