Shut Down by the Pandemic, the Golden State Warriors Reopen Their Basketball Academy With a Tech Flourish


image courtesy: SportTechie

Alameda County recently gave approval for gyms and workout facilities to open up at 10% of capacity, a ruling that includes the Golden State Warriors’ former training center in Oakland. That facility is being used as a polling site for today’s election, and on Thursday it will open for the first in-person Warriors youth basketball programs since the pandemic struck in March.

Greeting the campers will be 10 installations of Shoot 360’s interactive basketball training technology. The Warriors had planned to make that part of their programming before the pandemic, but it takes on increased importance during this limited reopening phase, as it enhances the individual skill work that can be done safely. 

Discussing the evolution of the Golden State Warriors Basketball Academy, their engagement strategy during the pandemic, and the potential of Shoot 360 technology is the Warriors’ senior director of youth basketball, Jeff Addiego.

How long have you been working for the Warriors?

I’ve been here since 1999, and we started our basketball camps in the summer of 2000. I was an intern. I just got done playing at San Francisco State. I knew my playing days were coming to an end, and, what could I do to stay around the game? Right place at the right time, I did an internship as I finished up my senior year, and that very next summer, we started up our basketball camps. 

Even though the Warriors were a very different team back in the early 2000s—as opposed to the last five or six years—there was a great starting point for us with our youth programming. We were onto something, and it really took off from there. Once the team got to a level where they were competing for championships, it really went through the roof. We, fortunately, grew into the largest camp program within the NBA over that time span.

What were the first couple of years like?

The very first summer of Warriors basketball camp, the summer of 2000, we did four weeks of camp here at the practice facility in Oakland. It was a great experience, we had over 100 kids each week. Our stars at the time were Antwan Jamison and guys like that. The team was maybe winning 20 games a year. Those early years allowed us to have future success—for parents to feel like their kids were getting something out of the program, that they were getting value for what they were paying for. Our ultimate goal was kids were walking out of the gym on Friday, not only feeling better about themselves but also the game of basketball and falling in love with the game. 

Those early years, those lean years, really proved to be beneficial because it enabled us to build a really strong program at that time. Once the team’s success took off, we had the program already in place that could handle the needs of youth basketball players in our market and really help them with their skills and help them improve their game.

You’ve had 20 years of kids coming through. Have you seen the fruits of that labor? Do you track them afterward?

Definitely. What’s cool for me is a lot of the kids that came through in those early years, they end up coming back and being camp coaches for us. So I may have seen them come through the door as an 8- or 9-year-old, but then keeping tabs on them as they play high school basketball, play beyond high school at junior college or four-year universities. I take a look at the box scores every basketball season, and I could pick kids out on teams all over the Bay Area because we’re doing camps not only here in Oakland but in every neighborhood around. ‘That was a camper,’ and ‘this was a camper.’ We get back in touch with some of those folks, or they’d reach back out to us. They felt the impact that their coaches had on them when they were campers, and they want to be part of that next generation of staff and camp coaches that could help impact the next group of players coming through. 

We had a handful of really great success stories. Our first former camper to play in the NBA was Will Cherry back in 2014. Will starred here at McClymonds High School. He was actually a camp coach for us when he was playing at the University of Montana and then bounced around a few different summer league teams until he got his shot and played his first game with the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2014. His first basket was assisted by LeBron James.

image courtesy: SportTechie

Probably a couple of months after Will made his debut, Tyler Johnson, who’s now with the Brooklyn Nets and was with the Miami Heat for so many years, made his NBA debut and he was a former camper of ours. And his mom actually still has the letter—he actually wrote us a letter when he was 11, asking for a scholarship to come to camp because his mom didn’t have the funds to pay for him to come. We gave him a scholarship to camp and we still have a copy of that letter. He made his debut at Oracle Arena for the Heat playing against the Warriors, and his mom was there in attendance. So stuff like that is really cool. 

Most recently, we had our first former camper make his debut with the Warriors in Juan Toscano-Anderson. Juan played at our camp when he was 11 years old, in 2004, and he’s the first former camper to actually play for the Warriors. Tons of success stories make me feel a little bit old, but it definitely makes us feel good about having a very small piece in their basketball development. Juan says that his playing on this practice court here in Oakland is what really inspired him to keep pursuing the game of basketball, him playing on an NBA court. So if we can help create those types of experiences, we feel like we’re doing our job.

How often do the current coaches or players for the Warriors make an appearance or coach a lesson?

We do a lot of camps over the course of the year, but a typical summer, pre-pandemic, would be 30 to 35 camps for us in probably 25 different locations. I would say we have a player appearance probably in half of those camps, and then we have either a former player or a current coach or a legend come out to at least one of the days of each of those camps. Most recently, starting back in 2013, we started doing some overnight camps with our players. So in 2013, we did our first overnight camp with Stephen Curry. 

We ended up doing five more of those with Steph, and the highlight of all of those was back in 2016. We did an overnight camp with Steph in Hawaii. We had kids from the islands, we had kids from the mainland, and just an unbelievable experience for everybody—staff included, to have Steph with us in Hawaii and coming off two MVP seasons. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a championship season, but the news broke that K.D. [Kevin Durant] was coming to the Warriors while we were at camp, and Steph was able to share that with the campers, and they all went crazy.

What led to the installation of the Shoot 360 system?

Maybe five years ago, as they were planning out the move to San Francisco and knowing that, all right, we’re building this arena in San Francisco. We’re going to build a practice facility that’s attached to it. We have this amazing practice facility in Oakland that was built in ’97—not that old, with a tremendous amount of court space. We’ve utilized it for youth basketball programs in the past, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to run three or four weeks of camp here every summer. 

The idea was presented to us: Could we utilize this facility for year-round youth basketball programming? For me, this was music to our ears. We’ve been spending the last 20 years bouncing around gym to gym—high schools, middle schools, junior colleges, rec centers—to conduct our camps. But now to be able to have one single facility we could call our home and then still be able to reach out and do those camps in all the various neighborhoods within the Bay Area was a dream come true. We were 100% on board with that. 

We have a great amount of space, some great Warriors history as we look at all the signage and banners and things like that. That’s certainly a great draw to get them through the doors. 

But what we were trying to see is, what else could we add to this facility that would really steer those kids to want to come here every single day and improve their skills? 

I had heard about Shoot 360 back in 2017, I visited their L.A. facility for the first time. I was 40 at that time, and I ended up spending about four and a half hours the first day I was there. I couldn’t get enough of it. I probably shot more shots that day than I had shot him in 15 or 20 years. Here I am with no basketball future ahead of me, way past my playing days and past my prime, and I still can’t get enough of the technology and some of the metrics it’s providing for me and just the experience itself. 

So I could only imagine what an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old would do with this technology. The facility that Steph spent the first 10 years of his career honing his craft and becoming a champion in, is that a draw to get them through the door? When they walk through the door, their eyes pretty much pop out of their head. But then this is something that they’re going to get that they probably couldn’t get anywhere else—and it will really drive them to keep coming back, to keep them really focused on improving their game, fine-tuning their mechanics, and really improving as a basketball player.

When did you actually install it? And how will you begin to use it?

We installed it back in late February prior to even the thought of the pandemic even happening, and we were actually one day away from our big grand-opening event, which Steph was going to be a part of. Juan, being a former camper, was going to be a part of it. Zaza Pachulia, who’s very close to our program, was going to be part of it, as was [NBA Academy global director and Warriors analyst for NBC Sports] Jennifer Azzi. We were going to have a media clinic that took place during that grand-opening event and invitations went out to about 250 people to come to the facility. 

And, the night before, [Utah Jazz forward] Rudy Goebert tests positive, and we have to put the brakes on everything and pivot entirely at that point. It was installed then, and it’s been on ice since. My staff has come in and worked out some of the kinks on our own to figure out how to best describe this technology to the folks that are going to be coming through here soon enough and get some experience with it. But that’s really about it. So it’s definitely something we’ve been anxious about and excited to get going. The fact that we’ve finally gotten approval from the county to open our doors and to start with the Shoot 360 programming is something we’re super excited about. I told everybody it’s like we got a brand new Ferrari sitting in the garage, and we just can’t take it out for a spin.

We’re able to accommodate up to 10 kids per hour with the Shoot 360 cages we’ve installed. We have five of the shooting cages and then we have a total of five of the skill cages. What makes it the perfect step back into in-person programming is the fact that we have designated workout spaces within the cages. So physically distanced workouts are possible. Obviously, we can’t get back into our typical programming, which is large-scale camps where we’d have 150 kids here, but what we’ll be able to do is get 10 kids in here per hour and allow them to get a really efficient, really quality workout in that hour. And hopefully, we’ll get them here on multiple days a week so they can stay engaged with the game and really improve their skills while we’re away from tournaments and league play and those types of things. But hopefully, they can fine-tune their games, and when they do return to that, they’ll see noticeable improvements.

How much did your program try to connect with kids in any kind of digital format?

Quite a bit. Our coaches delivered our camps virtually over the course of the summer. We actually have one of our coaches right now just finishing up a private training. She’s got a participant on screen with her doing a 30-minute private training session. Over the course of the summer, you’d see probably seven or eight of those setups throughout our gym here. And we had about seven or eight coaches working, delivering our virtual camps. 

Each week, we had about 80 or 90 kids that were doing virtual basketball camp with us. Luckily, with technology these days and our partner RingCentral, we were able to kind of deliver a daily 75-minute workout where kids were able to get on-screen with us. We limited it so it’s only maybe 11, 12 kids max, so I can see everybody on screen. I can call them out by name. If they’re not low enough in their stance, I can point that out to them. If their elbow is not tucked in on their form shooting, I can point that out as well. When it was time to rotate, we were able to do all of our rotations through RingCentral. So they got to hear from different Warriors basketball camp coaches and also just have a great 75-minute workout over the course of their week.

What was really neat for us is it opened the doors for us to have kids from all over the world attending Warriors basketball camp. We ended up having kids from, I think, six different countries and 27 states over the course of the summer. We had one particular camper from Iceland, who ended up going to five weeks of camp. We sent everybody an at-home kit with some cones, a Warriors stress ball, a camp jersey, and a few other little neat items. We snuck an autographed Stephen Curry hat into that child’s at-home kit. We let his mom know that something special was coming so she actually recorded him opening the package. And when he saw the signature, his reaction was priceless.