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Quantum Hoops
By Christopher Null
January 2008

Everyone loves an underdog, but this is ridiculous!

Cal Tech is one of the elite academic schools in the country, if not the world, and as is usually the case in such institutes of higher learning, athletics take a distant back seat. In fact, the school has tried to kill off its various NCAA programs several times.

Few teams have faced more hardship than the Cal Tech basketball team, which didn't have a stadium to play in for decades, and which chooses its team members based largely on who shows up for the first day of practice. As you can imagine, its record hasn't been great. In fact, it hadn't won a game in its conference in 21 years by the time this documentary was shot.

Despite being a Sportscenter punchline, Cal Tech perseveres through it all, diligently losing every game it plays but continuing to show up. The students, many of whom are interviewed here, don't really seem to mind. They enjoy the sport on its own merits, not for the thrill of winning rings and glory. Why the coaches stay, well, that's another issue (and one that is explored at length by the documentary).

But then something odd happens: Cal Tech still loses, but not by 60 or 80 points. Margins close up to 20, 15, 10... and Cal Tech looks like it might actually break its 200-plus gaming losing streak. It almost happens. It's one of the film's most compelling sequences when the Beavers actually make it into overtime with a tie game.

Narrated by David Duchovny and capably directed by first-timer Rick Greenwald, the film is almost the same underdog that Cal Tech is: You have to ask, based on its description alone (Geeks play basketball and lose every game), exactly who will want to see this movie? Quantum Hoops vanished at the box office quickly, but it deserves a wider audience, and I hope it gets it on DVD.

As a final note, it is so heartwarming to see all these earnest youths with their science experiments and lab projects. You think they might be destined to save the world through technology... until the epilogue, when you realize they all decide to become investment bankers. Meh.

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