Engineering a pro sports career: How an aerospace studies major joined the Raptors as a coach
Eric Khoury wants you to know his first love is basketball. He played the game in high school and in university. He grew up in Toronto as a huge fan of the Raptors.
But the remarkable story of how the 33-year-old wound up being named the youngest-ever head coach of the Raptors farm team is one he gets asked about a lot. After all, in school his focus was always on math, science and engineering.
“The biggest question is: why are you in basketball?” says Khoury with a smile.
The head coach of the Raptors 905, a team in the NBA’s G League, has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a masters of applied science from the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, where he studied experimental fluid dynamics. Not your typical background for someone who eventually wound up with an NBA championship ring.
“I’m definitely a curious guy. So if there’s something out there, I want to understand how it works,” says Khoury, who is now working on building a winning team.
A decade ago Khoury was finishing up his master’s program where he’d been tracking particles moving in a water channel when he noticed an article about how the NBA was experimenting with player tracking technology around the league.
“I saw the similarities between particle tracking and playing tracking. Obviously they are very different in terms of applications, but very similar in terms of technology.”
Khoury, who long thought an engineering degree would keep a lot of doors open, decided he’d reach out to the Raptors organization via Twitter to see if he could help.
“Tweets turned to emails, emails turned to coffee and coffee turned to an internship,” says Khoury, who was eventually named the Raptors’ director of analytics.
Khoury says he’s always been drawn to team sports and about five years ago began transitioning to the coaching side of things. As he got better he was named an assistant coach and even helped the Raptors win their first ever NBA championship.
His start in analytics has drawn comparisons to the hit movie ‘Moneyball,’ about how baseball’s Oakland Athletics famously turned to big data to help field a competitive team-- a movie Khoury has never actually watched.
“I haven’t seen it. I should check it out,” he says.
After being named head coach of the 905 this past summer, Khoury attended a press conference where he was asked about his engineering background and how it might apply to basketball.
He made a reference to Sir Isaac Newton and first principles, which was likely a first for a media availability with a basketball coach.
“The second that came out of my mouth I knew there was going to be a headline that’s for sure.”
Khoury says analytics are becoming a focal point in many sports and teams are always trying to find an edge. He hopes others will be inspired by his story to pursue their dreams if they also love sports.
“There’s so many different paths to get into it, which is great. So if you’re someone like myself who is really focused on math and science that’s not going to close the door.”