Hoops Addict Podcast: Bill Woten Interview

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of reading Bill Woten’s book “Game 7: Inside The NBA’s Ultimate Showdown” and after exchanging some emails with Bill last week he agreed to come onto the Hoops Addict Podcast to discuss his book.

Some of the topics we cover during this interview include:

  • What motivated him to write about all of the Game 7’s that have occurred in the history of the NBA?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
  • What has been the most rewarding part of writing this book?
  • What were some of the struggles that you faced while trying to get this book published?
  • There were two quotes by Rick Fox on Kobe Bryant that explained how Bryant rubbed some teammates the wrong way early in his career and I had Bill talk about these quotes and why he chose to include them in his book.
  • In a chapter called “Duel At The Garden” he talked about Dominique Wilkins being one of the greatest players of his era yet not getting all the credit he deserved because he never won a championship so I asked Bill if he thought that Vince Carter is this generation’s version of Wilkins.
  • As of the 2006 season 96 playoff series were decided by a game seven. So far in the NBA playoffs only the Utah-Houston opening round series has gone seven games so I had Bill talk about if he were to include this series in the next release of your book what he would write about.

Click here to listen to this Hoops Addict Podcast.

Andrew Blauner Interview

By Ryan McNeill

After reading through Andrew Blauner’s book “Coach: 25 Writers Reflect on People Who Made a Difference” this winter I was surprised to see that Andrew had come across my site and took the time to write up an email last week to thank me for mentioning his book in some posts that I have made recently on Al McGuire. After exchanging some emails I summoned up the courage to ask Andrew for 20 minutes of his time for an interview about his book and he graciously accepted.

Some of the topics that we covered during our chat include:

  • Why he choose to write a book about coaches
  • What it was like to get some of his favourite writers to contribute to this book
  • My favourite chapter in his book was the one that Frank Deford wrote on Al McGuire. Andrew gives listeners some insight into this chapter and why he included it even though he grew up as a Notre Dame fan
  • One of the more interesting chapters was chapter written by Jane Leavy called “Coaching Bob” that deals with a woman being a “death coach” to a man. Andrew tells listeners a about this chapter and explains how this article found it’s way into the book about sports.

Click here to listen to this Hoops Addict Podcast.

Adrian Wojnarowski Interview

By Ryan McNeill

This Hoops Addict Podcast is a gem because I was able to get Adrian Wojnarowski on the show to talk about his national best seller “The Miracle of St Anthony.” Adrian writes for Yahoo Sports and his book “The Miracle of St. Anthony” is a national best seller.

For his book Adrian chronicled a year in the St Anthony basketball program and he is able to provide readers with some great insight into Coach Hurley’s program and all of the struggles that the coach and players faced that season. As a basketball coach I loved reading this book because it gave me some great insight into one of the best high school coaches of all-time. Coach Hurley has won 22 state championships, two USA TODAY national titles and has an amazing 847-97 at a school with no home gym and a student enrollment under 300.

During this interview Adrian chatted with me about how he was given permission to document the team, some of his favourite memories of documenting the team for a season and he talked about some of his favourite players on the team.

Click here to listen to the interview with Adrian Wojnarowski.

Matt de la Pena Interview

By Ryan McNeill

This winter I had the chance to read “Ball Don’t Lie” by Matt de la Pena and it instantly become one of my favourite books. The development of Sticky was so riveting that I found myself staying up past midnight reading it because I couldn’t put the book down and I found myself rooting him on despite all of his personality quirks. If you haven’t had a chance to read this book make sure you head out to your local bookstore this weekend and pick up a copy of this classic novel.

A couple months ago I was lucky enough to chat with Matt for 30 minutes about his book and the upcoming movie based on his novel. Because of the shift from 360ThePitch.com to MVN.com I’ve had to repost some of my older podcasts and I thought this would be a good time to repost one of my favourite interviews.

Some of the topics we covered were;

* What it’s like to have Grayson “The Professor” Boucher, Sharon Stone and hottie Taryn Manning sign up to be part of this movie
* He talked about playing against Steve Nash while he was on a hoops scholarship at Pacific
* We talked about what it was like to go from being a starving writer for four years to having his book picked up by a publishing company and the rights to his movie picked up all within six months
* He talked about what it’s like to have NBA stars like Antawn Jamison write to him about being fans of his book

Matt provided some great answers to my questions and this is one of my favourite interviews that I’ve conducted for my Hoops Addict Podcast series. Bare with me as I stumble through some of my questions because Matt does a great job of throwing back some answers at me that will entertain and enlighten basketball fans.

To listen to this Hoops Addict Podcast click here.

Rus Bradburd Interview

By Ryan McNeill

For this Hoops Addict Podcast I had the chance to chat with Rus Bradburd about his book “Paddy on the Hardwood.” Rus has coached alongside two of the top coaches in the history of college hoops in Lou Henson and Don Haskins (who the movie Glory Road was based on) but he got “burnt out” with college ball and decided to head to Ireland for a year. During his time in Ireland he coached a pro team while he finished writing a book and learned how to fiddle. Instead of a enjoying a relaxing year away from stresses of coaching college ball he was drawn emotionally into a rag tag team and “Paddy on the Hardwood” is a recount of his year coaching pro ball in Ireland.

Some of the topics I had the chance to chat with Rus about include;

– His reasons for writing this book and why he decided to spend a year coaching in Ireland
– Some of the rough conditions he endured playing at The Sports Complex in Ireland
– What it was like having to have a home game moved to the other teams home court
– What it was like to go from coaching in a country where basketball is one of the lead stories to somewhere like Ireland where game recaps were barely mentioned in the sports section
– Rus had the chance to coach alongside Lou Henson and that coach disliked cursing because it showed a lack of emotional control. Rus talked about frustrating was it to hear Kieran Donaghy drop the F bomb so often
– Some of the highs and lows of having Antoine Gillespie join and then leave the team midway through the season
– What it was like to train Earl Watson and Jerry West’s son when he returned to America
– In “Paddy on the Hardwood” Rus wrote about a desire to become a writer but as I read through his book it’s clear that coaching is still in his blood. We talked about if he has any intention to return to coaching

If you haven’t had a chance to check out a Hoops Addict Podcast then this is the perfect time to check one out. Besides the great insights Rus provides listening to this Podcast will give you the prefect excuse to pop open a can of Guinness while he talks about his experiences coaching in Ireland.

Click here to listen to this Hoops Addict Podcast.

Book Review: “Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich”

By Ryan McNeill

I was fortunate to be sent a copy of Mark Kriegel’s book “Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich” to review on HoopsAddict.com and after picking it up Sunday afternoon and I wasn’t able to put the book down until I had devoured all 323 pages of this epic biography. Since I’m in my mid-20’s I wasn’t able to witness the genius of Pistol Pete firsthand so this book provided me some great insight into what shaped and transformed Pete into the basketball player he was and the amazing transformation that occurred in his personal life shortly after he retired from the NBA.

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Book Review: “The Last Shot” by Darcy Frey

By Ryan McNeill

While searching through Chapters last month a book that caught my attention was Darcy Frey’s “The Last Shot” because it featured an in-depth look at Stephon Marbury’s high school career. While the feature on Marbury’s high school career motivated me to read this book the insight into the perils and pitfalls that await teenage boys growing up in Coney Island is what made this a book I won’t easily forget.

In “The Last Shot” author Darcy Frey describes Coney Island as a place of desolation and despair where the only source of hope comes when young men who are gifted at basketball because it provides them with a chance to escape the neighbourhood they grew up in. As Frey noted in his introduction, “even the dealers and hoodlums refrain from vandalizing The Garden, because in Coney Island the possibility of transcendence through basketball – in this case, an athletic scholarship to a four-year Division 1 college – is an article of faith.”

The idea of less fortunate teens earning scholarships is an ideal that I’ve long viewed as a reward for someone working hard on the court and in the classroom. However, after reading this book I came to the painful realization that this is just an ideal which has little basis in reality. According to Frey I’m one of the many basketball fans that have bought into the myth that young men with athletic talent can secure a scholarship at a Division 1 school. However, because of impoverished learning conditions far too many of these young men are not able to attend D1 schools because they can not obtain a score over 700 on their SAT’s.

Brent Staples explained this dilemma perfectly when he wrote in his New York Times review for “The Last Shot” that:

The myth of deliverance through basketball has always been nonsense. The sport has traditionally involved semiliterate athletes who performed mightily in gyms, failed in classrooms and were discarded when their scholarships ran out. But the competition for these athletes grew heated in the 1980’s, after the National Collegiate Athletic Association signed a billion-dollar contract for television rights to college basketball — and when winning coaches began to earn additional millions for themselves by fronting for the sneaker companies. When Congress and the press put up too much of a stink about poorly educated athletes who never graduated, the N.C.A.A. responded with Proposition 48, raising eligibility standards for those seeking to play big-time college ball in their freshman year. To be eligible for freshman play, an athlete needs a 2.0 average in a high school core curriculum — and a combined score of at least 700 on the Scholastic Assessment Tests (S.A.T.), about 200 points below the national average for college-bound seniors.

Those who fall short of 700 are grimly referred to as “Prop 48 casualties.” Scholarship offers are withdrawn. College coaches look upon these athletes as damaged goods. Illicit characters called street agents broker them to outlaw junior colleges, where they play without even the pretense of being students. The players kick around the outlaw circuit, dropping out of one school and into another, until they end up back at home — in the case of Coney Island, peddling cold sodas on the scorching summer sidewalks. Proposition 48 came into being in 1986. Since then, Mr. Frey tells us, 91 percent of its casualties have been black.

A perfect example of athletic scholarships being a mirage is found in “The Last Shot” when Frey documents the senior season of star guard Russell Thomas. Thomas was a 6’2″ guard that has the ability to explode for 50 points in a game while locking down an opposing team’s star player to under 10 points. As I read about Thomas spending countless hours honing his game in solitude and then spending extra time working on his marks at his kitchen table I assumed that a student with an 80% average would be a lock to obtain a basketball scholarship to a D1 school.

Frey mercilessly ripped apart this assumption in his book when he documented how Thomas was unable to escape Coney Island because of his low SAT scores.

As the senior season starter Thomas laid out his one goal for his senior season – to obtain a score higher than 700 on his SAT’s so that he could attend a four-year college and get a degree in nursing. Unlike most of his peers who hold onto lofty goals of playing in the NBA and making millions, all Thomas wanted was a chance to get a degree and secure a well paying job. To reach this goal Thomas carried around vocabulary cards, spent hours each night doing prep work for the SAT’s and even sought out the guidance of his teachers to be fully prepared for the SAT test.

Frey addressed the uphill battle that Thomas faced when he wrote:

Getting a 700 – the eligibility requirement for Division 1 ball – did not strike me at first as a rigorous standard. But the national average for college-bound seniors, it turns out, is only about 800. And after becoming better acquainted with the quality of Lincoln players’ schooling and the environment in which they live, I am less surprised that they may not know a synonym for panache or how to make the most of what they do know; they’ve never been told, for example, to avoid guessing and answer only the questions they are sure of – the kind of test-taking tip suburban kids learn on their first day in a $600 Stanley Kaplan review course. Russell, after all, is struggling to answer reading comprehension and algebra questions on the SATs when he had never, until recently, finished a book or learned the fundamentals of multiplication. And the repeated frustrations of this test – the first of it’s kind he has even taken in his life – are making him doubt the conviction that gave him such pleasure just a few months ago: namely, that he wasn’t dumb; he just had never been properly taught how to learn.

Thomas wrote the SAT test countless times during his senior season and unfortunately the closest he came was midway through his senior season when he scored a 690. Without a score higher than 700 all of the interest he had garnered from D1 coaches in the fall after strong play in summer leagues shrivelled up by Christmas.

After reading this book I was filled with the same disillusionment that Frey faced while writing about his experiences following the Lincoln team. I found myself wondering how a student can pull down an 80% average yet not have the ability to achieve a score higher than 700 on his SAT’s or how can a student put in countless hours preparing for a test yet not possess the tools to do well on that test. The only answer I could muster is that the education system let him down and as an elementary school teacher I was ashamed of my profession and the fact that we had failed to provide a child with the tools so that he could be successful.

Tracking the plight of Russell Thomas is just one of the numerous reasons to check out “The Last Shot.” There’s a ton of insight into what goes on at the Nike Invitational, you are given a glimpse into what life is like for a teen growing up in Coney Island and there are rivetting stories about shady recruiting techniques from college coaches like Jim Boeheim and Rick Barnes. If your looking for an informative and entertaining book I’d like to recommend that you pick up Darcy Frey’s “The Last Shot.”

Book Review: “Transition Game: How Hoosiers Went Hip-Hop”

By Ryan McNeill

While searching through the sports section at Chapters last month for a book to read over my Christmas break a book that immediately grabbed my attention was “Transition Game: How Hoosiers Went Hip-Hop” by Jon Wertheim. The concept of melding the state of Indiana with Hip-Hop combined with Ron Artest on the cover was an tantalizing tandem so I quickly snagged this book.

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Book Review: “Paddy on the Hardwood”

By Ryan McNeill

When I first read the email from Rus Bradburd offering me a chance to read his book “Paddy on the Hardwood” I was hesitant to give up a couple hours of my time to read a book that involved fiddling. Maybe it’s the Irish blood coursing through my veins but the fiddling stories grew on me and as I read through this book I quickly found myself captured in all the stories he told about his time coaching in Ireland.

Part of the reason why this book grabbed my attention is because of the humour that Rus was able to add into stories about his year teaching in Ireland. Some of the jokes that I enjoyed were when he talked about a tobacco shop named “The Casket,” he tried to compare Junior Collins to Sancho Panza, he called one of the players “soft as church music” and there was a quip about Mountjoy being a horrible name for a jail. My biggest chuckle came when Rus wrote about his aversion to cell phones and stated in his book that, “legend has it that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. If he ever returns, maybe he can drive out the mobile phones.”

As a basketball coach something that stuck out while reading this book were the horrible playing conditions the Frostie Tigers had to endure. Their home games were held at facility called The Sports Complex in Tralee who’s main purpose was to host swimming meets. According to Rus;

“The gym floor was a dingy ceramic tile. Pull-out bleachers stood on only one side. The lighting was prehistoric. It was so dark, I thought we’d have to ask the fans to bring candles. Much of the reasonit seemed so dark was that the walls were painted forest green, a mysterious choice. They must have felt he earth tones would go well with the mustard-brown floor. I instinctively folded my arms across my chest. It was shivering cold, although still summer. Maybe candles could help raise the temperature as well. One hoop, which wobbled precariously on a wooden backboard, tiltled to the side and was low. Really low. I was tempted, even at age forty-three, to run out and try to grab it when the soccer game shifted to the other end. The lines on the tiled floor were complex, hundreds of them, in five different colours, denoting all different types of sports. I made an appraisal of the lines: volleyball, team handball, or soccer maybe. Badminton or tennis. I had to walk around the edge of the court to decipher which color lines were for our basketball court – the thin red ones. A soccer ball whizzed past my ear, slammed into the folded bleachers, and was chased by two wheezing men about my age.”

I grew up playing basketball in Canada and I was shocked at the state of this court as a setting for professional games. Even with hockey gobbling up most of the public funding for sports teams in Canada the men’s leagues I play in have far superior facilities than the Frosties played professional ball in. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when I tried to picture Roy Williams or Coach K or any other D1 coach in NCAA basketball heading over to Ireland for a season and trying to deal with their sport being an afterthought in the conscious of sports fans in Ireland.

As a Canadian I could relate to the pain Rus must have went through as he tried to adjust to basketball not being a priority with sports fans in Ireland because I routinely have to sift through the majority of the sports section to find a small write-up on the NBA the previous night or I need to watch 40 minutes of Sports Centre before I can see 5 minutes of basketball highlights. Basketball fans in America have no clue how painful it is to attempt to follow the sport you love when it’s not the prominent sport in the country where you live.

Something else that I enjoyed about this book was the amount of history of basketball in Ireland that Rus included. I found this book to be informative because he explained the history of professional basketball in Europe, the pay scale for players, why amateur sports like Gaelic Football and Hurling were more popular in Ireland than professional sports like basketball and what a Bosman was. While reading through this book I enjoyed how he successfully mixed information with humour to create a rivetting story.

The big test for me on any book I read is how hard or easy it is for me to stop reading. “Paddy on the Hardwood” passed with flying colours because I found myself staying up way too late to continue reading and bringing this book along with me to work to read during my lunch break.

This is a book that I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this blog and if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet make sure you head to your local bookstore to buy a copy this week.

Don’t forget to check out the interview I conducted with Rus last month by clicking here. You can pick up “Paddy on the Hardwood” at any Grizzlies home game or by clicking here.

Book Review: Ball Don’t Lie

By Ryan McNeill

Rookie scribe Matt de la Pena has burst onto the writing scene with the literary equivalent of a slam dunk with “Ball Don’t Lie.” In his freshman novel he has combined his love for the game, his experiences as a former collegiate player and his Masters of Fine Arts degree to produce an epic novel that will enthral any basketball fan.

Matt’s unique writing style is reminiscent of someone reciting live poetry blended with the feel of a hip hop concert because his writing style provides the reader with such vivid imagery of the scenes he is describing. One of my favourite examples of his gritty writing style is when Matt describes an encounter that Sticky has with a homeless person by writing, “a guy with flies comes staggering up to Sticky’s stall and knocks on the wall twice. Politely. Sticky whips around wide-eyed. This cat’s a rotting burrito. Greasy hair and beard sticking out of a tightly wrapped Mexican blanket. Half-dead eyes. Callused feet under nappy frill.”

Another section that emphasizes Matt’s unique style is when he wrote that, “in the winter there are so many homeless bodies spread out across court two you can hardly see the floor. There are leaks when it rains. Rusted pots are set out to collect heavy drops. Sometimes a guy will track in mud and delay the games. Jimmy sets up a twenty-five dollar heater and everybody puts their hands up to it before they play. In the summer you can hear the foundation cracking. The walls, the ceiling. Like the old gym is stretching out it’s stiff arms and legs. There are faded bloodstains and tooth marks in the wood.”

How can you not get a plethora of vivid images dancing around your mind while you read these excerpts?

Besides Matt’s unique writing style, the other reason that this story is so compelling is the main character Sticky. Sticky grew up bouncing around between foster and group homes and has now finally found somewhere he belongs – the basketball court. As his story unfolds you read about him butting heads with teammates and coaches, he runs afoul with the law and he struggles in his attempts to do the right thing in his relationship with his girlfriend Anh-thu. Despite all of his faults and quirks you can’t help but root for him to succeed despite being a criminal and an egocentric teen.

In this story a lot of people try to step in and mentor Sticky on life and basketball. Near the end of the story one of the men that Sticky plays ball with, Dante, sits him down for a heart-to-heart because “he just wants him to see the world for what it is. For how it works. Because even though Sticky’s white and he’s black, there are obvious similarities: the passion for playing bal, the grace with the rock, the way every move on the court comes from some inherent instinct. He looks at Sticky and he knows basketball is all he has. A game. A sport. He knows there’s nobody looking out for him. Nobody talking to him about life or waiting for him to come home at night. Sticky’s completely alone. Just like he was when he was a kid. Sometime’s just looking at Sticky brings back painful things about his own past. Things he thought he’d long since put away.”

The tough part of reading about Sticky is that he’s fully away that he’s an outsider. From his autistic traits, the loss of his mother at a young age and the lack of attachment that was created from bouncing around from foster home to foster home Sticky is a vagabond of sorts who grew up with a constant sense of displacement. Later in the book Sticky takes on yet another enduring attribute when he questions his value. While staring into a mirror after a shower, “Sticky stares at his face as a whole. His eyes, ears, lips, cheeks, chin. His color. He looks at the way everything comes together. Anh-thu says he has a beautiful face. She says a lot of the girls tink that about him. But why? he wonders. He imagines Dante looking at this face when he was talking to the stones. Telling him how nobody wants him. This face. Telling him how everybody keeps giving him back. Dropping him back off cause he’s nothing. This face. These dark eyes. These cheekbones. These lips. At some point in their life, he thinks, maybe everybody looks at their face like this. Wishes they could change one or two things. But has anybody ever experienced this situation? Feeling that none of it makes any sense? Cause he’s looking closely at his face, closer than he ever has before, and he doesn’t recognize himself. He doesn’t know this face. It’s a complete stranger. And the whole things freaks him out to the point where he has to look away.” I think it’s safe to assume that during our teenage years we all have gazed into a mirror and had similar thoughts. While we weren’t all basketball prodigies like Sticky, we can all relate to struggling to find out identity and self worth during our teenage years.

This is of the rare books where I found myself unable to stop reading until I had read the last page. Matt did a great job of developing Sticky and the other characters so that the readers feels a vested interest in the characters and easily becomes engrossed on the events unfolding in this story. Also, his unique writing style was nothing short of captivating.

Between Matt’s captivating writing style and a brilliant character development this book is a must read for any basketball fan.

Make sure you check out Three Stones Back for information on the upcoming movie based on this book. Also, keep an eye out for an upcoming podcast with Matt that will be posted on HoopsAddict.com this month.

Dual Role: A Success Plan For Student-Athletes

By Ryan McNeill

A book that I would like to recommend for high school athletes is Elwood Scales book “Dual Role: A Success Plan For Student-Athletes.” This book gives high school athletes helpful tips on how to earn a college scholarship, ideas on how to impress coaches and ways to stay out of trouble on and off the field.

Scales motivation for writing this book stems from the fact that he is dismayed with the lack of direction given to high school athletes. In the introduction of his book he wrote that, “it saddens my heart to read the newspaper or to turn on the radio or television and hear about athletes jeopardizing their future with destructive behaviour. It is not uncommon to hear about high school and college athletes getting involved in everything from academic fraud to violent crimes. The ‘dumb jock troublemaker’ syndrome is at an all-time high. Despite the high tech society we live in, athletes are graduating from high school barely able to read and write. Some go on to college, but, after completing four years of eligibility, they are going out into a society with no marketable skills.”

Scales hopes to help fix this problem by providing students with a strong game plan for success in the classroom and he does a great job of this in a chapter called “Knowledge is Power.” In this chapter he examines college athletes chances of becoming a pro athlete (one in 50,000) and then gently reminds athletes about the important of obtaining an education so that they can find a job once they graduate. He also provides 10 study tips as well as a page at the end of the chapter with three tips on what to do when you don’t have homework.

Some of the suggestions in his book – for example never bad mouth a couch or an opponent – will come across as things that should already be put into practice by athletes and things that most coaches teach athletes at a young age, however, the problem with this generation of high school athletes is they have forgotten the fine art of sportsmanship. Young athletes watch professional sports and they see Chad Johnson doing a dance after a touchdown, they see Terrell Owens wearing a racing jacket while riding a bike instead of practising and they get bombarded with streetball videos from companies like AND1. While all of these antics are enjoyable to watch the problem for adolescents is they think this is the normal way to approach athletics. Because this is the only way they see to act in sports they feel that they can treat opponents and coaches in a disrespectful manner like they see their favourite athletes do on television. This kind of attitude can turn off college coaches that might be recruiting them and it will definitely give them a bad rep with a college coach once on campus, thus limiting their playing time. Scales does an excellent job of cutting through the pollution of sports by the media and he does great job of informing young athletes on the proper way to act and talk on and off the field.

Another thing about his book that impressed me was the emphasis that he placed on the importance of the mind, body and soul. Most teens feel that if they learn the game plan and work out in the weight room that they will be prepared for games and they neglect their soul when it comes to athletics. Scales informs athletes that things like diet, alcohol and drug use, personal hygiene, sexual activity, sleep, laughter, stress and their soul are all attributes that come into play when your competing.

I was also impressed with the willingness Scales had to include his Christian faith in this book. Throughout the entire book Scales was able to include scripture verses and biblical principles that related to the concept he was dealing with. It was a refreshing change to see a writer include his faith in a book that wasn’t written just for Christians. Usually when someone includes their faith a book will be targeted just at Christians but this is a book that every high school student athlete should read, whether they are a Christian or not.

I want to finish off this review by stating that following the ideas of this book may not give you street cred but it will help you appreciate the game while helping you achieve greater personal success. Because of this I highly recommend this book to any young athlete. Whether you are hoping to play NCAA athletics or if you are just looking for a way to improve you game, this book will do an excellent job molding how you act on and off the field and in the process help you become stronger spirit, body and mind.

The Miracle of St Anthony

“Hurley has sent more than a hundred players to full basketball scholarships, and five to the NBA as first-round picks, including his son Bobby. It stands as an odd juxtaposition: Hurley has stayed so that they can get out. Somehow, Hurley is still the biggest bargain in sports – $6,800 a season to win championships year after year, to mold men and raise the revenue to save the school and it’s student body, to save a way of Catholic school education that is fading in urban America.

To him there is something so pure about high school basketball. In Hurley’s practice gym, it is always 1965. There are no tattoos on his players, no cornrows, no facial hair. The most improbable dynasty in basketball has survived against the longest odds because Hurley has kept watch on these streets when he could’ve left to be a famous college coaching star, with a million-dollar-a-year package, a shoe deal, and racks of Armani suits. Yet on game nights, he wore that same maroon sweater-vest, those gray slacks, and his dulled brown loafers. And his kids still play the fiercest man-to-man in basketball, treating opponents like they’ve broken into their homes and threatened their families”
Adrian Wojnarowski ~ The Miracle of St Anthony

Too often in life our jobs become a way to pay the bills. Sometimes in life we are blessed to be given the chance to pursue career that we love but along the way disappointments and stress turn this career into a burden that we hold onto just to keep our stomachs full and to keep the bank from taking away our homes. Following St Anthony basketball for a year was the furthest thing from being a burden for Wojnarowski. Despite balancing commitments to his family, ESPN and the NJ Record that had him up until 3 a.m. most nights, documenting a year of St Anthony basketball was a passion for Wojnarowski and reading about a year with Coach Hurley will revitalize to any hoops fan.

“I think what happens in the book is you get emotionally invested in the school, the kids and the sisters,” said Wojnarowski. “For me I spend most of my time covering pro stuff and it tends to be less and less about teams sports, it tends to be about drugs and agents and those sorts of things. Spending time with Hurley reminds me of why I wanted to be a sports writer when I was a kid – there was an innocence about being there.”

Another aspect of the story that is so gripping is Bob Hurley. Despite of a rough exterior Coach Hurley motivates and molds his players into becoming better people, not just better basketball players. In “The Miracle of St. Anthony” Wojnarowski talks to a former player of Hurley, Mark Harris, who is now a firefighter. Harris looks back fondly on the time he spent playing for Hurley and values the life skills that were learned on the basketball court. Harris talked about a time his training on the basketball court gave him the ability to slow down events while fighting a fire which allowed him to save the life of his partner.

“When we played, we used to get guys in traps and look at their facial expressions – just to see how scared they were,” Harris told Wojnarowski. “As a kid, you’re not supposed to be thinking like that, but the game slowed down that much for us. As players for Coach Hurley, we were so prepared that we began to see everything at a different speed. So I was standing in the middle of this fire, and the flames are everywhere and the roof is giving way and we’re close to falling into the fire… and right away, all that flashed through my mind was: think before you react. Awareness. Alertness. And it was just like Coach had trained us. Everything turned into slow motion. It was like I was playing ball again.”

As a basketball coach myself, one of the most rewarding things is to watch that light click on with player you coach. This season coaching my junior high team we had the shortest player on the team start off the year afraid of driving the lane but by the time playoffs had rolled around he hard earned the nickname “Fearless” for his eagerness to tear down the middle of the key and willingly get hammered – just so he could earn a trip to the charity stripe. Here was the smallest guy on the court sacrificing his body to give his team a chance to win – what teammate wouldn’t love a player like that?

One player who was documented closely in the book that reminded me of “Fearless” due
to his heart was Otis Campbell. Wojnarowski loved to talk about this talented young player and said, “The kid who I saw grow the most in the year was Otis Campbell. The thing with Otis was early in the year he had come into St Anthony was shy and couldn’t open up. He struggled with Hurley and Hurley’s style the first couple of years. By his senior year the light had gone on and academically he was doing better.”

Later in the interview Wojnarowski was still singing the praises of Campbell and offered up some great insight into the maturation of the talented young man.
“We’d sit and watch practice and we’d end up talking a lot. The interesting part was to see this whole group grow together. When the season ended Otis decided to go to junior college and looked at a place in Florida but he thought there was too much to do at night, and he felt more comfortable in Kansas where it was quiet. He for me was probably the one that I was proudest to see how he grew and is still continuing to grow. We talk here and there and it’s great to see that light go on in a young kids’ life. He’s going to make a better life for himself than the generation before him in his family.”

Hurley’s players are able to see through his rough exterior most of the time and realize that he pushes them so that they can be successful in life and have better lives than their families have led. The sad part about this is that far too often these players don’t see this until they have caved to the pressure and demands that Hurley placed on them and they quit the team. Instead of being able to see that Hurley is challenging them so that they can grow and improve, they take his passion and outbursts on the sidelines as un-needed criticism. Wojnarowski documented a couple cases of players quitting the team in his book and without fail whenever a player quit the team they were begging to return to the team within weeks. Despite all the pressure of playing for Hurley and the intense practices the players craved the structure and discipline that Hurley provided on and off the basketball court for their lives.

“A lot of high school ball has been commercialized and kids have a sense of entitlement,” Wojnarowski lamented. “What I loved about St Anthony’s is you don’t have that there because coach Hurley doesn’t allow that culture to exists. I loved how selfless those kids are, I never heard kids talk about how many shots they were getting or how much they were scoring. It was about winning and getting a championship there.”

Another aspect that makes St Anthony so intriguing is the fact that they don’t have a “home” gymnasium. They are a school that consistently wins state titles and are ranked among the nations top high school teams, yet they have had 25 different practice facilities and at one time played their home games in an old bingo hall. The bingo hall, White Eagle, was so old that Hurley would need to walk around the gym prior to games and hammer down nails that were popping up.

We are raising a generation of basketball players that are used to playing AAU ball in air conditioned suburban gyms while the kids at St. Anthony don’t even have a gym to call their own. It’s this lack of affluence that unifies the kids at St Anthony and helps them to form a tight bond with each other while allowing them to mirror the toughness that their head coach embodies.

“I loved the fact that they still ride the yellow school bus to games, and the bus driver can get lost and your pulling into a gym 30 minutes before the game,” Wojnarowski reminisced. “After being around pampered guys in the pros and college it was refreshing being around these guys day in and day out because they appreciated the small things like schools offering them scholarships.”

The world of professional sports is one filled with agents, drugs, greed and corruption. Missing in professional athletes and some fans following the pro game is the love for the game that once existed. Reading Adrian Wojnarowski’s “The Miracle of St Anthony” reminded me why I fell in love with basketball, and despite my bitterness to certain aspect of the NBA why I still love the game.

Reading “The Miracle of St Anthony” will be a true blessing for any basketball fan who has forgotten why they fell in love with basketball.