Monday, February 8, 2010

Former MIT Star, Jimmy Bartolotta, Talks About His MIT Recruiting Experience

Jimmy Bartolotta (Englewood, CO) is the most decorated basketball player in MIT history. During his career, he scored the most points (2279) in MIT and NEWMAC history. The 800 points he scored as a senior, and his average of 27.6 ppg, are also both Institute records. In all Bartolotta holds, or is tied for, 16 MIT basketball records and is ranked in the top 10 of nearly every single game, season, and career statistical category in MIT history. He was the NEWMAC Newcomer of the Year as freshman in 2006, was a First-Team All-Conference Selection three times, and was the conference Player of the Year as a senior. He was also Academic All-Conference for three seasons (freshmen are not eligible for this honor). He was named Northeast Player of the Year (2009) and Northeast region 1st-Team (2008 and 2009) by, as well as 1st-team All-American as a senior and National Player of the Year. The National Association of Basketball Coaches also named him a 1st-team All-American and National Player of the Year (2009). For this honor, he participated in the Divison I NABC Senior All-Star game at the site of the Division I Final Four. Additionally, he was named the CoSida/ESPN the Magazine Academic All-American of the Year (2009) and to their Academic All-American 1st team for the second consecutive year (2008 and 2009). He capped off his career by winning the most prestigious award in Division III basketball, the Jostens Trophy, given to the top student-athlete in the country.

Jimmy shared with us at his experience selecting a school out of high school and how his experience was studying and playing basketball at MIT.

mitbasketballblog (MITBBB): How did you hear about MIT when you were first thinking about colleges in high school?

Jimmy Bartolotta (JB): Since my father is an aerospace engineer, I grew up in a household that definitely appreciated scientific intellect. So I guess I first learned about MIT when I was fairly young. Up until my senior year in high school I had only thought about the school as a premier academic institution and not much else.

MITBBB: How seriously were you initially considering MIT? What did you expect from the school?

JB: Whatever is the exact opposite of serious, that's was my mindset towards MIT. My parents essentially forced my to send game tape to the MIT Basketball program. Ivy League schools were requesting game film so I made a few extra copies and sent them to some of the other outstanding academic colleges and universities that I was considering attending. I thought MIT kids would lack social skills, lack extracurricular activities, and be bad at sports, especially basketball. Wow, I couldn't have been more wrong.

MITBBB: What made you decide to come to MIT?

JB: One day I was taking a pre-match nap for my high school tennis match when MIT's head assistant coach, Oliver Eslinger, who is now the head coach at Cal Tech, called and spoke with my mom for over an hour about the program and such. During the two weeks between the end tennis season and the beginning of basketball I made a 3 day trip to MIT. I fell in love with Boston (my trip coincided with the start of the World Series which the Red Sox won), the coaching staff, and I was surprised by just how good the players on the basketball team were. Ultimately, it was the coaching staff, the academic prestige, and the opportunity to play and make an immediate impact that brought me to MIT.

MITBBB: How was your academic experience at MIT?

JB: My first few months at MIT were some of the most demanding that I had ever experienced. I felt like I didn't belong in the school academically. I think this feeling is mutual for about 50% of first year students. Like with anything, you grow, develop, and learn how to handle the academic grind that is MIT. I had a few "all-nighters", I failed a few tests, but I also left the school with confidence and sense of accomplishment that will stay with me forever. By my junior and senior years, I thoroughly enjoyed the classes and felt completely comfortable in my ability as a student.

MITBBB: What was your experience outside of the classroom like (not including sports)?

JB: My experience outside of athletics and academics was typical of most college students. Although MIT doesn't put 100,000 people in a football stadium, 10 of my closest friends and I would drive to all the away football away games to tailgate and cheer on our friends. About 80% of the basketball team lives together and we definitely enjoyed our time in Boston. I went to Red Sox, Celtics, and big time NCAA basketball games. I went to concerts and ate in great restaurants. In the summer we would make trips to the beach, walk around on the Freedom Trail, and try to talk to girls who were out shopping on Newbury Street. And that is all the stuff off of MIT campus. I participated in a UROP which is an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program where I did consulting work for the PGA Tour. My teammates and I went to performances, lectures, and date functions.

MITBBB: Was the basketball team what you expected?

JB: No! My MIT basketball experience is so hard to put into words. Like all programs, and I've recently played with guys from Duke/Pitt/Illinois who say the same, there are going to be some serious ups and downs. The basketball commitment is legitimate and it takes a very strong player to succeed. One of the great things about the program is besides being on the court with all the players, I found myself eating, studying, and living with most of them. I've never been on a team that had the camaraderie and companionship that my teams had at MIT. When I came to MIT in 2005, I was one of five recruits. We had a 5'9" PG, I was a 6'4" SG, we had a 6'5" G/F, a 6'8" G/F, and a 6'10" C. That was definitely not what I was expecting from MIT basketball.

MITBBB: How did you like playing for Coach Larry Anderson?

JB: Coach Larry Anderson is one of those people that truly cares about every person that he is around. Over my four years I had the opportunity to develop a father/son relationship with Coach Anderson that continues to this day. I am from Colorado and it was hard to go away from home and really have no influential adults in my life besides professors and coaches. I went with Coach to watch potential recruits play, to see his son and daughter play basketball or soccer, and to scout opposing teams. I've never met a man who loves his job as much as Coach Anderson. Not many people know this, but Coach Anderson has had the opportunity to "move up" in the coaching/business world but has consistenly refused because he says that he, "has that best job in the whole world."

On the court Coach Larry Anderson is the best skills development coach that I have ever played under. I attribute my growth from a solid freshman player to the DIII Player of the Year to Coach Anderson's guidance and confidence. He would tell me something to work on, how to do it, and I worked hard on that skill. He then gave me his confidence to use that skill in games. Coach Anderson is also an outstanding game coach. He makes adjustments and draws up plays that just work. He appreciates hard work and measures success based on the journey, not the outcome. The point guard my freshman year said, "The one thing about Coach Anderson, no one wants to win more than him." That is the kind of coach I want on to coach me.

MITBBB: Do you feel the expectations and/or atmosphere around the MIT basketball programs has changed since you first arrived on campus?

JB: The simple answer, yes. When I first arrived at MIT the basketball program was another sport that could be good or could be bad. The fan support was mediocre and not many people outside of the athletes and athletic department knew about the team or the team members. During my senior year it all changed. Besides being chronicled in the New York Times, ESPN, the Boston Globe, and many other media outlets, our team began turning heads on campus.
We took pride in our "give back" attitude and attended many other sporting events and extra-curricular activities across MIT as a team in order to show our support for other programs. It got noticed and our gym started to fill up. Students were calling administrators to ask to rent full buses to take students to away games. Professors and students that we didn't know started congratulating us at every lecture and our phones and emails were full from people across the US wishing us luck. The basketball program truly gained the support of the entire MIT community, past and present.

MITBBB: What are you most proud of during your time at MIT (non-athletic)?

JB: My most proud moment at MIT occurred on the day of commencement/graduation. President Susan Hockfield, who had attended a few of our late season basketball games, was handing out degrees to each student when their name was called. When it was my turn to step up, I approached her and before I walked away she stopped me. I was surprised and she said, "Jimmy, congratulations and thank you for all that you've done for the institute." I replied in jest, "Well thank you for all that you've done for the institute" and walked and sat down. In that moment I held my two degrees from MIT and I truly felt like I had accomplished something for myself, my family, and the school.

MITBBB: What are you most proud of in your basketball career at MIT?

JB: My most proud moment of my basketball career is two fold. The first was winning our league championship, something that we shared as a team, in front of my parents. That represented all the work that we had put in over the past four years. The other proud moment would be when I sent a text to my parents that said I won the Josten's and the ESPN/Co-SIDA Academic All-American of the Year. Those two awards, even more than DIII Player of the Year, meant the most to me. I've always wanted to make my parents proud and I think those two awards did.

MITBBB: What is your best memory of being at MIT?

JB: My best memory of MIT occurred during the NCAA first round game at nationally ranked Rhode Island College. We played a lackluster first half and were down 8 at halftime. The mood in the locker room was sour and coach was trying to pump us up. When we started to walk back to the court we heard "M-I-T...M-I-T" chanting unbelievably loud. I was the last player to walk back into the gym and I will never forget the emotions that rushed through me at that moment. Our caravan of student buses had arrived and the gym was full of body painted, MIT crazy fans screaming. It was what I had literally dreamed about since going to MIT and to experience that support was life changing. We came into the second half on fire and ended up winning the game. It will always be my favorite memory that I can share with all of my best friends who were in attendance.

MITBBB: How do you feel attending and playing for MIT has improved you as a person?

JB: First, my ability to lead is probably the most improved part of me. At MIT I learned how to deal with many people, from many different backgrounds, and did a lot of self-reflecting. No one at MIT was there to hold my hand to make sure I'm comfortable which led to a lot of personal growth. I sharpened my work ethic and drive. I befriended people who taught me compassion and caring. I am comfortable with who I am and know the type of person I want to be in the future.

MITBBB: How has MIT prepared you for the rest of your career (on or off the court)?

JB: One of the most amazing things about MIT is the networking. I've been offered multiple jobs simply because of MIT and basketball. A friend down the hall from me my freshman year had been a computer programmer for AOL since he was 12. Simply being in class and living with those types of brilliant people builds connections that are hard to find in other ways. MIT basketball helped me become the player that I am now which translates nicely to a career in sports. I hope to play basketball for many years and I know that without my teammates and coaches at MIT, that dream wouldn't be possible.

MITBBB: Do you feel playing basketball for MIT allowed you to achieve all the personal and team goals you set for yourself before picking a college out of high school?

JB: Yes and more so. I wanted to have a good college experience both on the court and off. I never would have imagined I could to get two degrees, share a championship with my teammates and school, and get the individual accolades that I did.

MITBBB: Do you feel you would have the opportunity to do what you are doing now if you had gone to another school?

JB: I'm sure there are other schools that would have been great experiences, however, I honestly believe that MIT was the only school that offered me the academics and athletics to accomplish the things I have.

MITBBB: In your opinion, what is unique to the MIT community and the MIT basketball program?

JB: There really isn't any break for being an athlete at MIT. That means that if you get into MIT, it is because you belong there. If you get good grades, it’s because you've earned those grades. That prepares the student-athletes for the real world like nothing else can. Similarly, if you are a good student and player, people recognize that it is because you are great at both. Sometimes students at other very good academic institutions are viewed only as "athletes who got passes." It definitely isn't viewed like that after you leave MIT.

MITBBB: What would you say to a recruit trying to make a decision about where to play college basketball?

JB: Give it a look. Don't discount the idea before you see if it is a right fit. Also, bring your A game when you visit or you might be sitting on the side for most of the open gym. The basketball players take pride in ripping down the stereo-types so we would make sure to give recruits all they could handle when they came to play.