“MIT students work hard; no one will challenge that. We may not be the most talented team in the country, but we really know how to hustle,” says Eric Zuk, captain of the MIT Men’s Basketball Team — which in the past few years — really has begun to shine.

Recently, in a tight game against Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the team won the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) championship, landing MIT a spot for the third year in a row in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Tournament.

“Three busloads of MIT fans came to one game,” Zuk says. “You realize that it means much more to play basketball at MIT than at another school, because you’re representing so much more here. MIT is a global brand.

“Maybe sports weren’t associated with MIT in the past, but taking our team to a national tournament, people noticed,” he says. “In a big way, we felt that we were expanding the MIT brand of excellence, and that’s important.” He adds that the team lost that tournament in the second round, but “we were definitely happy with our effort.”

The 13-member team has learned valuable life lessons from playing basketball, Zuk says, including leadership and teamwork, perseverance, dedication, cooperation, discipline, and community spirit. One big lesson, he says, has been learning to lose.

“It’s hard to lose — especially at MIT. A lot of students here don’t know how. It’s just the mental make-up of people at the Institute. But it’s been great to learn to win and lose gracefully, a good lesson for sports and for life.”

Recently, the team got a big lift from alumnus David H. Koch, who for more than 40 years held the MIT men’s basketball single-game scoring record — 41 points. Recently, Koch, who sometimes still attends MIT games, made a major gift to support the men’s team.

“That gift means so much to us,” Zuk says. “The athletic experience is something that we all cherish. At a time when sports budgets and sports programs are being cut, a gift like this will guarantee that the basketball team will stay around for a long time, and that’s great.”

At age 15, Zuk shot up to six-feet-five, intensifying his love of the game. Now studying management science at MIT, Zuk was raised in Carlisle, Mass., and began playing basketball at age seven in church, school, and town leagues. An avid Boston Celtics fan, he often traveled across New England, rooting for his favorite college teams.

“Progressing MIT basketball success is what gets me going,” he says. “I think about leaving MIT better than when the team came in, and that gets me excited to push as hard as I can to guarantee that the day we walk out of here, we can look back and say, we did it; we all helped to make MIT basketball more successful.”