Posted: 06/29/2008


Quantum Hoops


by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

“Before they change the world, they need to win one game.”

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More than 100 patents are issued in the United States each year, courtesy of research conducted in the prestigious labs at the California Institute of Technology. That’s more than are attributed to any other university in the nation.

More than 31 Nobel Prize winners have either taught or attended school at Cal-Tech, which boasts Albert Einstein as part of its esteemed faculty. These winners include Linus Pauling, Carl Anderson and Charles Richter, among others.

Cal-Tech is considered one of the top five academic institutions in the world.

Cal-Tech produces future rocket scientists and physicists, among others.

Pretty laudable feats, but wait… Cal-Tech “ain’t all that!”

When it comes to sports, particularly basketball, the school can’t make a basket. As a matter of fact, for years Cal-Tech couldn’t put its collective brain trust together to even devise a physics equation that would put them in arms-length of making enough baskets to win a game.

The Cal-Tech men’s team, the Beavers, have been described as the “overwhelming underdogs.” But after a 21-year losing streak, with more than 200 consecutive conference losses, more than 250 media outlets converged on Cal-Tech to see the 2006 Beavers finally beat Bard College on January 6, 2007.

And, in a way to make sure every action causes a reaction (or something like that), the pain-staking practices and shared dreams of the team as it approached this momentous day is documented in the DVD, Quantum Hoops: The Cal-Tech Basketball Story.

It shouldn’t have taken so long, but Cal-Tech students aren’t there to party or play sports. When their parents drop them off at the door, they can be assured their loved ones are studying as well as practicing their Nobel Prize speeches. Consequently, for many years basketball had been put on the back “Bunsen burner,” so to speak.

It wasn’t as if the men’s team didn’t have the best students; it was just that their finesse wasn’t in basketball. The 2006 team members went on to professional careers that could be envied by all, with employment at many Forbes 500 financial and business concerns. While none had played high school basketball, most had served as valedictorians for their high school graduating class or had accomplished some other academic feat. But their feet (no pun intended) just couldn’t run fast or jump high enough to make a basket.

“Cal-Tech players may be future rocket scientists, but to try and get them to put a ball through a hoop is a whole different story.”

Junior David Liu, one of the five teammates of the “winning” team, was glad to get a relief from academic projects, such as one that seeks to make gas less flammable saying, “scientists are more driven by the results, more than straight hours.” This analogy could be used to describe Cal-Tech’s quest for a hoops win. Liu’s project had been one year and more in the making, but he was still diligent.

And so was the Cal-Tech team; as they played more and more, they became better. They were being beaten by only 10 or 20 points, as opposed to 50 or 60.

Victory was on the horizon.

Filmmaker Rick Greenwald does a good job sharing the entire Cal-Tech story, from its origins in 1891 when it was founded, with studies focusing on scientific research and education. Students, alumni and faculty members are highlighted, as well as former basketball players who made it big in the NBA.

Quantum Hoops: The Cal-Tech Basketball Story is narrated by David Duchovny, and it keeps the viewers’ interest, in that I was actually rooting for the home team, as if I had a vested interest in its success.

Since I’ve spilled the beans, and since the world now knows that Cal-Tech finally did win a game, take a look at the DVD to see just how the team pulled it all together in the end. It speaks so much to team work, commitment and perseverance.

Quantum Hoops: The Cal-Tech Basketball Story is available on DVD from Green Forest Films.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.

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