Alumnus Sachin Suresh Relishes Chance to Find Out What's Next in Sports Analytics

10/21/2022 10:17:54 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

When Sachin Suresh (BS, Statistics & Computer Science ’12) grew up in Illinois, these formative years led him to a joint interest in Fighting Illini athletics as well as mathematics and electrical engineering.

Sachin Surresh
Sachin Surresh

Watching both the basketball and football teams on television accounts for his sports fandom. And it was his father’s presence as an AutoCAD programmer that kept a seemingly endless supply of computer equipment around the house for him to tinker with. Suresh said he loved to take the machines apart and put them back together again, learning the intricacies of each item as he went.

With that background, he was thrilled to enroll at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as an undergraduate student, eventually graduating in the Statistics & Computer Science program that, he said, perfectly summarized his interests.

To build a career that he could find truly inspiring and meaningful, he thought, perhaps there would be a future in the sports world as it continues to delve further into the use of data.

During this digital age, the perfect opportunity arose four years ago at FastModel Sports. The Chicago company’s mission states that it “seeks to bring innovation to every coach and player in the world,” and it does so by “providing cutting edge software solutions for basketball teams and coaches of all levels.”

Over these past four years, Suresh rose the ladder and became Chief Technology Officer about a year ago.

“I was always big into stats, growing up watching sports. So, I thought to myself that maybe one day I could do more in sports, because of my interests in statistics. While I was never very athletic, and I was injury prone, I always had a mind for it. And I wanted to find ways to remain involved,” Suresh said. “Coming from that perspective to working at FastModel Sports, I think it is a dream job. I thought it might be a long shot, but now I’m doing it every day – and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.”

To get to this point, he, of course credits his father and his family for inspiring his interest in math and computer science.

From there, though, few have been more pivotal to his growth and development than some of his professors from the core CS courses he took as part of the Statistics & CS program.

In the early courses, he specifically remembers professors Lawrence Angrave and Cinda Heeren, the latter now an adjunct faculty at Illinois CS. And thinking back on courses like CS 125 (Introduction to Computer Science) and 225 (Data Structures), Suresh said he thoroughly learned the foundation of what is necessary to be successful in his area of computing.

In addition, his group project from CS 411 had a tremendous impact, as the real-world experience gained from the project produced valuable knowledge to Suresh even today.

“To me, the best part of the undergraduate experience at Illinois CS was the professors,” Suresh said. “Obviously, they have a ton of responsibilities. They are lecturing in front of 400+ students, they are spending time on research, developing graduate students, and more – yet they still cared a lot about their undergrad students. Their doors were always open to me, and they answered any kind of question we had.”

That foundational basis in computing that he picked up here led him to a job with Microsoft, as a consultant.

For Microsoft, Suresh said he traveled a lot and learned even more. It was a pivotal experience in his growth and maturation in the tech industry. With his consulting role, Surresh got an opportunity to work with Ford on a multi-year engagement, where he combined his career with a passion of his for the first time.

“My experiences as a consultant were awesome, and I love cars – so working with Ford was amazing,” Suresh said. “But after getting married, I was looking for less travel and more stability. I wanted to work in Chicago and figured now might be the time for me to continue working in something else that I’m passionate about, professional and collegiate sports.

“Also, I had already worked for larger companies, so everything about working for FastModel Sports was appealing to me – including the fact that it was a smaller company.”

That smaller company has grown strategically over time, allowing Suresh a golden opportunity to work in an influential way.

Beginning as an engineer and growing quickly into the CTO role, he explained some of the moments that meant the most to him while at FastModel Sports.

First, a lot of his work is on the client side, where he connects consistently with basketball coaches to provide stats, analytics, and data analysis through visualizations. He also collaborates with his product and sales teams on new features and data points.

To date, this includes innovative shot charts, which provide insights from both offensive and defensive perspectives and the data can be varied between splits such as home vs. away games or separated out by conference vs. non-conference opponents. Additionally, Suresh and his team have provided valuable lineup statistics, to showcase who the best two, three, four, or five player combinations are on the court at the same time. Likewise, they do the same for the opponents.

Up to this point, FastModel Sports has worked primarily in basketball – including with Suresh’s alma mater – but the company is diving further into hockey for the first time this season.

Overall, Suresh is thrilled about what’s on the horizon at FastModel and for himself, personally.

“Being cutting edge and constantly seeking flexibility in our product has been important. Presenting complicated information in a way that makes sense to the coaches and players has been a big win for us. You can see their eyes light up when we present this information to them the way that we do,” Suresh said. “A lot of what we have done, and a lot of what coaches have wanted for so long, is pregame scouting, and postgame analysis.

“But tomorrow and moving forward, we will see a big shift to live, in-game analysis.”