Humans of Harker: Dribbling towards new paths

Mike Sullivan embraces opportunities in basketball, computer science and beyond


Kevin Zhang

“Take advantage of opportunities. Harker has so many opportunities for you to explore what you love — as long as you’re here and you’re given these opportunities, definitely take advantage of them,” Mike Sullivan (12) said.

Shouts ring through the Zhang gymnasium as Mike Sullivan (12), spotting a chance to shoot, receives the basketball and dribbles it forward. A defender from the opposing team jumps in front, attempting to block him from shooting, but Mike quickly feints to the right and fakes a shot. The defender dives down, oblivious, allowing Mike to swing to the left and execute a perfect layup. The ball falls smoothly through the net as cheers erupt from his teammates, celebrating Mike’s perfect shot.

Mike recalls the varsity boys basketball team’s win against Crystal Springs Uplands School with a proud smile, reflecting on the extent of his growth since he first started playing basketball. 

“Part of my job as a center is to play very close to the net and go one-on-one with a defender to try to get a shot,” Mike said. “At that point, it was just proving my ability to myself: this is my technique, and I’ve perfected it really well.” 

Mike began playing basketball at a young age when his father realized how tall he was, relative to his peers. However, he only began playing on a school team in high school, joining the freshman and sophomore team in ninth grade. After becoming more integrated with the basketball community, Mike found himself enjoying the sport more.  

“I started liking basketball once I started playing at school,” Mike said. “It became a really good way to make friends and meet with coaches, and it’s a good way to escape from stress and just have fun. People are really chill and encouraging, and you build a really strong connection to them.”

Now, Mike plays the position of center on the varsity boys basketball team, practicing every day and attending games once to twice a week during the season. Assistant coach Eric Lee, who has worked with Mike since ninth grade, recognized not only Mike’s growth throughout his four years on the team, but also his commitment and dedication to basketball.

“Mike took really big strides,” Lee said. “He was in the weight room, he attended anything and everything, even the voluntary [events] for basketball, to try to improve. He just continued to show that he was dedicated and was willing to learn and compete. I’ve watched him grow and develop a more confident approach to the game, and I’m proud of where he’s at.”

When playing, Mike tries not to focus on winning the game or attempting to stand out. Instead, he values learning from his mistakes on the court and actively considers how to contribute to the team’s play at every moment. 

“One of the benefits of thinking play-by-play is that you can have that short-term memory,” Mike said. “Just because I made a shot doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll make it again, and if you miss a shot, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep shooting, because you might make the next one.”

Just as he strives to improve in basketball, Mike carries over this mindset of perseverance in other fields, most notably computer science. His interest in coding originally stemmed from his love for video games as a young child.

Since then, Mike has taken numerous advanced computer science courses and engaged in computational research outside of class. Last summer, he worked with an organization called Inspirit AI to develop an artificial intelligence software that can recognize brain tumors from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This year, for his Expert Systems course, Mike worked on a code-based calculus aid, which can show users how to compute integrals. He finds projects with real-world applications to be the most fulfilling part of pursuing computer science.

“I enjoy doing computer science because I like making cool things,” Mike said. “Everyone talks about computer science because it’s good for data management. But being able to use computer science to make innovations in medicine, that’s really cool.”

Whether it’s basketball or computer science, Mike’s work ethic, reliability and thoughtfulness remain constants in his life. Aaron Tiritoglu (12), who has been friends with Mike since seventh grade, emphasized his strong instinct to help others. 

“I have people who sit at my lunch table and they’re like, ‘I don’t know how to do this. I need help with this.’ I’ll just say, ‘Go ask Mike,’ and point to him outside,” Aaron said. “When they come back, they’re like, ‘He fixed it. He figured it out.’”

Mike’s kindness and dependability are evident to those around him. Laurie Jin (12), who met him in eighth grade, similarly appreciates these qualities of Mike’s. 

“He’s someone I can lean on,” Laurie said. “He’s one of those friends where, even after three months without talking, we can still hang out. He made me realize that I want people like him around me — people I can rely on and that can support each other. He made me realize what I want in a friend.”

Whether he is perfecting his shot on the court or debugging code on his laptop, Mike strives to learn and improve from his past experiences. From mistakes and failure, Mike has grown immensely as a player, programmer and person.

“Take advantage of opportunities,” Mike said. “Harker has so many opportunities for you to explore what you love — as long as you’re here and you’re given these opportunities, definitely take advantage of them.”