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Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machineby George Dohrmann
Play Their Hearts Out is a must-read book for basketball fans at all levels. Pulitzer Prize winner Dohrmann presents an engrossing saga of an AAU team as its players grow up and try to achieve their basketball dreams. In addition to following the boys from age 10 through high-school graduation, he shows how the grassroots youth-basketball system works. I had no idea how these kids are scrutinized and pressured to succeed, like Demetrius Walker, featured in Sports Illustrated as the "next LeBron" at age 14. I was horrified to learn about the corruption in youth basketball, yet I rooted for these kids to make it.
Synopses & Reviews
Eight years of unfettered access, a keen sense of a story's deepest truths, and a genuine compassion for his subject allow Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist George Dohrmann to take readers inside the machine that produces America's basketball stars.
Hoop dreams aren't just for players. The fever that grips college basketball prospects hoping to strike big-time NBA gold afflicts coaches, parents, and sneaker executives as well. Every one of them has a stake in keeping America's wildly dysfunctional, incredibly lucrative youth basketball machine up and running — no matter the consequences.
In Play Their Hearts Out, George Dohrmann offers an up-close and unforgettable look inside the maw of that machine. He shares what he learned from his years spent embedded with a group of talented young recruits from Southern California as they traveled the country playing in elite Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) events. It's a cutthroat world where boys as young as eight or nine are subjected to a dizzying torrent of scrutiny and exploitation. Coaches vie to have them on their teams. Sneaker companies ply them with free shoes and gear. "All-star camps" are glorified cattle auctions, providing make-or-break opportunities to secure the promise of an elusive college scholarship.
At the book's heart are the personal stories of two compelling figures: Joe Keller, an ambitious AAU coach with a master plan to find and promote "the next LeBron" — thereby paving his own path to power and riches; and Demetrius Walker, a fatherless latchkey kid who falls under Keller's sway and struggles to live up to the unrealistic expectations his supposed benefactor has set for him. As their fortunes take shape and the pressure mounts — Demetrius finds himself profiled in Sports Illustrated at age fourteen, while Keller cultivates his business empire — Dohrmann weaves in the stories of numerous other parents, coaches, and players. Some of them see their prospects evaporate as a result of poor decisions and worse luck. Others learn how to thrive in a corrupt system by playing the right angles.
Written with incomparable detail and insight, Play Their Hearts Out is a thoroughly unique narrative that reveals the inner workings of an American game, exposing the gritty reality that lies beneath so many dreams of fame and glory.
"Dohrmann, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for Sports Illustrated, spent eight years chronicling the struggles and triumphs of a select group of California youths who chased their dream in his wonderful and immaculately reported first book. Dohrmann largely focuses his work on Demetrius Walker, the hoops phenom who seems destined for stardom at a young age, his travel team from California, and the club's complex and bombastic coach, Joe Keller. Dohrmann began reporting on the book back in 2000, when Walker and many of his teammates were only 10 years old, and followed them through to their high school graduation. Along the way, he shows the brutal nature of 'grassroots' basketball, in which coaches can view their players as 'investments,' the power of sneaker companies in youth basketball, and the cutthroat antics of collegiate recruiting. But this is equally a story about relationships and the sad deterioration of many of them, whether it be among teammates, parents and son, or coach and player. It's a brilliant and heart-wrenching journey, and a cautionary tale to any basketball player who thinks the path to the NBA is a slam dunk. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"An eye-opening look at the underbelly of modern American sports." Booklist
"[I]n the author's skilled hands, a potentially trite morality play becomes a powerful, nuanced chronicle.... A landmark achievement in basketball journalism." Kirkus Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist offers an up-close and unforgettable narrative that reveals the gritty reality hiding behind the romanticized hoop dreams of America's basketball prodigies.
About the Author
George Dohrmann is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and the magazine’s investigative reporter. In 2000, while working at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories that uncovered a college basketball team’s academic fraud. Dohrmann lives in San Francisco with his family. This is his first book.
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