Friday, February 6, 2009

Development and Devotion - A Program Needs Both

Posting Time

It's been as tough to find time to post as it's been tough to win another game. Since my arrival at Caltech in late September, I have tried to play "catch up" as the program has instituted several new approaches that will hopefully help its development -- everything from new gear to a new recruiting philosophy to community involvement. We have placed an emphasis on enhancing the culture of athletics and forced a focus on commitment. One of the major challenges, as I was told before moving 3,000 miles away from Boston, was the constant issue of maintaining solid practices due to the rigorous Caltech course load and unavoidable, yet unfavorable, sleep patterns. I am proud to say that these have not been noticeable problems. Though many players may stay up much later doing work than the average college student, they also sleep in longer. There has not been an identifiable fatigue factor in practice this year because we emphasized time management and allegiance to our team -- and the responsibilities that accompany the role of being a citizen within our program.

Though one may not be able to tell by the outcomes of our games, we are gradually developing skill sets and evolving as an entire unit. I knew patience and persistence would be values of which to take hold, even tighter than imagined, yet the development (especially of our younger members with no previous experience) is truly fascinating. And the fact that we come back, day after day, for two-plus hours of practice, ready to work and sweat, is a testament to our players' personas and strength.

Keep it Going

This is an exciting time as we anticipate our last half dozen games and await word of our recruiting efforts. It will be our pleasure to host the first men's basketball alumni event this weekend while the university's president and wife serve as our honorary coaches. And, in a couple of weeks, we will honor the six players who will graduate this year in a pre-game ceremony on senior night.

In our best road game this year, and perhaps Caltech's last several years, Travis Haussler scored his 1,000 point -- and it was great to have his father in the stands as he did so. There are so many moments that bring joy to this club, despite not putting up outstanding team numbers. Only one who is with us everyday can truly understand the impact the team and its values have on each individual student-athlete. These are players who make up some of the brightest minds in the world. They go out to compete to the best of their abilities. Can we improve? Absolutely. Especially with a clear vision, an understanding of the system, and tremendous leadership -- from the seniors onto the underclassmen who will take over when a new crop of players arrive in the fall.

Fortune in Southern Cal?

If we're fortunate, we'll eventually have a Jimmy Bartolotta, as we were lucky to get at MIT. He is the consummate competitor and one who will drive a program to be good with a work ethic that cannot be topped. We knew how good he had become -- and now the New York Times does, too. When I first saw Jimmy in a high school video, it was not necessarily his basketball skills that grabbed my attention -- it was his mindset, his leadership, his focus. I could see all of those characteristics in the way he played the game. By the time he came for an overnight visit in Cambridge, we had spoken many times. He already had the basketball knowledge and determination we needed -- he was a true student of the game who had already experienced success in high school. We needed his mental and physical prowess in our program -- I even made a home visit to his house in Colorado to demonstrate our utmost interest in him.

During his first year at MIT, he told me that he wanted to be the best player from the institute -- ever. Well, he has accomplished that. He now has more than 2,000 career points, easily the most by any Engineer, and he also recently set the all-time steals record. Besides those categories, he ranks at the top in almost every other one as well. How many players do you know that shoot over 50 percent -- from 3-point range? Oh, and also are at the top of their conference in blocked shots?

It's not the statistics that tell the whole story, though. It's his attitude and mental toughness. He works more than anyone. He studies film. He reads about competitiveness. He makes others play and practice hard. He will not take "no" for an answer. That is why his team is on its way to the best mark in history.

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