“After weeks of grinding and studying in East Pyne and Firestone, there’s nothing like fighting between the lines,” sophomore Braden Lalin told The Daily Princetonian after his team, the Travelers, emerged victorious from the championship game of this year’s 5v5 intramural basketball season.
The team — comprised of a group of friends who share a love for basketball and a plethora of Phoenix Suns basketball jerseys — earned a box of “IM Sports Champ” T-shirts as their coveted prize.
The Travelers defeated Straight Biz 42–34 in the title bout. The two teams met earlier in the season during group play in a Nov. 1 matchup that saw Straight Biz fall by just four points. 5v5 basketball is only one of Campus Rec’s six fall intramural (IM) sports offerings — others include spikeball, dodgeball, 4v4 outdoor soccer, and more.
We asked Travelers junior Gordon Helmers if he thinks that IMs are a big part of Princeton culture. “One hundred percent,” Helmers responded. “It’s the best part of the culture; I live for this experience,” he added, visibly emotional after the win. Helmers hit a series of clutch shots for the Travelers down the stretch, including a dagger three to put the Travelers up six with just over a minute to play.
The intramural basketball bracket functions as follows: a total of 10 teams are randomly split into two groups of five — the Princeton division and the Tiger division. During the regular season, each team plays every other team in their division once in evening games played in Dillon Gymnasium. The games are scheduled and staffed by Campus Rec employees who keep score and work the clock.
At the end of the regular season, the seven teams with the best records qualify for the playoff bracket. This year, it was the Care Bears who earned the number one overall seed and a first-round bye heading into the postseason after going undefeated in division play. In what has become an annual competition, graduate students, residential colleges, eating clubs, and groups of friends, like the Travelers, assemble teams to register for the season.
“I definitely think that IM basketball has helped me become closer with different people; I’ve met most of my friends here actually through basketball,” sophomore Za’an Burrell told the ‘Prince.’ Burrell played for the Care Bears this season. “My freshman year, Matt Drapkin, I met him through IMs; we didn’t even know each other but were on the same IM team, and now we’re roommates,” added Burrell. He and Drapkin make up the Care Bears’ backcourt.
Drapkin is an assistant Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’
The Care Bears were stunned by Straight Biz on Monday night, who bested them 48–45 to earn their spot in the championship game. “It was a dog fight,” Burrell told the ‘Prince’ about the heated matchup. “With our size disadvantage, we relied mostly on shooting, and that night just happened to not be one of our better shooting performances,” he added about the loss.
Straight Biz’s size was certainly on display in the title match, namely in the form of 6’7” senior Toluwaleyi Adebayo, who played for the Princeton varsity men’s basketball team last year during their run to the Sweet Sixteen of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Adebayo has since left the team and can often be found enjoying himself playing pick-up basketball in Dillon Gym.
The story of the game was undoubtedly Adebayo’s late arrival to the 7:00 p.m. tip-off and his ensuing dominance. “Obviously, dinner starts at 6:00 p.m., and I usually end up getting to dinner at 6:15, and obviously, I just need my food to digest a little bit,” Adebayo told the ‘Prince.”
After the Travelers opened the game on an 11–0 run, the game was on blowout alert, but then Adebayo checked into the game. With no warm up, he hit back-to-back contested three-pointers to put Straight Biz right back in it.
But the Travelers were prepared for Adebayo. “We were expecting that,” said Helmers concerning Adebayo’s shot-making — the Travelers pride themselves on their defense. “It starts with defense and ends with defense,” said Lalin, who finished the game with 4 steals and several blocks, about the Traveler's keys to the game.
Former men’s soccer Ivy League rookie of the year Walker Gillespie took up the challenge of guarding Adebayo for the Travelers. “Walker’s a really good one-on-one defender, a physical defender,” said Adebayo. Gillespie ensured that all of Adebayo’s jump shots were contested. Straight Biz’s 34-point total in the championship game was their lowest of the season.
Despite Adebayo’s early success, the Travelers took a lead into the half. “We’re gonna get them; this will be a win, I guarantee it, this will be a win,” the Travelers’ head coach, junior Andres Colmanares, told the ‘Prince.’
Colmanares shared some words of encouragement with his team at the break, plagiarizing word for word Coach Herb Brooks’ address to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team before their infamous match against the USSR, as recounted by Kurt Russell in the 2004 film “Miracle.”
The Travelers would continue to rely on their defense in the second half to earn the win. They celebrated as if they’d just won the NBA Finals.
For Princeton students who love basketball, Dillon Gymnasium is a sacred space. “It’s a family-like community, everyone kind of knows everyone, it’s a great environment to be a part of,” Adebayo said about Dillon basketball.
The two teams played in front of a sizable crowd of Princeton students. “It was amazing to see, given it was just an IM game,” Adebayo said. “It just shows the type of community we have here at Princeton, people just happy to support others … it speaks loudly to the high-quality people that we have at this university.”
Diego Uribe is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]princeton.edu.