BOSTON (CBS) – With the Harvard Crimson set for their first NCAA tournament appearance in 46 years, their neighbors down the street are ready to put a longer drought behind them.
The MIT Engineers (29-1) are set for this weekend’s NCAA Division 3 Final Four in Salem, Va., Friday night, where they’ll take on Wisconsin-Whitewater, in their first Final Four appearance in 112 years.
We know what some of you may be saying right now: “MIT has a basketball team?”
“We’ve heard it quite a few times at this point,” said senior forward Noel Hollingsworth, who leads the Engineers with 17.5 points per game. “A lot of people make jokes, but we’re really proud of our success. We’re just trying to keep it going forward.”
“We’re happy to be able to represent MIT and basketball on such a stage, because it’s been there in academics for quite a while,” said head coach Larry Anderson, who has manned the MIT bench for 17 years and is the winningest coach in the program’s history. “We hope that what we’re doing, it will allow us to have a basketball team mirror what we’re doing in the classroom.”
This is the fourth straight year MIT has gotten to “The Little Dance,” but just getting there was not their goal when the season started.
“One of our goals this season was to win a national championship. It wasn’t to get to the Final Four; it was to win the whole thing. We’re not going to stop until we get there,” said senior guard Jamie Karraker, who is shooting 45 percent from the field and averaging 13 points per game.
“We want to win it all. That’s been our goal all year,” said Hollingsworth, who transferred to MIT from Brown after his freshman year. “Nothing about getting in the Final Four changes that. We have two tough games ahead, but we want to start by winning the semifinal game and then hopefully win the final after that.”
And with their hard work on the court, the Engineers are confident they can do just that.
“I think we’re very good. We have a lot of offensive weapons; we really work hard on defense and focus on defensive rebounding and taking care of the ball. Those are our staples and that’s what, I think, gets us wins,” said Karraker.
“All the credit goes to them,” Anderson said of his players. “If you can go to an institution like this, and keep it going in the classroom and then come here to the basketball court and get it done here too, that’s pretty special.”
Special: NCAA Tournament Section
That is what separates the MIT athletes from the others that are getting ready for “The Big Dance;” having to balance the demands of a world class education as well as those on the court; even if it means taking an exam the morning of game day.
“I know a couple kids this weekend that have two tests, which is tough,” said junior forward Mitchell Kates.” I tried to move my tests to the next week. We just want to get everything out of the way so when the game time comes, we have a clear head.”
“Sometimes it can be challenge. These past couple weeks, traveling Thursday through Sunday makes it extremely difficult to get our work done and to clear our heads for the weekend,” continued Kates, who is second on the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game while balancing his computer science major. “But we find time to get it done; you have to compromise and give up something in terms of social, but we have good time management skills.”
Time management especially comes in handy for Karraker, the smartest on the team according to his teammates. He is double majoring in electric engineering/computer sciences and physics, and already has a job lined up as a software engineer at Facebook.
“We go to him when we have problems with our homework assignments,” Kates joked.
“You learn at MIT, and especially being an athlete at MIT, how to really stay on top of your work and time manage, to get things done early,” said Karraker. “Especially with all these trips in this run we’re making right now, we’ve had to really focus on getting things done early. The whole team has made a concerted effort to get their work out of the way early so we can focus on these games.”
“I think the kids here are curious about things that are going on, and crave that challenge of doing well in the classroom and doing well on the basketball court,” said Anderson. “When I say those two things, we hope that what we’re doing is we can be role models to little kids and say, ‘It’s OK to be smart, it’s OK to be a good basketball player. You don’t have to lose to prove to people that you’re smart.’ That’s the way it was when I was coming along.”
Friday’s semifinal is scheduled for 8 p.m., with the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday. But even if the Engineers can’t cut down the nets in Virginia this weekend, Coach Anderson is still proud, and very pleased with his job.
“How many coaches do you know, for two hours every day, get to yell at the possible next President of the United States, and they can’t do anything about it? Until they become president. That’s pretty decent,” he said with a smile.