NBA Finds Synergy From an Unlikely Source: Grand Canyon Title Team
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon’s 1988 national championship team is the gift that keeps on giving to the basketball world.
When the Antelopes — then representing Grand Canyon College — won the NAIA tournament that year, they did so by going on a nine-game winning streak after their top two scorers had been kicked off the team. The adjective “improbable” barely covers their against-all-odds accomplishment.
As it turned out, the miracle 37-6 season was only a warm-up act for the careers of Head Coach Paul Westphal, Assistant Coaches Garrick Barr and Scott Mossman, and player Emilio Kovacic.
Westphal, as many are aware, coached Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle and the Phoenix Suns into the NBA Finals only five years later. And the other three are involved together in a thriving business, their services prized by the two teams in the upcoming 2013 Finals (and hundreds more).
Synergy Sports Technology, founded 10 years ago by Barr after a trailblazing 11-year stint as the Suns’ video coordinator, is a Web-based scouting system used by all 30 NBA teams plus nearly 600 men’s and women’s NCAA teams and an additional 200 international teams. The cyber company employs 50 full- and part-time staff along with 200 “loggers,” who index video from about 17,000 games during the course of a season.
Synergy combines statistical analysis with video and makes the results available in real time to subscribers, and its product has become indispensible. Only minutes after the end of a game, a coaching staff can have video “edits” of every play in the game — and easy access to a similarly logged archive.
“We say that a coach can have access to any player or any game in three clicks of his mouse,” Mossman says.
‘Essential tool’ for teams today
It’s a high-tech convergence of digital editing, database scouting and streaming video, and it has revolutionized the way teams evaluate and prepare. A player can have a customized video scouting report — Just how successful is LeBron James in pick-and-roll plays? — delivered straight to his iPad.
“Synergy is an essential tool for day-to-day operations of a basketball team,” says Matt Brase, a former graduate assistant coach at GCU who now coaches for the Houston Rockets’ affiliate in the NBA Development League. “I use it for scouting opposing personnel and watching potential acquisitions and trade targets for our team.
“I don’t know what I would do without it. I spend hours every day using their software.”
Barr, Synergy’s CEO, relies on Mossman, formerly the head coach at California Baptist University (1999-2002) and GCU (2004-08), to spearhead sales efforts and business development. And he leans on the Croatia-based Kovacic, who missed the Antelopes’ 1988 tournament run because of a foot injury but went on to play professionally in three countries, to oversee Synergy’s European operations.
Barr and Mossman seem amused — and a bit amazed — that all of this had its beginnings in a 12-by-12-foot cracker box of an office on the Grand Canyon campus, where enthusiasm was one of few things in ample supply back in the mid-1980s.
“We barely looked at video at Canyon,” says Barr, 61. “We couldn’t get our hands on it. It’s funny, because the Suns’ first video coordinator, Todd Quinter, tried to sell us a (video) editing system. We were impressed, but we had zero budget.
“We were so basic. All of us had our sights set on just coaching.”
Westphal, a five-time NBA All-Star as a player, and Barr had been teammates at Aviation High School in Redondo Beach, Calif., before going off to different places for college ball. They brought Mossman on staff at Grand Canyon. Mossman and Barr had met while the latter was an assistant coach at Glendale Community College.
“I had zero experience,” says Mossman, 54, who grew up on 35th Avenue between Glendale and Northern avenues and attended the games of Antelope teams coached by Ben Lindsey. “I had been a junior varsity high school coach and a middle school coach.
“I walked into the office and there was Paul Westphal, a guy I had idolized. I was wet behind the ears, but Garrick believed in me and Paul took a chance.”
Recognized for innovation
Synergy’s Canyon connection also includes Brendan Pensis, son of Dean Claude Pensis of GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production. The younger Pensis began several years ago as a video logger, was promoted to a quality-assurance role and now holds a key position in operations.
There are plans to expand into a second sport in the next few years, although Barr won’t say which one for competitive reasons. Synergy was named by Fast Company magazine as one of the world’s 10 most innovative companies in sports for 2013. (Nike was No. 1, the NBA No. 2.)
“It’s an American success story,” says Mossman, who works out of his home in Riverside, Calif. “Garrick had this vision based on his experience with video. You hear about Microsoft starting in Bill Gates’ garage, and this is like that. It has become the standard for video analytics. It’s been an exciting ride to be a part of this.”
Barr describes Synergy as a “family,” and not just because he hired his wife away from Microsoft five years ago to be Synergy’s chief operating officer.
“When we need people, we generally promote from within,” says Barr, who works from his home in Anacortes, Wash., north of Seattle. “It’s a great staff that really cares about the company.”
For more about Synergy Sports Technology, go to http://corp.synergysportstech.com/.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].