Michael Chiswick-Patterson '02 was surrounded by small, clamoring bodies, as though he were the ice cream man and they were asking for fudge sundaes instead of a basketball scrimmage.
It was right before the third practice of the season for La Borgataj, one of 14 teams in the junior boy's division of the Dillon Youth Basketball League. Princeton's local recreation department runs the league and uses University students to coach its 28 teams.
Staring imploringly at Chiswick-Patterson and his co-coach Chris Roser-Jones '02, the eight boys bounced around the bleachers like beachballs in their eagerness to play.
Across the gym at the John Witherspoon School, located north of Nassau Street, tall 12- and 13-year-old girls were wandering onto the court.
"How about scrimmaging the girls?" Chiswick-Patterson asked his winless team. The boys, ranging in age from nine to 11, exchanged stares.
"You're afraid of the girls!" Chiswick-Patterson accused.
There was an immediate chorus of stout denial, volunteers' hands flying into the air everywhere.
But with a small grin, 11-year-old Peter Callahan broke through the bravado. "But what if we lose?" he asked. "We'll look really, really bad."
Nobody said anything and the matter was quietly dropped. The boys trotted onto the court to begin lay-up drills.
La Borgataj joins four other teams that have yet to record a victory this season, though according to league director Bob Nuse the team has drawn the toughest schedule.
The first game was close. La Borgataj lost 15-12, but outshot their opponents by a considerable margin. The next game was not as close, and they suffered a 23-16 defeat. The third game, during which a substitute coach led the team, was a 30-10 blowout.
But their record does not seem to matter, or stop the smiles, or the enthusiastic take-downs during boxing out drills. For La Borgataj, it is not about winning games. It is about having fun.
"They're so excited," Roser-Jones said. "I always walk away laughing about something that they did. They don't know the game that well, but they're having a good time and it's good to see."
La Borgataj's lighthearted approach also has helped some of its players ease into a new community. Steven Zecca and Nicolas Rouco both moved to Princeton within the past three months.
"It's really been good, it really has," Steven's mother Phyllis said, watching her son practice. "It just makes you feel a little bit a part of things when you jump right in."
Nicolas' mother Maryellen echoed those sentiments. "It is the coolest thing in the world for him to walk onto the University and feel important," she said, referring to the league's Saturday morning games in Dillon Gym. "They've lost every game and they're so happy. They might not be the winningest team, but they're certainly having the most fun."