“I chose MIT because it’s the best engineering school in the world,” says Craig Heffernan, “and it was also a bonus that I could play basketball.”

At 6-feet, 7-inches tall, Heffernan is now co-captain of the men’s varsity basketball team, where he plays center. Last year he was the team’s leading scorer with 19 points per game.

The 21-year-old senior from Red Bluff, California, who is majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, last year was named to the GTE Academic All-America Basketball Team. He was chosen for the honorary team because he is not only a great athlete but a great student.

“Just interacting with my teammates alone has been a great education,” he says. “The friends I’ve made on the team are the closest ones I’ve ever had. You see these people every day; you go through tough practices together; you go on road trips. It really forms a bond.”

Heffernan has played basketball since he was 11, when he and his older brother first dribbled a basketball together in the backyard. “I always wanted to be like my him,” he says of his brother who is 6’9” and who also went to MIT. “I looked up to him – literally.

“Being on the team, I’ve learned a lot about leadership,” he says. “Basketball is like the business world in that there’s a big emphasis on groups and teams. People have strengths and weaknesses, and as a leader, you have to help everybody put forth their strong side. You have to make sure you’re all working together so the sum is greater than the parts.

“Playing sports you learn to focus and you learn quick decision-making skills. And you learn even more when you lose than when you win. You’ve got to figure out what to do to improve.

“When you leave the basketball court, life is full of little competitions,” he says, “you have to learn how to cope.”