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Hoops “Rudy” is quantifying hustle with computers

Jun 8, 2013, 4:45 PM EST

Kim English, Zach Rosen AP

The NCAA likes to remind you that most of their athletes go pro in “something else”.

This is the story of one of those guys.

Vasu Kulkarni grew up hoops-mad in India. When he was accepted as a student at Penn, he thought he’d carry that love over to a college career – his version of the American Dream.

“I didn’t realize that at 5’9″ and 135 pounds that wasn’t about to happen,” Kulkarni told CBSPhilly.  “I was in for a rude awakening when I showed up at the Palestra.”

In true Rudy fashion, Kulkarni didn’t give up. He busted his butt trying to get better and earned a walk-on spot as a senior. He got to put on the uniform, and see some court time with the JV team. Since a hoops career clearly wasn’t on the horizon, Kulkarni took the two things he knows best – hustle and smarts – and built a tech company called Krossover that helps measure hoops intangibles.

“A lot of coaches that go by this gut feel, they like to talk about hustle. Sometimes that’s their answer to statistics, is ‘oh well you can’t really measure the intangibles. And that’s what I look at when I’m talking about my team.’ And we try to look at some of those things as well. So we measure deflections. Deflections are a good measure of how active your hands are, and how active your team is as a whole on defense. So if you can measure deflections, winning 50/50 balls on the floor, steals and rebounds, now you have possibly to put some sort of weighted average on these things and come up with a metric around hustle, which is one of those intangibles that coaches really like to see.”

Kulkarni has also found a novel way to measure basketball IQ – another of those arcane concepts we pundits like to go on and on about. He made a sort of video game out of it. The program, called sIQ, shows a basketball play developing, then freezes the action. It tells the player the result of the play, and he must guess how the result came about. The game measures not only right and wrong answers, but how fast the player arrives at the answer.

Kulkarni has compared his own performance to that of NBA execs and players. “More often than not, I’m probably right. But it probably takes me four or five seconds to answer a question. Whereas an elite athlete, their response time is under one second and they’re getting most of these questions right.”

Kulkarni doesn’t claim his program replaces human intuition, more that it gives data-based evidence for what our intuition might notice in a player. He does believe, however, that his programs will streamline the process, and possibly eliminate some confirmation bias.

“You know, I’m not saying that we’re going to give you a better decision than your coaches are going to make. But I’m saying when it comes to data collection, when it comes to putting all of this together in a form that is easily digestible, it’s much better to use a computer program. At least it’s more efficient and cheaper to use a computer program, than it is to use humans.”

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

  1. saint1997 - Jun 8, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    It would be really cool to see that hustle metric and which players rank high up there

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