It's no surprise that MIT varsity basketball players Neal Brenner, Kyle Doherty and Andrew Tsai designed a snazzy web site for their team , featuring a bouncing basketball, photos of players darting on and off the screen, and game action videos.
They are, after all, MIT students majoring in electrical engineering and computer science.
However, it is a surprise that before the exam break, the team compiled an 8-1 record that includes victories by 23, 31, 33 and 57 points. Play resumed on Jan. 3 at home against Salem State.
The web site was a project for 21W.785 (Communicating in Cyberspace) taught by Senior Lecturer in Writing Edward Barrett, who gave the players top grades for their project.
"It was a natural for my class," said Barrett. "Sports web sites command a loyal fan base, present dynamically changing content and require a design that personalizes the sport. Their site gives a very human face to the Institute."
Coach Larry Anderson inadvertently provided the impetus for the project by talking about a redesign of the team's web page. Working with Wellesley College exchange student Maria Gesualdi, the players drew upon their athletes' discipline and mindset to manage the semester-long project.
"We were definitely pleased with how it turned out," said Tsai, a sophomore from Pittsburgh. "We think it conveys general enthusiasm for the program. We've actually received a large number of e-mails from old alumni and family who are generally impressed."
In addition to the eye-catching design, the site includes statistics, thumbnail biographies, results, the team's schedule, and special links for fans, recruits and alumni.
"Last year, my parents always complained that they couldn't follow the team on the web site," said Doherty, a sophomore whose parents, Geri and Neal of Duxbury, attend every game. "Now they can with our new one. It also helps us to compete in recruiting."
Gesualdi, who took the course as part of Wellesley's cross-registration agreement with MIT, created two links and most of the PowerPoint presentations. "It was nice working with them and I gained a lot of experience from the class," said Gesualdi, a junior who returned to Argentina after the fall semester. "I really like basketball, although I don't know too much about it. I didn't know about the MIT men's basketball team before, but now I follow them. I'll be able to check the site for news about them from home in Argentina."
The players themselves are not surprised by the team's early success. Before the season started, tri-captains Brenner, Alex Phillips and Sebastian Heersink organized informal practice sessions that were intense and competitive.
"That was the first sign to us that we were going to do well," said Brenner, a junior guard from Cresskill, N.J. "All the players on this year's team know basketball, work hard and really want to win. We also have much better chemistry this year. Everyone plays very unselfishly and gets along with each other."
Tsai, who was the captain of the Fox Chapel Area High School basketball team as a senior, did not play as an MIT freshman but decided to come out for the team this year.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "I knew we had a lot of good players, but the majority of our team is young, so I guess I'm a little surprised. But I'm not in total shock. It's been a lot of fun."
Even though the starting five consists of three freshmen and two sophomores and all 13 players on the squad are underclassmen, Brenner expects the team to do well in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference. "We're not going to use the excuse that we're young," he said. "We hope to keep up our success in a conference that's very strong this year. Everyone believes that. We should win every game we play. That's a big difference from years past."
"I think a lot of people aren't taking us too seriously because we're MIT," said Doherty, who is starting for the second consecutive year, "but we can make a run at winning the league."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 9, 2002.