When youth coach Jeremy Henderson went to look for some kind of wearable tech device to help improve the shots of his young basketball players, he fully expected a quick Google search would yield what he needed.
After all, wearable devices for monitoring physical performance were beginning to come into their own in 2015. But try as he might, Henderson found nothing that fit the bill.
“I went online, just assuming there was something like this out there,” he said. “And there was not.”
So Henderson, a former Florida A&M University basketball player with a network of techie friends, decided he’d develop one himself. That decision gave birth to the JSleeve, a textile sleeve bristling with embedded sensors that collect data about what happens when a player takes a shot.
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A compression sleeve commonly used by basketball players, the JSleeve has sensors along its length and a Bluetooth transmitter. As a player works out, practicing shots, the data is transmitted to the smartphone, and it can then be visualized in the app and analyzed by coach.
It’s expected to go on sale in December for about $200, and if it’s success, Henderson wants to expand the technology to monitor other activities on a basketball court, creating an ecosystem of sensors to help young athletes get better
Henderson lives in Richmond and worked until recently as a corporate strategy and portfolio management consultant for an energy company. He’s also on the board of Katy Youth Basketball and has coached teams there. In what sounds likes “kids these days” moment, Henderson noticed that many of his young players were more interested in slick moves than basketball fundamentals.
“You know, when kids come into the gym, they’re always on their phones. And as soon as they leave, they’re on their phones,” he said. “And one of the things that really drives kids to want to play the game is so they can break ankles.”
And no, that is not to be taken literally. “Breaking ankles” is slang for getting a player to fall, Henderson said.
“What happens is they get so caught up in the ability to do that, they don’t even care if they’ve made the shot or not,” he said. “When they go to take the shot, their form is just terrible because they don’t focus on a lot of the fundamentals.”
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About 5 years ago, Henderson was working with a 10-year-old boy who was sporting a Fitbit or a Nike FuelBand. He began to wonder if the wearable device, designed to track health and physical performance, could be used to improve basketball skills.
When he couldn’t find anything that did what he wanted, he turned to former Florida A&M compadres who were in computer science and electrical engineering.
“The feedback I got was that it might take some time to develop, but it certainly could be done,” Henderson said.
He also went to the NBA Summer League season in Las Vegas, which he said at the time was very open. He was able to chat up coaches and players, who he said expressed interest in the concept.
“I said, ‘So what do y’all think of this product?’ and they were all, ‘This is a great idea, can I have one right now?’” Henderson recalled.
It took several years of work, but the JSleeve is ready, along with the smartphone app that analyzes the data. Henderson said he has bootstrapped the effort with his own money and loans from family and friends.
“It’s been difficult to access funding,” he said. Henderson created a company, Synergy 7, to produce and develop the device, and he’s now seeking further funding. He’s got a session planned with some Capital Matchmakers in Chicago next month.
Because it is aimed at young athletes – though there’s an adult-sized JSleeve as well – Henderson has added some competitive fun.
“We’ve created a social gaming element in the JSleeve community,” he said. “We allow folks to compete against each other in a game called ‘King of the Court’. You can use the JSleeve to ‘play’ against anyone else who has one.”
Although it has been five years since he first went looking for the device he eventually created, Henderson says he doesn’t have many competitors. The biggest challenger, which started up while the JSleeve was deep in development, was ShotTracker. It offered a sensor for the wrist, and another was placed on the net, with the system designed to track shots and baskets and misses.
But that company has changed its focus, now using its technology to provide data for players, coaches, broadcast networks and fans about what’s happening in a game. It no longer plays on the same court as JSleeve.
If the JSleeve is successful, then Synergy 7 will expand into other products, such as a virtual clipboard for coaches to monitor players’ progress, compare players and build electronic rosters. A two-arm version of the sleeve could come in 18 months, and the sleeve could be expanded to other sports, such as golf or baseball.
Henderson even envisions being able to upload the data generated by the sleeve into basketball players’ profiles in video games.
“They’s essentially play the video game as they’re in the game, “ he said. “That’s our final gate on the roadmap.”