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Quantum Hoops
By Leba Hertz
The San Francisco Chronicle
February 8, 2008

'Quantum Hoops' - WILD APPLAUSE

Documentary. Narrated by David Duchovny. Directed by Rick Greenwald. (Not rated. 85 minutes. At the Shattuck.)

Whenever discussing national collegiate basketball powerhouses, one naturally mentions UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Caltech ... Oops, scratch the last one from that list. Or at least scratch the word basketball.

Caltech is a powerhouse in academics, boasting among its faculty and alumni such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Charles Richter and Stephen Hawking. But when it comes to sports, the Beavers are mostly remembered for their off-field antics, such as the time they hacked into the Rose Bowl scoreboard, rather than their athletic prowess. And nowhere is Caltech not a success in the win column more than in men's basketball. "Quantum Hoops," directed and written by Rick Greenwald, follows the 2006 team as it endeavors to end the school's 21-year losing streak.

A fascinating look into student life of the past and present, "Quantum Hoops" uses archive footage and incisive present-day interviews while delving into whether sports is important for a well-rounded education. The revelations and clever use of each era in Caltech's history gives the film the charm needed to convince viewers that losing is a subject worth exploring.

Sports weren't always so inconsequential at Caltech. The football team even claimed a victory against UCLA, one of today's athletic behemoths. During World War II, so many Navy men attended the school that athletics thrived. Yet, just like the Amazing Mets of 1962, Caltech's ineptitude somehow dissolves the cynicism and makes us believe in the underdog.

There are some milestones Caltech fans are proud of, including Fred Newman of the class of 1959 who went on to become the world-record holder in free-throw shooting (more than 200 believe it or not). And then there was the end to Caltech's 99-game losing streak when the team beat 1979 Pomona-Pitzer College. The coach of PPC at the time was Gregg Popovich, who would go on to coach a bunch of NBA championships with the San Antonio Spurs. Kudos to Popovich, who gracefully exudes a good sense of humor in discussing his team's dubious role in the movie.

The current streak has a good chance of ending with the 2006 team. After all, six of the players played varsity in high school, and bit by bit the team has improved on their margin of loss: Two years earlier, Caltech lost each game by an average of 60 points.

The final game of the season against Whittier is the last opportunity for the seniors to get one in the victory column. What one sees is hope and perseverance as Caltech plays its best game of the year under adverse conditions. We won't tell you the final score, but no matter the actual outcome, these "losers" are true winners - on and off the court.

-- Advisory: To fully enjoy the movie, don't Google the team results, and make sure you sit through the credits.

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