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Neal Khosla holds up the Mercury News that Barack Obama signed for him Thursday night in Portola Valley.

Barack Obama, a basketball fan who once had a Dr. J poster on his bedroom wall, found time to talk a little hoops while in the Silicon Valley this week.

The President wanted to know more about the work of Stanford medical student Muthu Alagappan, whose scientific reevaluation of basketball strategy was profiled in this paper last week. (mercurynews.com/stanford-cardinal/ci_23365773)

Neal Khosla, a second-year Stanford computer science student who works with Alagappan on basketball research, showed Obama a copy of the article during a brief meeting with country's most powerful pick-up player.

Neal Khosla holds up the Mercury News that Barack Obama signed for him Thursday night in Portola Valley.
Neal Khosla holds up the Mercury News that Barack Obama signed for him Thursday night in Portola Valley. (Bob Berry/Ayasdi )

Obama wanted to hear more, so Khosla spent a few minutes giving a quick demonstration of the software created by Ayasdi, the Palo Alto-based start-up that uses topology to find value in complex data.

Khosla and Alagappan, who started at Ayasdi as interns, used that data to suggest that basketball's traditional positions are outdated.

"He was pretty intrigued, pretty analytical about it and asked a lot of questions," Khosla, 20, said. "He had good instincts and caught on quick to the nuances of what we were trying to do.

"I was very impressed with his passion for basketball and his basketball knowledge."

Khosla said that Obama was particularly intrigued that their proposed redefinition of positions underscored why it worked fine when, say, two traditional small forwards were on the floor at the same time.


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"The example that came up was of Shane Battier and LeBron both being classified as small forwards and how different their playing styles are," Khosla said. "We actually located them in the network and saw that they were practically on opposite sides of the graph."

The meeting took place during Obama's dinner visit to the Khosla's home in Portola Valley on Thursday night. Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, began working with Obama on clean technology issues during Obama's days as an Illinois senator.

The last thing the President of the United States said as headed out the door?

"He wanted to know the score of the Heat-Spurs game," Neal Khosla said.

Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.