I have read 5 books in the last week, and the one that impacts me the most emotionally is the last. I have learned different things from the other books, which I gladly will apply to my critical thinking and way of life, but none were as emotionally gripping as The Last Shot. Darcy Frey wrote The Last Shot following the travails of a small group of players from Lincolm High School in Coney Island. It's a book about basketball and its emotional connect to the lives of inner city youths. This is not their American Dream, this is the only way out. As the author says, the American Dream was something you worked hard for, put in your time, and achieved after hard work and patience. This is not remotely close. The young men are treated as commodities by their coaches, teaches, recruiters, agents, friends....everyone. On either side of them lays the pits of failure, drug dealing, drug dependency, dead end jobs and lives.
I think it is a good book to read if you love basketball and are frustrated by the attitudes of today's NBA players. By chance in this book, one of the players Frey follows is a modern NBA star, Stephon Marbury. You hear about the squalor his family lives in, the pressure on him because of previous Marbury family failures, and the attitude he and his father have to the whole system (pay me first). While I think Marbury is a spoiled brat in the NBA, this book shows readers reasons why he acts as he does. He's been told since 5th grade by coaches and outsiders that he is the Man, should be treated better than everyone else and will get $$. It was amazing to read how he could write a book report without a complete sentence, punctuation or capital letters in 9th grade. If he could not play basketball, no one would care.
The recruiting process was amazing to read about, and I do not feel any movie has done it justice (excluding the documentary Hoop Dreams). Hoop Dreams suffered in the recruitment process because of the lack of firepower in the 2 boys they followed. Gates was injured and went from being the next Isaiah Thomas to another really good point guard. Hoop Dreams misses out on the prospect who would be preyed upon by the big time coaches. A boy on the Lincoln High team, Tchaka Shipp is invited to the Nike camp, performs well, is chased by the entire Big East conference, and allows the writer to follow him on campus visits & observe coach visits. A full page (chp 6, pg 123) is devoted to the sales pitch from Jim Boeheim about playing at Syracuse University. It is hysterical to read as he pitches his program and comes across as fake and overaggressive. I guess pizza at anytime is a big draw in his mind. I enjoyed reading each coach's visit, as they tried different approaches to make the connection with Tchaka.
The flip side to the recruiting of Tchaka is the ordeal of Russell Thomas. Russell has the talent but comes with baggage. Because of his unique personality and unlimited determination, your heart is broken by the stories focused on him. Russell is neglected by coaches because of his SAT scoring problems and doubts about his mental-emotional capacity (suicide attempts scare coaches, really?). Russell is the kid that readers can rally around and want to see succeed. A reader wants him succeed because he wants to use basketball to achieve concrete realistic goals. Russell has a dream of a 4 year degree, becoming a registered nurse, and never going back to Coney Island. It's a plan that readers have heard plenty of times before, just substitute hick town USA for Coney Island.
A wonderful thing about this book is that it shows these inner city, black youths in a light that few people could honestly imagine them. Russell just wants to live a 'normal' life where he can raise a family. Corey is extremely creative whether it is words, basketball, song or dance. Tchaka has his eyes on the NBA but realizes the free degree as being his big prize. The book describes a game against suburban white kids where the white fans get nasty. I can easily imagine that happening in my hometown. As a player for a suburban white high school, I remember being the unfortunate soul that seemed to always have to cover the 1 black guy on the opposing team (I was a defensive wiz & fast). My teammates would say "Is he our age? Can you cover the man-child?" and other assorted racist or borderline racist comments. Basketball has always been racially charged, and I think this book would help alter some preconceived notions. To read about the hopes, the dreams, the pressure, the obstacles, the pain is an enriching experience. I would recommend this book to any basketball fan or a fan of character studies, and make sure to watch Hoop Dreams.
As a final thought, the young men are all studying and hoping to score over 700 combined on their SATs. Think about that....a combined 700. Sounds low, but read this book, 700 might look like a whole new number.