Siena men’s basketball making use of ‘super-cool’ KINEXON data

Basketball player makes pass over defender

Siena’s Jared Billups makes a pass during a MAAC college basketball game at MVP Arena in Albany on Friday, January 20, 2023.

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Win or lose in the Saints’ 1 p.m. game Sunday with MAAC-leading Iona in New Rochelle, one of the first orders of business Monday won’t change.

Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello, the program’s director of operations Derek Brooks and the athletic department’s head strength and conditioning coach Ernie Ruch will meet around noon to go over the numbers.

Not the ones from the box score, but the ones that make up the reports generated from the KINEXON tracking sensors the Saints have used for much of this season. The wearable chips utilize ultra-wideband technology to measure all types of physical activity, and have become a valuable tool in recent months as the Saints navigate their season.

That meeting Monday in the head coach’s office on the Saints’ Loudonville campus will see Maciariello, Brooks and Ruch go over the recent workloads and performances of the program’s players, information that’s used to help determine practice planning and how players are progressing — or regressing — as the season nears the March month that means so much. 

Each KINEXON sensor — a lightweight, white object that’s approximately two inches long and one inch wide —  fits into an inner pocket sewn into the back of the Saints’ shorts. The Saints wear their sensors and collect data from that usage during all on-court work. That data then flows into a computer program that Ruch maintains, which is able to create reports of varying levels of sophistication. Some tell the story of how much overall work a player’s body experienced — such as metrics shown in Joules, which is how energy is measured — in a practice or game, while others list off more basic things such as how far each player ran, a top speed hit or highest jump recorded.

“All the time,” Siena center Jackson Stormo said of how often he seeks out his results. “I love to know how much I run in the games.”

Perimeter player Andrew Platek shares that interest in the “super-cool” data the sensors produce.

“There was a 10-day period [at one point] where I ran, like, 40 miles between practice and everything,” said Platek, who typically is near the top of the list of Saints in terms of distance covered in a game, a mark that generally goes from anywhere from two to four miles per game for individuals squarely within Maciariello’s playing rotation.

Ruch said there is usually a steady stream of Saints to his office to learn about their recent reports. Within minutes of saying that earlier this month to a reporter, Siena wing player Jayce Johnson was outside the strength and conditioning coach’s office to check in with Ruch. 

Siena started using the KINEXON tracking sensors in December, then spent most of that month collecting and examining the data before starting to make use of it when the calendar turned to 2023. Like with any collection of data, the value increases as the sample size grows — but Ruch said one of the areas that Siena has been able to make an immediate improvement this season with the use of the new tool is in how the program’s brought players back from injury, such as Johnson, who has spent the last two months working back to full strength following a knee ailment. Besides allowing the Saints to monitor Johnson’s workload through a rehabilitation effort in a tangible way, tools such as tracking Johnson’s top speed reached or highest jump recorded on a given day allow Siena’s staff — and Johnson — to see if he’s near benchmarks he set before his injury. 

“It helps to see the numbers kind of correlate with that I’m feeling better. . . . It gives you that ‘know’ of I am getting better, I am doing the right things,” said Johnson, whose team is in third place in the MAAC standings after Friday’s loss at Rider. “It lets me know that I’m on the right track.”

“A cool thing is just letting them know things like, ‘You had the highest jump you’ve had in three weeks,’ or ‘You ran the fastest you have in this game in six or seven games,’ so they know their body’s reacting well to the training,” Ruch said.

Two other Siena athletic programs — the women’s basketball and men’s soccer teams — use a similar tracking product from Catapult. Helping the men’s basketball program better handle “return-to-play” situations was one of the top reasons Maciariello wanted his Saints to begin using a tool like the one they are this season with KINEXON, a company whose products are used around the globe in the sports world, including in the NBA. Maciariello, too, wanted to refine how the Saints practiced so that they were better managing the day-to-day strain on the bodies of players. For example, Maciariello thought certain drills and exercises were easier or tougher on players — but he wanted to see what was right.

“Now, I had data behind it,” said Maciariello, whose club defeated Iona 70-53 last month when the teams first met this season.

Brooks, Maciariello and Ruch dissect that data on Mondays to figure out which of their players need heavier or lighter workloads within practices, as well as how long and intense a given practice should be for the whole group.

“When we sit down on Mondays, those are the things we talk about,” Ruch said. “We plan out practice for the week. So, like, Tuesday — are we doing a full practice or are we doing individuals? It kind of depends on the workload we had that weekend, and Carm’s great with that. He’s totally receptive to listening to all that data.”

An unexpected way the Saints’ move to adding a new piece of technology played out was that it changed the way they warmed up before games. Through their KINEXON reports, Siena found out that some of its players were experiencing nearly as much strain on their bodies during pregame routines as they were during actual games. The Saints reworked part of their pregame routine to address that, most notably by starting their on-court group work 13 minutes later to save some wear and tear.

Another somewhat unexpected byproduct of the Saints’ use of KINEXON? Saints outside the regular playing rotation — the one who don’t show up much on a game box score — are able to generate some statistics of their own.  

“That’s been a really cool aspect of it,” Ruch said. “Our walk-ons and low-minutes guys, they take pride in seeing their weekly reports and their workloads being up toward the top. Even though they don’t have those minutes in the games, that means they’re really working hard in practice — and Coach gets to see that, too. So I think that’s another driving factor for them. Like, ‘Hey, I want Coach to see that I’m working hard.’ ”

But, like Platek and Stormo, the players also are generally curious to see how they rank. While some results are what one would generally expect — like, nobody jumps more often than top defender Jared Billups, who never is long between contesting a shot and going for a rebound — there are surprising ones, too. 

One game, Platek — the team’s top 3-point shooter who suffered a torn Achilles last season — recorded the highest jump of any player. Recently, forward Michael Baer registered a game’s top recorded speed at 16.97 mph, which was a stunner for him.

“Interesting. But, I don’t know, sometimes I surprise people a little bit,” a smiling Baer said. “Maybe it’s because I took the ball out of bounds, so I had the whole length of the court to build up my speed?”

Moving forward, Maciariello said he envisions being able to use the information from KINEXON to improve offseason training and go further with basing practice plans around it. The key, Ruch said, is for the Saints to continue gathering data to examine.

“We’re still in that front window of that process,” Ruch said.

Contact Michael Kelly at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMichaelKelly.


Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports

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