Category Archives: Education

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Sports Analytics in the Classroom: How One Computer Science Professor is Changing the Game

Check out the Stats & Analytics Hub for the latest insights and resources on basketball data technology.
By 2022, the sports analytics market is expected to skyrocket to $4 billion. While top international companies are fighting for industry supremacy, an assistant professor of computer science at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. is poised to make her own big impact on the data-charged future of sports.
Dr. Felesia Stukes differentiates herself from traditional computer scientists by putting storytelling at the center of her work. “That’s what makes data science so unique,” she says. “You can’t just throw numbers at your target audience. That’s statistics. You have to be able to tell a story with the data.” And she believes—correctly—that students across different majors at JCSU stand to benefit from having a data science skill set.
When Dr. Stukes attended the National Society of Blacks in Computing Conference in the summer of 2017, she discovered the perfect tech tool for making data science accessible to one and all: ShotTracker, a sensor-based system beloved by D1 college basketball programs that instantly delivers 70+ real-time stats and analytics to an easy-to-use-app. Featuring shot charts and zone maps, ShotTracker makes telling stories about data that enhance team performance and drive competition easy.
Dr. Stukes immediately recognized ShotTracker’s educational potential, envisioning the system as the cornerstone of a new data science minor at JCSU. Now, supported by a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Stukes, along with seven hand-picked JCSU students, aka “The DATA Bulls,” are turning her pioneering vision into reality with a ShotTracker-powered pilot program designed to take computer science out of the classroom and into the real world.
“Math and science can cause anxiety and lead to avoidance for some students,” Dr. Stukes says. “A lot of the time, you’re in a computer lab environment in front of PCs, which makes things more intense.” ShotTracker’s on-the-go app changes that. The DATA Bulls started charging ahead the moment the sensors got installed in the rafters of JCSU’s basketball gym in September. “We consider it a partnership, because the teams will use ShotTracker during practice and we use the data to analyze their performance. The idea is to engage students traditionally not interested in data science or, on the flip side, athletics,” she said.
To re-enforce her program’s real-world aspirations, Dr. Stukes encourages the students to think of JCSU’s athletic department as the “client.” Beyond being responsible for ensuring that the system is working properly and that all the sensor-enabled balls are fully charged, the DATA Bulls will interact directly with players and coaches on JCSU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, using ShotTracker-powered stats and analytics to improve their on-court performance.
(Image courtesy of Johnson C. Smith University)
“The hands-on, real-world applications make a huge difference in our students’ understanding,” Dr. Stukes says. “Using visuals on the iPad, we can talk to the coaches and players, increasing interactions outside the classroom. They’re learning at a faster speed than if they were looking at a PC screen and attempting to understand the impact.”
One DATA Bull in particular is a senior computer science and information systems major named Amyr. He’s determined to make his mark on the sports analytics field, and this program is a “dream come true,” Dr. Stukes says. “He plays basketball in his spare time. He’s well-versed in fantasy leagues. And he’s doing a senior project based on NBA stats. This experience is going to make him an excellent job candidate when he graduates.”
The benefits of being a DATA Bull certainly aren’t lost on Amyr. “For a while, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do after graduation,” he says. “When Dr. Stukes presented this program, it pointed me in the right direction. I’m super-excited about it. Learning about a new system like ShotTracker while collaborating with others should be a very fun experience and lead me to new opportunities in the future.”
As just one of more than a hundred recognized Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), JCSU represents a particularly important staging ground for Dr. Stukes’ innovative use of ShotTracker. The program is unique among HBCUs, and Stukes sees it eventually broadening to track information such as sleep data, exercise science, and health and human performance. Minorities are underrepresented in the computer science field, yet as Dr. Stukes points out, those with computing skills are among the highest paid. Her passion as an educator is helping close that gap. “There’s a lot of motivation behind this program,” she says, “especially with a diverse student population.”
Though she does not consider herself an athlete, Dr. Stukes is both the wife and the daughter of former college basketball players. Her now deceased father, she says, “would’ve been blown away by ShotTracker. He never would’ve left the gym.” Of the few remaining old-schoolers who dismiss analytics as a passing fad, Dr. Stukes says, “Those people sound like they’re coaching from their couch. For coaches who are actually interested in winning, ShotTracker is empowering. You’re still using your eye, still using your mind. But you can use this tool to add to your expertise.” Like father, like daughter.


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Brooklyn Nets Forward Kenneth Faried Launched a Foundation From Fortnite

SportTechie’s Athletes Voice series features the views and opinions of the athletes who use and are powered by technology. As part of this series, SportTechie spoke with Kenneth Faried to find out about his esports gaming and tech-driven training.
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Kenneth Faried spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets before an offseason trade landed him with the Brooklyn Nets for the upcoming campaign. The power forward is also a graduate of Morehead State where he broke Tim Duncan’s modern-era NCAA Division I career rebounding record with 1,673 boards.
In June, Faried paired with pro gamer CourageJD—a last-minute substitution as teammate—to finish second in Epic Games’ Fortnite Pro-Am, winning $250,000 for charity. He used that as seed money to start a foundation he’s calling Kenneth Faried HAT. He also sponsors an AAU team called Manimal Elite, in a nod to his own nickname. 
Initial Interest in Technology
“When I went to school, I actually told my mom and my dad that I wanted to study CSIS [Computer Science and Information Systems]. I was going to do that in college, but it was just too difficult for me to do while playing basketball because it was too much of a headache to stay up and do coding. Basketball in college was harder—two-a-days, with sprints at 5 o’clock in the morning because you’ve got school at 8 o’clock. That was brutal. I ended up majoring in speech communication and got a minor in business management.”

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Basketball Training
“I use a camera all the time. We keep track with heart-rate monitors, your explosion, how much weight you’re putting on one knee, or when you jump, which side you favor when landing. I learn so much with technology to get better. I want to know the quickest way to get better or the quickest to not be hurt anymore.
“And look at all the analytics: how many times this person goes right, left. They record that with technology to break down everything. It ends up on your iPad or your phone.”
“There’s a machine, VertiMax, where you wear a vest, and you hook these straps up to a tension band. Usually a coach would throw it off the backboard, and it keeps track of your movements. The bands pull you down so you won’t have as much strength. The plate keeps track of how much force you’re putting down when you’re landing, so you can put less force on the bottom. It keeps track of what I’m doing with my body and how much strength to put on or take off. They usually use air pressure with it, too, so yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on around here.”
Family (Video) Games
“I got into gaming because of my dad and, weirdly enough, my mom. My mom and my dad both were gamers. My mom has a TV in her room beside her bed where she has an Xbox she likes to play. My dad has his Xbox set up to his TV and uses it for the cable and knows how to do all that. He plays his Xbox with me—like we’ll play against each other in Madden or we’ll play with each other in Dynasty Warriors. I try to get him to play Fortnite, but he’s not real big into that. He likes sports games and RPG games.
“I’ve got my parents all the way up to the Xbox One. We’re going to keep going. Whenever a new system drops, they’re going to get it with me. All those times they said, ‘Go on and go play your game and get out of my room’—it paid off with Fornite.”
(Photo credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
The Fortnite Pro-Am
“Let me tell you about that, that was crazy. First, I was supposed to be playing with Summit1G, but an illness came over him so he couldn’t travel, which was understandable. They replaced him with CourageJD, so me and him teamed up and it was great. Summit and I had already been connected and talking about what we were going to do and had been playing together. For him to not play, I was like, ‘Aw man, I need a substitution.’ I didn’t know he wasn’t going to be there. I literally didn’t find out until I got there, and they told me, ‘Yeah, your partner has changed. You don’t have Summit no more.’ I was like, ‘Wait, what?’
“Courage came in, we met, talked about strategy right there in front of each other, and next thing you know, we played the first game. I came in 35th out of 100, which was a singles match. I was getting warmed up, seeing how people are. I was watching Courage, and he did pretty good—almost came in first on that one. Then the second game together, we came in fourth place and then we lost to Ninja and DJ Marshmellow. They killed us. Then, the last game, same story. We came in second place to them. But it was fun, though. Courage was really a great partner, kudos to him. He was a great teacher also and leader. He led us through the whole thing.”
His New Foundation
“With the money I won for charity, I started a foundation called Kenneth Faried HAT. ‘HAT’ means humble, appreciative, and thankful. I’ve been a person my whole life who believed that, through obstacles in life that you see, you may have good and bad, but you should always remain humble, appreciative, and thankful for everything—no matter what heights you reach in life or what you receive in this life.
“The foundation builds upon that for kids. I’m trying to teach kids to be this way through basketball and the fundamentals of basketball, teamwork, being a partner to somebody, being respectful, listening to a leader and not just a coach as a leader. Some players step up and become leaders. We’re trying to teach that through basketball and other sports.”


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