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IIT Men's Hoops Center Relishes A Second Chance to Play Varsity Ball

By Justin Breen | February 22, 2013 7:44am

BRONZEVILLE — When the Illinois Institute of Technology disbanded its men's basketball program in 2009, Ian Sisson was left with a remarkably difficult decision for a college freshman.

Sisson, a standout center the previous season with the Scarlet Hawks, could transfer, which the other six players on scholarship in his signing class did when they received the news.

Or he could stay, remaining on a full-tuition scholarship but likely never playing a game of varsity collegiate hoops again.

"I stayed because of the school's academics, and I never thought I would see basketball come back during my time here," said Sisson, 23.

But in a strange twist of fate, hoops did return to IIT in July. The school, which will be transitioning from NAIA Division II to NCAA Division III, needed to add three teams over the summer to meet an NCAA minimum requirement.

One of them was men's basketball.

"I think the timing was kind of perfect in the way it worked out," Sisson said. "And I really wanted to be a part of it."

IIT director of athletics Enzley Mitchell IV, who's also the head basketball coach, said Sisson has been one of the biggest factors in the team's revival.

During his three-year varsity basketball hiatus, Sisson switched majors from civil engineering to the more strenuous five-year architecture program.

But he also helped create an IIT men's basketball club team, and six of those players became the foundation of this season's collegiate squad.

"A lot of why we started the program is because of him," said Mitchell, who filled out the rest of the 13-player roster after holding open tryouts.

Mitchell said Sisson is by far IIT's best player. Most of the Scarlet Hawks, who are 3-15 and finish their season Saturday against DeVry, have no high school basketball background on their resumes.

"A lot of the guys don't have too much experience, and I guess that's putting it lightly," IIT guard Alex Babusci said.

That isn't the case for the 6-foot-9-inch Sisson, who, after a stellar career at Thornapple Kellogg (Mich.) High School, chose IIT over Boston University, several Ivy League schools and a plethora of Division II institutions.

"When I first saw him playing ball as a freshman, I could tell he was a solid player," said IIT graduate Trevor Townsend, a Juarez High School alum who coached Sisson's club team. "I know it's been a tough adjustment for him because he's been out of playing against real competition for so long."

Babusci said many of the offensive sets are run through Sisson, who averages 26.1 minutes per game and a team-high 11.4 points per contest.

"He's heaps above everybody else," shooting guard Josh Buck said. "That we've been able to win any games, Ian is a big reason why."

For Sisson and his mother, Jennifer Smith, this season hasn't been about IIT's record. Smith has attended most of Sisson's 11 home games despite living three hours away in Michigan.

"I've driven through a blizzard or two to get there," Smith said. "It doesn't matter if they win or lose; it's just a fantastic opportunity to see him play."

Sisson said he still routinely asks himself whether it was worth it to stay at IIT.

He said a better answer will come after he graduates and finds a job, hopefully in large-scale urban planning and urban design.

"As far as basketball, things played out pretty well for me," Sisson said. "I just hope the future of IIT athletics is great."