Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ten Best College and High School Basketball Books I Have Read

This is obviously not Big Sky related, but I thought it would be fun to go through the list of the top 10 high school and college basketball books that I have read. I don't pretend to have read them all, and I am positive that if I make this list again in 5 years it would look much different, but I thought it could spark some good discussion, maybe give some ideas to readers on books to read, and hopefully elicit some good suggestions from you guys on what I should read. So, without further ado:

1. Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty
This book shadows head coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony's in New Jersey, and talks about the incredible run that Hurley has had. His teams do not always have the most talent, but his no-nonsense approach works well with kids who come from varied backgrounds. This is not a book about basketball, per se, but about a coach that loves his school and his players, and does what he can to help them out (even if, as in the case of some of the guys, they can't always see it). This is not just one of my favorite books about sports ever written, but one of my favorite books.

2. John Feinstein - A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers
Perhaps the best book about college basketball ever written, it was an eye-opening look at Bob Knight. Chuck Klosterman for Grantland wrote an excellent review of the book here, and I would like to quote a small snippet of his review.

Early in the text, the NCAA suspends junior guard Steve Alford for one nonconference game after his photograph appears in a charity calendar (the charity raised money for handicapped girls who wanted to attend summer camp). It was a crazy, inappropriate penalty that Knight (and pretty much all of America) disagreed with, and the Hoosiers ended up losing the game Alford missed to Kentucky, 63-58. Yet this was how Knight showed his support at practice, three days later: "Alford, you really cost us that game on Saturday and I want you to know I really resent it. I can't forget it. I'm just out of patience with you. … This is a habit with you. You don't listen, whether it's defense or playing hard or this. I don't know about anyone else in here but I resent it and it pisses me off. Because of you we lost to a chickenshit operation. I won't forget that."

More than three weeks later, this was still totally true. "I want to tell you just how mad I was after that Kentucky game," Knight inexplicably tells Alford after throwing him out of practice for disobeying his authority. And what had Alford done to deserve this expulsion? He had looked at Knight3 while being screamed at.

It should be noted that Alford was Knight's most beloved player.
There is a lot more known about Knight than there was at the time this was written, but it still remains a must-read for all college basketball fans to get to know and understand (somewhat) one of the most successful college basketball coaches ever.

3. George Dorhmann - Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine
If you have ever been intrigued by AAU basketball, and in particular the worst of AAU basketball, then this is the book for you. It is a compelling look by Dohrmann at Joe Keller, and the team he ran, built around Demetrius Walker. It is a disturbing look into the recruitment and marketing of kids as young as 6th grade, who are pushed to be basketball stars by the men hoping to catch a break off of them. This is not a book that will be easy to put down, or easy to remain emotionless about.

4. Ben Joravsky - Hoop Dreams: A True Story of Hardship & Triumph
Certainly the documentary is the best hoops related documentary or film ever, and the book is a nice complement to it. I assume everyone that would be reading this is familiar with what Hoop Dreams is, but if not, go rent or buy the documentary now. The book is summed up with its most famous quote by William Gates: "People always say to me, 'When you get to the NBA, don't forget about me.' Well, I should've said back, 'If I don't make it to the NBA, don't you forget about me.'"

5. John Wooden - A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring
Two comments. One, I have not read Wooden's other books (yet), but I have a feeling they may rank higher than this one. Two, I realize this is not directly about basketball, but it's written (in part) by the best basketball coach ever, so it counts here. The first half of the book talks about Wooden's mentors, and it is a great look at how he became the man he did.

6. John Feinstein - The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I College Basketball
Since I write a blog about Big Sky basketball, it is no surprise that I loved this book, which follows the Patriot League for a season. It is a good look at small conference basketball, featuring players that will (as the commercials say) go pro in something other than sports. If you want to read a book on low-major basketball and the beauty of the one bid conference, this may be the one.

7. Seth Davis - When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball
This was a great look by Davis at the 1979 college basketball, culminating in the national championship game between Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores, and Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans. Especially interesting to me was the writings on Bill Hodges, the first year coach for Indiana State. Good research and well written by Seth Davis of SI.

8. John Feinstein - A March to Madness: A View from the Floor in the Atlantic Coast Conference
This is very similar to #6 on this list, only it covers the ACC conference, covering coaches like Coach K and a young Rick Barnes. It is especially compelling when contrasted with The Last Amateurs, as it is interesting to see the difference in the mentions of academics. In all, I highly recommend reading both, especially if you can read them in a similar timeframe.

9. Mitch Albom - The Fab Five: Basketball Trash Talk the American Dream
Obviously, this book is about the career of the Fab Five at Michigan, starting from their recruitment and going through their collegiate careers. It is an interesting look at how they were treated (both good and bad), or given special treatment at times because of their star status. My only complaint about this book was that it doesn't stand the test of time in one respect - the Wolverines eventually came under scandal and scrutiny, but Albom, who followed them closely (enough to write a book) was apparently not close enough to uncover the scandal.

10. Michael Litos - Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball
I wanted to love this book, as it follows the CAA for the year that George Mason made it to the Final Four. The subject was certainly compelling, and for that I would recommend giving it a read. However, I didn't find all of the writing to be extremely compelling, and thought it didn't do as good of a job of covering the inside of a conference like Feinstein's books did. Still, it is worth a read for the Jim Larranaga quotes alone!

What are your thoughts? What did I miss that I should read? I would love any suggestions!

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  1. i may be in the minority, but i really liked ian o'connors "the jump," which chronicles sebastian telfair's senior season.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I haven't read that one but have obviously heard of it.... thanks for the recommendation, I will have to check my eye out to read it!

  3. Thank you for compiling this; I'm always on the lookout for basketball books to read and I haven't read most of these (I mostly read NBA books); these will all be on my shelves soon. I'll second the recommendation for "The Jump" and add "Getting Open" by Tom Graham & Rachel Graham Cody, which chronicles the largely forgotten integration of college basketball at Indiana University by Bill Garrett.

  4. A couple books to add:

    Longshot - The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA by Lance Allred has Big Sky Conference ties, as he played for Joe Cravens at Weber State after two grueling years playing for Rick Majerus at Utah. (Majerus belittled him for his deafness.)

    His followup book is:
    Basketball Gods: The Transformation of the Enlightened Jock
    Follows his play in and out of the D-league and in Europe and Asia.
    I enjoyed reading both.