In the world of sport, the search for an edge, as small as it may be, is an endless one. Even in college basketball, every coach is constantly on the lookout for that little something that will gave his players the slightest advantage over their opponents.
The software system IntelliGym developed by Netanya-based Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE) aims to give basketball players the little extra they're so desperately looking for.
"Coaches and players are looking for every edge they can find to improve," said ACE CEO Danny Dankner. "They hit the weight room to get stronger, run miles to improve conditioning, practice skills from sunup to sundown to get better and study game film to learn about their opponent.
"That is what is so exciting about this technology. By strengthening cognitive brain functions you are making all of this practice time even more effective and improving basketball instincts - an area that most thought was inborn or learned only through court time."
ACE claims that its system has been proven to dramatically improve real-time decision-making and execution for college basketball players at numerous institutions, including the 2005/06 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Champion Florida, Memphis, Kansas and Marquette.
"After all is said and done, the IntelliGym trains players in making the right choices," said John Calipari, head coach at the University of Memphis, which has reached the Sweet Sixteen in this year's NCAA tournament.
"The guys that really bought in - it helped. Some guys didn't buy in, and these are the same guys that make bad decisions. It's that simple.
"We've been using the IntelliGym and all I can say is that it is only a question of time until everyone else does, too. It's inevitable."
The IntelliGym aims to train the part of the brain that controls complex basketball-related tasks, including decision making, pattern recognition, tactics adaptation and switching, peripheral vision, attention control, situational awareness, team work, and spatial orientation.
The patented technology is based on a training concept developed for the Israel Air Force. Following an in-depth analysis of the skills needed to be a successful fighter pilot, researchers devised a system to directly teach those skills on the cognitive, brain level. Pilots that underwent cognitive training measurably improved their skills and performance by an average of 30% - incredible numbers for most, but especially in the life and death world of a fighter pilot.
A developer of the system and an ardent basketball enthusiast noticed that the skills required by a pilot in real time dogfights are very similar to those required of a basketball player and called upon coaches and basketball experts to convert the system to fit the cognitive brain functions of basketball players.
ACE is now hoping to cash in on IntelliGym's success and is offering a "home edition" of the program, specifically targeted at teen and high school basketball players.
"The Basketball IntelliGym is revolutionary," said long-time NBA coach and broadcaster Hubie Brown. "The game of basketball is not about who runs faster or jumps higher, but it is about who makes better decisions and fewer mistakes.
"I've been in the basketball business for 50 years and this is the first training tool I have seen to actually improve game intelligence skills of basketball players."