Q&A: Patrick Lucey, 2016 Research Paper Competition Winner

While eagerly anticipating the announcement of this year’s abstract submission acceptances, we sat down with Patrick Lucey, last year’s Research Competition winner, to hear more about his experience with the competition and the conference. Patrick and team’s winning paper, “The Thin Edge of the Wedge”: Accurately Predicting Shot Outcomes in Tennis using Style and Context Priors, set out to determine the player-specific patterns of movement and shots in tennis. Using HawkEye data, Patrick and his team optimized a model that allowed for greater predictability in determining point-winning shots by assessing individual player’s style.

1.      What was your favorite moment from SSAC16?
Apart from winning the best paper award, it was being able to present our work in front of Nate Silver and being able to answer some of his questions. 
2.      What was the most noticeable change for you after you won the research papers competition?
I’ve been lucky enough to be actively working in sports analytics for the past 6 years, so there hasn’t been that much of a change. However, when I give a talk or describe our work, it is great to say that we won best paper at Sloan – it gives us some instant credibility. 
3.      What response did you get from any tennis coaches or analysts after the conference? 
There was a lot of interest in our work – we had many questions about and expressions of interests in our work including how it can be applied across many other sports such as soccer and basketball.  Co-author Machar Reid is doing some great stuff with Tennis Australia, continuing to do some cutting-edge tennis analytics work.  
4.      What have you been working on since SSAC16? (Are you submitting a research paper for the 2017 competition?)
Late last year, I left Disney Research and joined STATS as the Director of Data Science to build their data-science capability. At STATS we have an enormous amount of tracking data in both basketball and soccer, and have invested heavily in data-science – so it has been a really exciting time.   We have 6 full-time data-scientists (first author of the paper, Xinyu Wei, was my first hire) and had 4 research interns over the summer, and we are always looking for more talented data scientists to join our team! We are doing some cool stuff in deep learning using trajectories, in addition to working on other fundamental artificial intelligence problems in sport which I couldn’t do anywhere else. We have submitted some abstracts for the 2017 competition – some really great stuff happening here – watch this space!

5.      Are you planning to attend the 2017 conference? If so, what are you looking forward to most?
Yes, I haven’t missed the conference for the past 6 years, so I can’t wait for the 2017 event! I’m really looking forward to catching up with everyone at the conference, and checking out the research papers.  
6.      What’s your favorite sport/team to watch?
Although I love watching all sports, I’m most passionate about soccer, cricket and basketball. My favorite team to watch is Liverpool, and when I am back home I always try to watch the Brisbane Roar take the field. Now that I’m in Chicago, I like going to the United Center to watch the Bulls who I followed growing up in Australia.