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CALTECH'S HOOP DREAMS OF WINNING TOLD IN DOCUMENTARY
There are those who suffer profound and heartbreaking defeat, and then there are the members of the Caltech basketball team who lose simply because losing is what they do. You might even say that, where hoops is concerned, defeat is part of this team's chemical makeup.
And why not? These players are future chemists, systems analysts and engineers, not jocks. They're not attending the prestigious Pasadena school -- which churns out Nobel Prize winners like nobody's business -- to work up that kind of a sweat.
All the same, when writer/director Rick Greenwald began his documentary "Quantum Hoops," California Institute of Technology's basketball team was in the midst of a 21-year losing streak spanning more than 240 games. That's an awful lot of futility.
Can audiences love so complete a loser? Greenwald thinks so. His smartly researched film -- as much a study of a unique institution as it is a look at one of its lesser-known divisions -- never patronizes or pokes fun. These teams may be genuinely awful, or simply overmatched, but Greenwald honors them, their brainy players and their Job-like coaches alike.
He's interviewed them all, from athletic alumni from the 1950s to sports-loving Nobelists. He assembles the starting lineup of the 1985 team, the last team to win a single game. And Greenwald talks to Gregg Popovich, future NBA championship-winning coach of the San Antonio Spurs, whose Pomona-Pitzer squad was the last team to fall to the Beavers.
The film suggests an unlikely link between sports and science. The players may be treating hoops as a much-needed break from their studies, but that doesn't mean they're any less anxious to notch a win and put the ignominious streak to rest.
"Quantum Hoops" does build toward a climactic game: the final home game of the 2006 season on the eve of the school's decision whether to drop out of NCAA athletics entirely.
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It ain't "Rocky," but it plays.
Evan Henerson (818) 713-3651
QUANTUM HOOPS - Three stars
What Caltech's basketball team lacks in shooting and defensive skills, season after season, it makes up for in prestigious science awards and techonologial achievements. If only they could break the school's 21-year losing streak, the subject of Rick Greenwald's documentary "Quantum Hoops."
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