Like most young basketball players, Matthew van Bommel probably dreamt about making it to the National Basketball Association (NBA).
That dream, with a twist, has become a reality for the Antigonish native.
He will never make a lay-up or jump shot; slam dunk or assist, but van Bommel is working in the top professional basketball league in the world.
van Bommel, 25, is a basketball operations analyst with the Sacramento Kings.
“It is a really cool job,” he said during a recent phone interview from the other side of North America.
He is in his second season with the NBA organization.
“It has been a really, really amazing experience,” van Bommel said, adding the organization is made up of a “great group of people.”
van Bommel ‘crunches numbers’ for the Kings, providing his expertise to the organization’s analytics department.
Data analysis has become a key to success for countless sports teams.
Organizations, more and more, are taking a deeper dive into the analytics’ pool, using statistics to help make decisions.
Analytics are now integral, whether it is preparing for the entry draft or free agency, when determining the ‘value’ on players.
“It is really interesting to me – using the data to help find an answer,” van Bommel said.
“At the heart of it, it is about being able to problem solve, making the data accessible and impactful.”
The Kings, like most organizations, use analytics to measure and evaluate athletes, strategy and performance.
van Bommel said teams have always employed data, noting the use of box scores as an example, but “not to this degree.”
“It is using a deeper level of data, which is super exciting,” he added.
So, how does someone from rural Nova Scotia end up working and living in the capital city of California?
His journey to the most populated of the United States began in the Annapolis Valley – Wolfville, specifically – where he completed a Bachelor of Science, in mathematics and statistics, at Acadia University.
Next stop – Burnaby, B.C. – that’s where van Bommel completed a Master of Science in Statistics at Simon Fraser University.
His sports analytics research focussed on using machine learning, data mining and statistical tools to gain insight into NBA optical playing tracking data.
While on Canada’s west coast, he met assistant professor Luke Bornn, who became his academic advisor.
When Bornn became Kings’ vice-president, strategy and analytics, he recruited van Bommel to join his team.
“It seemed like a natural transition,” van Bommel said.
“Although I never thought I would end up here, that’s for sure.”
He added it is “exciting” to be part of the Kings’ organization, one that boasts a young and talented roster, a team he gets to watch every time they play on their home court.
“It is like having season tickets – it is amazing,” van Bommel said, with a laugh.
When it comes to living in Sacramento, he said “I am really lucky.”
van Bommel added people are “really friendly” and have made him feel at home.
And, he noted with happiness apparent in his voice, “it hardly rains.”
“I can bike to work every day,” van Bommel said.