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After Losing Season, Men's Basketball Hopes for Comeback

By Martin Duke
sports columnist

On the wall of men's basketball coach Larry Anderson's office is a Post-it note with last year's season record, 421. He says it serves as a reminder of where the team has been and as motivation to do better this season.

He has good reason to expect improvement from his first year at MIT, after coming from the head job at Rust College, as almost his entire team has returned with another year of experience.

After last year's "rebuilding," when many new and promising players were brought in, Anderson sees this year as an intermediate stage where his team is looking to be a spoiler before it is a contender next season.

The key starters are likely to return in fall 1997. MIT has a long way to go to be considered one of the top teams in the Constitution Athletic Conference, Anderson said. But the team has the hardest working players, who know how to "play together and play smart," he said. Anderson believes that these factors are the keys to success at this level of play.

Anderson's challenge stems largely from the facts of coaching at MIT. Building fan support is hard, recruiting is harder, and practice time is hard to work in. Still, the team has good talent, he said.

If Kareem Benjamin '97 "worked hard enough, he could be the best player in the conference," Anderson said. Benjamin is strong in all aspects of the game but had trouble with free throws last year, although in scrimmages he has shown improvement. Although a senior, Benjamin has one year of eligibility left and hopes to return as a grad student next season.

Center Godfrey Inniss '98 is relatively new to the game, coming from Trinidad and Tobago, but he is "one of the best, if not the best, athlete in the conference,"Anderson said.

The most improved player since the beginning of last season, Inniss led the conference in blocks last year and was a defensive force in the middle. Although he still makes some mistakes, Anderson is hoping to develop Inniss's offensive and rebounding skills this year.

Team leader Melvin Pullen '98 was second team all-conference last year with 16 points and six rebounds a game. Anderson considers him one of the best players in the conference. He is the hardest worker and best player on the team, as he brings a winning attitude to the court and his locker room leadership, Anderson said.

The team's main weakness is the lack of a genuine point guard. With freshman hope Craig Talbot '00 temporarily sidelined by injuries, Anderson will have Benjamin and Pullen share the duties, often resorting to an unconventional point forward.

MIT's true improvement may not show in its record this year because the team has assembled a tough schedule that includes several nationally ranked Division III powerhouses, both in and outside of the conference.

This weekend the team is heading to New York City to play in a preseason tournament hosted by nationally ranked New York University. The Engineers will face NYU in the first round of play.

But it is within the conference that the Engineers face their toughest challenges. The home schedule will get off to a quick start with a game against rival Babson College on next Tuesday.

"The guys always get up to play Babson," Anderson said. Babson was co-conference champion last year. Behind the play of their 21.4-points-per-game point guard Michael Kingsley, Babson is ranked sixth in New England and is seeking its third consecutive tournament appearance.

Besides a rematch against Babson on Feb. 20, the other 800-pound gorilla on the Engineers' schedule is Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who the Engineers visit on Nov. 30 and host on Feb. 22.

Although WPI's conference MVP graduated last June, the team has center Jeff Cayer, whom Anderson expects to be the conference most valuable player this year. WPI is probably the best team on MIT's schedule, ranked second in the nation among Division III schools.

But ranked last in the conference and coming off a dismal season, MIT has little pressure, and every win is a big one. Expect these guys to surprise some teams. "We should be ranked last because we were last last year and haven't proven anything," Anderson said.

A shameless plug

For the first time that anyone seems able to remember, you will be able to watch MIT men's and women's basketball from the comfort of your own home (that is, if you live on campus). MIT Student Cable on Channel 36 will be broadcasting just about every home game live, and away games will be on tape delay at times that will be announced on the MITV World Wide Web page.

For the home games, the play-by-play will often be done by a certain Tech sports columnist you might know. The first game is the men's team against Babson next Tuesday at 8 p.m.