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Photo by Chris Casella
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Got Digital Game?

My jumper is wetter than a champagne-soaked championship party in a locker room. Splash, splash, splash. I’ve got my eyes open to see the results, but I could close them and know the shots are good. The audible statistics tell me so – “43 degrees” – says the voice coming from Matt Pasternack’s smartphone about the arc of the last shot. To drive the point home, a digital chime dings every time the ball hits net. Splash.

I’m standing on a basketball court in Dublin, and Pasternack, the experience and creative director at InfoMotion Sports Technologies, feeds me the ball over and over.

“Ideal arc is one thing when you have all the time in the world,” he says. “That’s why we have a drill in our app that combines the shot speed and the shot arc.” He taps on the phone a couple times to change the drill. Now, in addition to shooting with ideal arc – between 42 and 48 degrees – I have to release the ball at ideal game speed – 0.7 seconds or less. Shooting becomes far more difficult; the natural arc of my shot is pretty good, but my speed leaves something to be desired. There are still splashes, but there are far more misses now, and the digital voice of Princeton’s basketball coach critiques my form on the bricks while peppering in compliments for the makes.

Pasternack and I are in Elevate Basketball Academy next door to InfoMotion’s headquarters, and he’s demonstrating the company’s smart-sensor basketball, the 94Fifty (so named for a court’s dimensions – 94 feet long by 50 feet wide). The idea behind the ball is to take the sport-science technology previously available only to big institutions and those with money and make it affordable for everyday players.

Numbers are at 94Fifty’s heart, both literally and conceptually. InfoMotion embedded it with sensors to record the physics of its use so that the game can be broken down quantitatively. It’s paired via Bluetooth with a smartphone app that reports players’ performance against ideal ranges for each skill.

The result is a “digital coach” that provides real-time feedback for players so that they can see the deficiencies in their game and work to fix them immediately. The 94Fifty – which was designed to feel and perform like a game ball – tracks shooting values like shot arc, speed and backspin (ideal range: 130-150 rpm), and the app visually and audibly relays the information to the shooter, along with advice if the numbers don’t fall within the desired range. It’s about building muscle-memory and improving on the spot – “real-time intervention,” Pasternack says.

The result is a “digital coach” that provides real-time feedback for players
so that they can see the deficiencies in their game.

It also tracks ball-handling skills like dribbling power, speed and control. The app includes training drills with multiple skill levels from playground to pro, and Pasternack says the ball has gained a following among players from middle school to the NBA. It’s targeted especially to middle school and high school players, and though the youth benefit in particular from dribbling drills, even NBA players are surprised by the ball-handling weaknesses the 94Fifty can expose and subsequently help them repair.

“The cool thing is seeing coaches and trainers and even players get creative with how they’re using it,” Pasternack says. AAU is a 94Fifty affiliate, and he says many local trainers and coaches love the ball.

As we leave the gym, I tell him I could stay here and shoot all day. He laughs and agrees. That’s the idea, after all practice makes perfect – 45 degrees, 140 rpm, 0.7 seconds – splash. 

InfoMotion’s 94Fifty Google Glassware app recently took home an Innovation Award from CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. The ball retails at $179.95; the company’s SmartNet, which tracks makes and misses, costs $20; and the app is free. For more, check out www.94fifty.com.

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