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Santa Cruz grad Haussler plays a big part in CalTech hoops documentary 'Quantum Hoops'
By Ryan Phillips
Santa Cruz Sentinel
February 6, 2008

The plight of a basketball player at the California Institute of Technology is outrageously difficult. There is no balance between school and basketball -- there's school, then a couple of hours of escape from school to work up a sweat on the hardwood.

Then back to school.

The struggles, and successes, of Caltech student-athletes [emphasis on "student"] are chronicled well in the documentary film "Quantum Hoops," which has its Northern California premiere Friday at Landmark Theatre's Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.

Santa Cruz High graduate Travis Haussler is featured prominently in the film. He played on the Cardinals' 2005 state championship team and now is a junior applied math and business double major at Caltech, with a 3.7 grade point average. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is also one of the Pasadena school's top players, averaging 10.3 points, good for third on the team.

Haussler is all to familiar with what it's like playing basketball at one of the top academic institutions in the world. Here's the play-by-play of a recent Haussler day:

Haussler hits a career fair in the morning and meets prospective employers [he wants to work on Wall Street as a trader]. He then does a spin move into the three homework sets he's got to finish by the next day. Each takes between 6-11 hours to complete; sometimes they take 20. Problem is, he has an away game he's got to leave for at 4 p.m. So he gets through as much studying as possible, plays in the game and gets back at 11:30 at night. He hits the books again, and works till 6 in the morning. Time for a three-hour nap, followed by more homework till 5 p.m. He then turns in his work and heads to practice.

"It can get pretty hectic at times," Haussler says.

Hectic? More like impossible. Yet somehow, he's been able to make it through three seasons of life like that. Amazing.

"The basketball adds a lot more hours in the week, but it also adds a lot more structure," Haussler says. "You work and work and work [at school], and with the amount of time spent on basketball, you have to manage your time accurately."

The film follows a year in the life of the Caltech basketball team, when Haussler was a freshman and the Beavers hadn't won an NCAA game in 12 years. "Quantum Hoops" also gives a complete overview of Caltech [the school has the highest ratio of Nobel Prize winners to alumni in the world] and its athletic program [the year the documentary was filmed, the basketball team had more valedictorians than students who played on their high school varsity team].

The film takes us back to the early days of the brightest of the bright playing collegiate sports and catches up with former players. They all have at least three things in common: They're highly intelligent, highly successful at what they do and they sure didn't win many -- or in some cases, any -- basketball games at Caltech.

Haussler has a big role in "Quantum Hoops." He appears in interviews throughout and gives a tour of the dorm he lived in. He also shows up in some game footage, including the dramatic climax of the film.

"Quantum Hoops" filmmaker Rick Greenwald says Haussler's outgoing nature helped him garner a little bit of screen time.

"He was kind of natural at it, definitely comfortable on camera," Greenwald says. "For a lot of people, it's hard for them to open up to you [on camera]. And [a lot of the Caltech] kids by and large are introverted, kind of shy."

Not Haussler. He deftly leads the tour of the dorm, which seems like a nerdy "Animal House." The highlight of the tour is Haussler's room, where his roommate has an in-depth diagram of how to pick a lock, and there is, surprise, surprise, what appears to be a kegerator. "Here at Caltech, we build the fridge around the keg," Haussler says in the film.

Haussler says his senior year at Santa Cruz prepared him for his time in front of the lens. Santa Cruz filmmaker Ryan Vaughan, who does freelance video work for the Sentinel, chronicled the Cardinals' championship season in his documentary "Poised."

"I thought it was funny. 'Here we go again, a film crew is following us all season,'" Haussler says. "I love the recognition Caltech gets. The team is seriously committed to competing, though we're physically overmatched at all times."

Much of the film centers around the final week of the 2005-06 season and the Beavers' quest to win their first game. The final home game is close and tense as they appear to be on the verge of a win. Spoiler alert: It doesn't happen. At that time.

But it does a year later. Led by Haussler's game-high 29 points, Caltech beat visiting Bard, 81-52, to break a 207-game NCAA Division III losing streak. And this year, Haussler scored 18 points in another Caltech win, this time over Gallaudet.

So, Haussler has been a part of a rare winning streak at Caltech. Sure, it's a back-to-back one-win season streak, but a streak nonetheless. [Caltech still has five games left this year, all against Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foes, as the Beavers try to end a conference losing streak that's in its 23rd year].

Caltech coach Roy Dow says the wins have come in large part because of Haussler's help. A valued role player at Santa Cruz, Haussler is the go-to guy on the court at Caltech.

"Travis brings an understanding of what it's like to win at a high level," Dow says. "...We ask him to produce on a daily basis, to be our primary player. He works real hard at it."

Haussler certainly does, putting his body through rigorous tests when his mind isn't working his way through others. On Saturday, Haussler went for a loose ball and ended up with a giant gash on his head that led to 10 stitches. He finished the game and during his stay in the hospital that night, he plowed through the 448-page Michael Crichton novel

"Next."

And that wasn't close to the toughest physical ailment Haussler suffered this year. During the summer, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a condition related to arthritis that affects the spine. Haussler now takes weekly injections and is close to 100 percent.

The best way to treat it, mom Lu says, is for Haussler to keep playing basketball.

"The cure is intensive workouts," she says. "Thank god, playing basketball was the best medicine."

Haussler is back on the court today for a home game against Redlands, chasing that elusive conference win with his teammates.

No injury, ailment or homework set can keep him away for long.

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