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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

How a Camera System Helped Yale Make the Big Dance

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Photo Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Ordinarily, a camera system wouldn’t receive much credit for Yale basketball completing perhaps the greatest season in program history. According to head coach James Jones, however, a state-of-the-art platform called Keemotion was a valuable behind-the-scenes resource during the Bulldogs’ success this season, in which Yale won the Ivy League, captured its first-ever conference tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament for just the fifth time in school history.

“Would we have gotten to the Tournament if we didn’t have it? I’d like to think we would have,” he says. “But at the same time, I know that it’s helpful, too, for my guys to be able to learn from… It’s just a great tool to have.”

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In the words of its CEO Milton Lee, Keemotion is “a fully automated video production ecosystem” involving a series of anywhere from three to seven cameras positioned across the court which capture video and can replay it almost instantaneously on a tablet. The utility of that service depends on the client. According to Lee, who came to Keemotion after five years with the Brooklyn Nets, the company offers four tiers of service to clients ranging from the professional ranks all the way down to high school athletics. Depending on the client’s resources, Keemotion has been everything from a social media aid to a livestream service to an instant replay tool for referees to a coaching tool – and, as Lee notes, the company hopes “our ultimate client would use all of our [services].”

For Yale, it fills one especially well. Jones estimates he’s used the Keemotion for roughly five years, primarily as a basketball operations assistant for a program that, like most non-Power Five schools, often struggles to recruit dependable student volunteers.

“We would film practice every so often [but] it was difficult for us sometimes to find a manager and this system allows us to just not have to worry about that,” he says. “[It gives us] that carefree ability to just watch.”

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And, from there, his players learn. Jones watches cut-ups after each session to help him tweak and adjust his own strategies for the next day. But the service also allows him to better hold his players accountable for bad habits. “Every kid in the world — no one’s ever committed a foul, no one’s ever turned the ball over,” he says, wryly, and now he can provide a visual demonstration in real time whenever they do. More than that, though, it streamlines communication in an environment where coaches are only permitted a set number of hours to train their players each week.

“It takes away a lot of the confusion that some guys had with their play,” Jones says. “And then there’s the teaching aspect of it, where, again, some guys think they’re doing something and they’re not.”

Perhaps its greatest impact of all is on the players with the most to gain. While starters and key rotation players get the luxury of live game reps to dissect on tape, other reserves or young players who languish on the bench not only lose out on in-game experience but also the future study opportunities it affords. The less pivotal the player, the greater importance the system takes on.

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“A lot of times, you have guys that don’t ever play in games, and you need to be able to teach them from video,” he says. “We cut tape up, and we show them what they’re doing in practice because they don’t have that game footage to help them get better.”

Jones says he can envision a world in which, rules permitting, he someday taps into Keemotion during games by way of reviewing tape at halftime on the tablet. Doing so would represent one of the most advanced steps yet within the growing trend to weave in faster, more comprehensive data to enhance team performance.

It’s hardly the catalyst for the Bulldogs’ success. Like any platform, it has limitations – and, at the end of the day, cameras don’t coach basketball games. Still, Jones says, “it all goes hand in hand.” And for a basketball team that punches above its weight, Jones will take all the hands he can get.

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