One-on-One with Shaka Smart: Uncovering the Power of Video

We got a chance to speak with one of basketball’s top minds on coach­ing, video study, scout­ing and more. 

One-on-One with Shaka Smart: Uncovering the Power of Video

We got a chance to speak with one of basketball’s top minds on coach­ing, video study, scout­ing and more. 

HOUSTON — The inter­view is set to begin at 10:20 and that’s pre­cise­ly when Shaka Smart enters the gym. He briskly walks across the court, cor­dial­ly and suc­cinct­ly makes intro­duc­tions and hand­shakes, then seats him­self for the interview.

Although the morning’s prac­tice has yet to begin, Smart’s laser-like focus is evi­dent with­in sec­onds. The coach under­stands both the enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ty and the bur­den that comes with it, and he’s zoned in on help­ing this new team succeed.

The head coach at Texas and leader of the USA Basketball U18 squad, Smart’s atten­tion is on get­ting his team ready for the upcom­ing FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Chile. Gifted a ros­ter of some of the best teenagers the nation has to offer, Smart, along with respect­ed assis­tants Mark Turgeon of Maryland and Kevin Ollie of Connecticut, has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. 

But the oppor­tu­ni­ty didn’t come with­out pres­sure. The Americans entered the tour­na­ment, which began in Chile in mid-July, with a 15-game win­ning streak in the event and the crowns from the last three cham­pi­onships. Success was an expec­ta­tion, not sim­ply a hope.

As the inter­view begins and the sub­ject turns to coach­ing, Smart’s main­tains the same pas­sion he’ll dis­play dur­ing prac­tice half an hour lat­er. This is not a man who does things halfway. Smart is engaged and, like every­thing in his life, he dives in com­plete­ly, using each sec­ond to pro­vide valu­able insights into how one of the fastest-ris­ing coach­es in the nation tack­les his craft.

Comprised of some of the country’s pre­mier play­ers in the 2016 – 17 class­es, the U18 team is com­ing off a scrim­mage with the University of Houston the night before, an effort Turgeon was quite pleased with. But you’d nev­er know it from the tem­po of this morning’s prac­tice, which is sup­posed to be a sim­ple walk­through. Smart’s inten­si­ty sel­dom dips dur­ing the hour-long peri­od, near­ly half of which is devot­ed to full-speed work.

Everything is a com­pe­ti­tion, from full-court action to sim­ple shoot­ing drills. Smart nev­er flash­es anger or rage (he’s not known as a yeller), but he’s con­stant­ly chal­leng­ing his play­ers with a mix­ture of encour­age­ment and demands.

Smart brings that same pas­sion to his video study, some­thing he con­sid­ers vital to his suc­cess. Due to the speed of the game, it can be tough to pick up on every­thing hap­pen­ing on the court in real time. 

The say­ing is that the tape don’t lie, so it’s great to take the things that hap­pen on the floor and slow them down,” Smart said. Be able to pause, rewind and play a seg­ment back over and over again and just learn, first of all as a coach, what some of the things are that we need to do bet­ter as a team, and then to be able to take indi­vid­u­als and groups of play­ers and say, Here’s an area where you’re doing real­ly well. Keep doing that,’ and Here’s anoth­er area that maybe we need to do a lit­tle bit differently.’”

Smart finds a lot of val­ue in break­ing down oppo­nents’ video, in par­tic­u­lar how they han­dle full-court pres­sure, a sta­ple of Smart’s coach­ing philosophy.

But often he likes to take in what his own team is doing, even if he’s just watch­ing video of prac­tice. Smart catch­es every­thing, includ­ing any­thing less than max effort dur­ing a drill, slumped shoul­ders after a few missed shots, or poor exe­cu­tion com­ing out of a time­out. It’s all part of his self-scout­ing process.

What’s our body lan­guage look like after plays and how close­ly are we con­nect­ed after hud­dles?” Smart said. Those things are huge. Those are the build­ing blocks of your pro­gram before you even get into X’s and O’s.

One of the things that hap­pens in scout­ing is, if you get so caught up in the oth­er team and what they’re doing, and as a coach­ing staff try­ing to mem­o­rize every sin­gle action and every sin­gle move­ment they make, you lose sight on, what are the things we need to do to be most successful?”

The inter­view lasts 22 min­utes, but not once does Smart’s focus waver. He’s clear­ly amped-up to attack the upcom­ing prac­tice, but he remains engaged as he dis­cuss­es some of the aspects that have helped him win 73 per­cent of his career games, take VCU to the Final Four in 2011 and land the Texas gig with just six years of head coach­ing experience.

Just like Smart’s planned-to-the-minute prac­tice sched­ule, which is fol­lowed metic­u­lous­ly, his dai­ly agen­da is care­ful­ly con­struct­ed. Efficiency is of the essence, and any tool that can help Smart unearth crit­i­cal insights while sav­ing time is high­ly valued.

This is why video has become such an impor­tant part of Smart’s coach­ing reper­toire. He cred­its his stint at Dayton (2001 – 03) with unlock­ing the ben­e­fits of video. Smart gained a much bet­ter under­stand­ing of what oppos­ing coach­es were try­ing to do and devel­oped a knack for notic­ing play­er tendencies.

You learn so much from see­ing what oth­er coach­es do, what oth­er teams do, what some of the great play­ers do instinc­tu­al­ly,” he said.

Nothing escapes Smart’s watch­ful eyes. If an oppos­ing post play­er excels on one block and strug­gles on the oth­er, he’ll bend his defense and try to force him to that spot. If he notices a player’s accu­ra­cy dips when he takes a step inside the 3-point line, he’ll encour­age that shoot­er to watch the posi­tion of his feet and stay far­ther out.

This is where Hudl becomes such a pow­er­ful tool. Games can be divid­ed into orga­nized playlists, allow­ing coach­es imme­di­ate­ly recall a spe­cif­ic set of plays. Want to see all of a player’s shots from the left block? How about all your squads turnovers in the sec­ond half? These insights are just a click away.

And your work­flow becomes even more effi­cient with Hudl Assist. Assist breaks down your games for you, sav­ing time and ensur­ing unpar­al­leled accu­ra­cy. Most coach­es don’t have a video staff as Smart does. But Assist plays the role of video coor­di­na­tor, sup­ply­ing teams with much of the same infor­ma­tion that Smart’s staff does.

As the inter­view con­cludes, Smart ris­es, shakes hands and briskly exits to a neigh­bor­ing gym where the rest of the squad is gath­er­ing for team photos.

Smart isn’t strict­ly busi­ness — the guy knows how to have fun. A for­mer point guard at Kenyon College, Smart is far short­er than sev­er­al of his play­ers. He clos­es the gap a bit by stand­ing on his tip toes for the photo.

Once prac­tice begins, how­ev­er, it’s back to busi­ness. Each play is expect­ed to be exe­cut­ed to per­fec­tion — any slip-ups lead to a stop­page, fol­lowed by Smart calm­ly cor­rect­ing the mis­cue. Turgeon and Ollie also take con­trol for seg­ments of prac­tice, seam­less­ly pass­ing the lead­er­ship baton as if the group prac­ticed it the night before.

Smart’s pas­sion clear­ly res­onates with the play­ers, who weeks lat­er go on to win all five of their games by an aver­age of 30.4 points, crowned by a 99 – 84 vic­to­ry over Canada in the title game on July 23. That was the only game the Americans didn’t win by at least 20 points.

The dis­ci­pline to work, that’s what it real­ly comes down to,” Smart said. You have to be in the gym. There’s real­ly no short­cut when it comes down to that, but there has to be a lev­el of dis­ci­pline to what you’re work­ing on. 

You have to have a lev­el of dis­ci­pline and a work eth­ic to under­stand, Here’s what’s going into what’s mak­ing me bet­ter.’ You’ve got to attack those things, whether you’re the No. 1 play­er in the coun­try or some­one who is fight­ing to get play­ing time on your high school team.”

Smart and his USA Basketball staff rec­og­nized the pow­er of video ana­lyt­ics and put them to good use in tak­ing the U18 Championship. Give Hudl a try to expe­ri­ence the advan­tages for your­self. Or up your game to the next lev­el with Assist.