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Caltech Basketball, famous for its losing streak, finds new winning formula

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The amazing story of how Caltech's basketball team started winning, starting with such unprepossessing ingredients as a bald coach, an Alaskan subsistence fisherman who was not a very skilled but exceptionally dirty point guard, and a self-reported NCAA violation.

This story reminded me how incredibly small the pool of people they're recruiting from is.

At Caltech, basketball didn’t get the players into the school and it won’t lead anywhere afterward. “I don’t want to go to some C league in Iceland,” says Galliani. Cahill chose Caltech over UCLA because, “Why would I want to practice four hours a day if I’m not going to the NBA?” Others say they would have transferred if not for hoops. “No one at Google cares what grades I got,” says Elmquist. “They cared that I learned stuff and can do things.” And guess what he usually ends up talking about over drinks? He laughs. “That time I helped Caltech break the streak.”

The man who spearheaded this change sits in the cramped office he shares with Briski, squinting at a computer screen. On the wall above his desk, in neat cursive script, is a congratulatory note on Spurs letterhead from Popovich, one of the last SCIAC coaches to lose to Caltech prior to 2011. It came attached to a case of pinot noir. Nearby, overstuffed shelves are lined with Phil Jackson books as well as titles like, “Help the Helper: Building a Culture of Extreme Teamwork.”

On this morning, Eslinger and Briski are going over potential recruits. The pickings remain slim. Anyone with a GPA under 3.8 gets discarded. Anyone not good enough to play gets bumped. How many does that leave?

“In the whole country?” Briski asks.

He does some math, consults his Front Rush recruiting software, then says, “About 250.”

The vast majority of those, he explains, will choose a place like Harvard or Columbia or, if cowed by Caltech’s academic load, a less-stressful D-III school. Others won’t get in. One of last year’s top recruits had to settle for his safety school, MIT.

For now, Eslinger can’t worry about that. He is fixated on the final step in the program’s evolution: shooting. Last season, the Beavers hit 29% of their threes. Upon analyzing the data, Eslinger noticed something: “When we hopped into a shot, we hit 40% of our threes,” he says. “That was 20% better than when they one-two stepped into it.”

This is a great movie in the making.....

It could be like Cool Runnings but for basketball. :)

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