If there is a truism the BYU men’s basketball team has learned, it’s this: You can’t fool the ShotTracker.
It’s like an older brother looking over your shoulder, not letting you get away with anything.
Cougar forward Yoeli Childs said that he and his teammates probably shot more 3-pointers this summer than any team in America, and the ShotTracker system logged every one of them. The program gives the players details on everything from shooting percentage to where on the court they are most effective.
“It’s so fun to play with these guys because in my opinion we always have the best five guys on the court,” Childs said. “Whoever is open we just give them the ball. It’s pretty simple for me see somebody and giving it to them. Our shooting is really a balance. I think the coaching staff has done a very good job instilling confidence in us and done a good job making sure we’re getting up enough shots. And the guys have really put in the work.”
The work has paid off so far this season: BYU is ranked seventh in the country in 3-point shooting at 42 percent (115 of 274) after 11 games. The last time the Cougars shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc for a season was ten years ago (2009-10) with Jimmer Fredette, Jackson Emery and Tyler Haws leading the way.
BYU has shot 50 percent of better from 3-point range in four straight games and five of its past six contests. The four straight is a school record. In 11 games, the Cougars have made double-digit 3-pointers five times. Last year, BYU had double digit 3’s four times in 32 games.
There’s more than just surface numbers, too. Of the five games the Cougars have shot 50 percent or better from beyond the arc their best interior player, Yoeli Childs, was still sitting out due to his NCAA suspension. In addition, of the five games BYU has shot better than 50 percent from the 3-point line, four of those games were away from the Marriott Center.
What in the name of Steph Curry is going on?
“ShotTracker is for us just another tool to help hold yourself and the coaches to hold you accountable,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “We all played this game and we all know when you shoot during or before practice, shots just kind of blur together. Sometimes you get in rhythm and there’s no accountability, no pressure, no record, no journal. I’m a big Angela Duckworth fan, and she talks about deliberate practice, going in with a goal, a metric where you keep track.
“It just means every single time you walk on the floor there is a record of every single shot you took. That’s one little cut of hopefully helping you become a better shooter.”
ShotTracker was formed by Bruce Ianni, a former college football player who created a search engine for the chemical industry that was purchased by UL in 2013 and Davyeon Ross, a former college basketball player. One of their investors is former NBA superstar Magic Johnson.
ShotTracker allows coaches to track every single shot taken during a practice session, as well as other statistics that are critical to the evaluation process.
ShotTracker is just one part of the equation. The volume of shots put up in practice and individually has increased. BYU coach Mark Pope talks about his players “owning” their shots, which means taking great care in preparing for the opportunity to get a shot in the offense.
“We’re going to make shots and we believe we’re going to make shots,” Pope said. “We don’t judge ourselves so much by shots made as by shots owned. If you own your shot, then you’re going to make a large portion of them. You can’t let anything distract you from your approach to shooting.”
Jake Toolson (.421) and T.J. Haws (.358) and Zac Seljaas (.359) are seniors with a lot of 3-point shots under their belts. Newcomer Alex Barcello (.455) is shooting way above his average at Arizona last year (.304). Dalton Nixon, who made just 1 of 16 from beyond the arc last year, is shooting .484 (15 of 31). Connor Harding, who made 31 percent last season, is at .481 this year (13 of 27).
“Owning the shot to me means no matter what the consequence you are going to shoot the same shot every single time,” Harding said. “I get up a lot of shots and a lot of them go in when I’m alone in the gym when no one is guarding me, if I shoot the same shot every single time it’s going to go in during the game.
“Numbers don’t lie and film doesn’t lie. If you look at the numbers and you want to get 2 percent better, that’s a big jump. If you want to 2 percent better, you’ve got to shoot more game-type shots. You’ve got to be in the gym and work on your form. You’ve got to believe that if you miss, the next one will go in.”
Maintaining a 42 percent mark from the 3-point line all season will be difficult. There will be stretches where the ball doesn’t bounce the Cougars way. But they are confident they have put in the work to overcome such adversity.
“We’re going to miss some shots,” Pope said. “You’re going to have games where you don’t shoot it great. But we’re not going to have many because we own our shots and guys are really bought into that.”
BYU opened the 2018-19 season against Nevada in Reno, playing the Wolfpack even in the first half (34-34) but a poor night from the 3-point line (6 of 31, 19 percent) was too much to overcome in a 86-70 loss.
Nevada has been the dominant team in the Mountain West Conference over the past three seasons, winning 86 games and making an appearance in the Sweet 16. A lot has changed in Reno, though, with brothers Caleb and Cody Martin, as well as power forward Jordan Caroline, moving on. Eric Musselman took the big money to become the head coach at Arkansas and was replaced by a familiar face to BYU fans: Former New Mexico and UCLA coach Steve Alford.
The Wolfpack continue to draw plenty of transfers to the program, including former Portland star Jazz Johnson (18.8 points per game) and former Louisiana Tech standout Jalen Harris (16.1).
Pope said the Cougars haven’t really faced a lightning-quick guard like Johnson this season and is concerned about his ability to push the ball and get shots.
“I’m also concerned about transition defense,” Pope said. “They pass ahead and shoot the three as well as anybody we’ve played. They’re averaging 99 points in the past two games against Air Force and Santa Clara. Those are two teams that guard. When you play Air Force and you score 40, you’re like, ‘Yes!’ These guys scored 100 and that’s an explosive team.”
Nevada is 7-3 this season with losses to Utah (79-74), USC (76-66) and Davidson (91-71).