I was at SFU studying Math and Education so that I could become a high school math teacher and basketball coach when I started reading articles about basketball analytics by Zach Lowe from ESPN. In September of 2014, I came across a job posting for a position as a basketball operations analyst for the Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately, they were asking for technical skills that were completely foreign to me. So, I wrote down all the skills they were asking for and searched for classes being offered at SFU that covered those concepts. I walked into Luke Bornn’s linear models class in the fall of 2015 not because of his outstanding work in sports analytics but because I wanted to check a skill off the list from the 76ers job posting.
When I learnt about Luke’s work, I couldn’t have imagined that SFU had other professors doing sports analytics research. But I learnt quickly that SFU has professors such as Tim Swartz, Dave Clarke, Peter Chow-White, and Peter Tingling doing work across different disciplines with a focus on sports analytics.
Through Luke and Tim, I became part of the SFU Sports Analytics Club and became co-president with statistics students Lucas Wu and Abe Adeeb in the Fall of 2016. Together we organized the first Vancouver Sports Analytics Symposium and Hackathon in the summer of 2017. This event, which we hosted again in 2018 (and intended to host in 2020 but postponed due to COVID-19), helps provide data and mentorship to students who want to learn about sports analytics. That summer, Lucas and I got to work on our first project for a sports organization. We worked not on a statistical analysis but on a tool to help the performance analyst at Canada Basketball download data more efficiently while at the U19 FIBA World Cup in Egypt. Happily, Canada won the gold medal for the first time in an international FIBA tournament. We can take no credit for the win (most of it had to do with having phenom R.J. Barrett on the roster) but participating was fun.)
During the next year, I competed in analytics competitions hosted by Hockey Graphs, Sacramento Kings, Fraser Health, and SFU BADM with SFU students, Lucas Wu, Matthew Reyers, Sarah Bailey, Sophia He, Forrest Paton, Kristen Bystrom, Nikola Surjanovic, and Conor Doyle as fantastic teammates.
As I learnt more statistical and technical skills, I began doing formal research. In the summer of 2017 I began NSERC-sponsored research with Lucas Wu under Tim Swartz’s supervision. We worked on a paper on the modified Kelly criteria. This was an extension of the Kelly criteria that was developed in 1956 for making optimal bets. This work can help bettors choose an appropriate wager size for each of their bets. I also worked with Dave Clarke and Eli Mizelman on a project for the Candian Women’s National Soccer Team and Canada Rugby 7s. I took a sports analytics directed studies class hosted by Jack Davis and Ming-Chang Tsai and worked on a project about World Championship 2000m rowing with fellow student Ryan Sheehan. We entered the projects into research competitions at the Joint Statistical Meeting, Carnegie Mellon Sports Analytics Conference, and a poster competition hosted by the SFU Undergraduate Research Journal and were very successful.
I was having so much fun doing research that I decided to continue learning and researching as a Master’s student in statistics at SFU under the supervision of Tim Swartz. I worked on a project about foul accumulation in the NBA. With Denis Beausoleil, Aaron Danielson, Lucas Wu, and Kevin Floyd, we consulted with Coach Steve Hanson and the SFU Men’s Basketball team. During my Master’s, I entered the NFL Big Data Bowl with fellow SFU graduate students Lucas Wu, Matthew Reyers, and James Thomson. We were lucky enough to be selected as finalists for the college division and to travel to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis to present our work to NFL teams. We continued the work from the competition that summer as consultants for the NFL. That summer I was also lucky enough to live in New York City and work as a graduate intern for the NBA in their Basketball Strategy and Analytics Department. I got to work on interesting problems in sports betting, referee analytics and game scheduling. I even got to attend the NBA Draft!
In January of 2020, I defended my Master's thesis and started working at the new NHL Seattle franchise as a Quantitative Analyst. Our team is focused on player evaluation at the professional and amateur level, game strategy, and expansion draft strategy. I’m putting my education to use building statistical models to help inform our decision making.
Follow Dani on Twitter at @chuurveg