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HCA: Podcast interview with Kyle Smith takes a deeper dive into ‘Nerdball’

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The Cougs have reportedly found their new basketball coach, but what is his style?

NCAA Basketball: San Francisco at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long road in college basketball for Kyle Smith. After more than a decade as an assistant in the West Coast Conference, Smith moved east to take the head coaching position for the Columbia Lions for six seasons. He eventually returned West to take the job leading the San Francisco Dons and, after three successful seasons there, he’s reportedly taking another step forward and is in talks to become the head man for the Washington State Cougars.

We had you covered last night with the news, along with a closer look at the style of play Smith is bringing with him to Pullman: Nerdball. The system assigns numerical value to more than 50 statistical categories during five-on-five practice drills. In a 2018 profile for the Athletic, we learned where this unique system came from.

(Randy Bennett and Smith) formulated their own system, which Bennett took to Saint Mary’s in 2001, with Smith as his top lieutenant. Inheriting a no-name program coming off a 2-27 season, they felt free to experiment. They drank Ken Pomeroy’s site from a firehose. They dog-eared pages of “Moneyball.”

Around the same time that profile was released, Smith also joined the “Solving Basketball” podcast back in November to breakdown his system.

“It’s an attempt to quantify everything. ... Giving value to everything that happens in our program and everything that happens on the court,” Smith said on the podcast. “Basically, our own internal efficiency rating based on what we think will help us win.”

The system has been refined, But it’s been a long road to get to this point. “It’s kind of been trial and error for about 20 years of doing it and experimenting on what the values are,” Smith explained. “Without fail whenever we bring someone new on staff they’ll always come up with ‘rebounds need to be worth more.’ I totally agree, however, we’ve done that before and we eroded the integrity of our whole rebounded system. So, we don’t mess with it much any more.”

“No one knows our individual players better, because we do it as a staff. The back fighting on who’s playing.. That’s really why we started doing that. The head coach has final say, but we’re going to try to empower our players and our team by saying ‘you have a big say in who plays.’”

Smith also spoke on the podcast about his recruiting philosophies and his take on whether finding “diamonds in the rough” is a sustainable model in college basketball even bringing in an apt and familiar comparison.

“I’ve kind of built an entire career on that,” Smith said. “We want guys where we’re at. You know, this is a destination. Like I’m choosing a school. This is basically your biggest offer... Tony Bennett, really specifically when he was a Washington State, is a guy like that. Some of the guys that he was taking were those odd shaped, Robbie Cowgill, you know 6’10” 190 pound centers... I think guys like that, we studied really hard. They just have their own ideas on what makes a good player.”

He tells a great story about how he and Randy Bennett recruited Omar Samhan at St. Mary’s, the sort of thing that could serve as a template for his time at WSU.

The whole interview is a great listen for you basketball nerds out there.

Report: Washington State to hire San Francisco’s Kyle Smith as men’s basketball coach | The Spokesman-Review
Washington State and San Francisco’s Kyle Smith are finalizing a deal that would make Smith the Cougars’ next basketball coach, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported Tuesday.

USF head men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith is reportedly headed to Washington State – The San Francisco Examiner
After leading USF to 63 wins in his first three seasons, Kyle Smith is reportedly taking a Pac-12 job

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