“Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit and the Youth Basketball Machine” by George Dohrmann, narrated by Emily Rose Speer
Basketball, youth sports, audio book
October 2, 2010
4 of 5 stars (very good)
The world of youth basketball, also known as grass roots basketball, has produced some great players who had success in the professional game such as Tyson Chandler. It has also produced stories of players who were expected to go far in their basketball careers at the age of 11 and 12 and buckled under the pressure of great expectations. The story of one coach and his team of players in Los Angeles is told in this interesting book by George Dohrmann. I was expecting stories like this about the players, but all of the main characters in this book were important to the story.
Coach Joe Keller is the main man of this tale, wanting to put together the best group of kids ages 10 and 11 and keep them together through high school in order to gain fame, fortune and to be the one to produce the next great player. Keller thought he had that player in Demetrius Walker, a young impressionable boy who, like many other players, sees his coach as his father figure. What follows is a story that will make the reader cheer, laugh, but mostly shake his or her head when it is revealed just how far Keller goes to ensure that Walker is noticed and hyped as much as possible.
There is considerable discussion about the role that shoe companies such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok play in the grassroots game. There are rankings of players online, recruiting of these players as early as age 9, and deals made in order to bribe parents into allowing their children to play on these teams. Keller paid rent for more than one of his player’s living accommodations – if that player wasn’t spending most of his time at Keller’s house. He did that and more for Walker’s family. Walker was good enough to have his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated. What happens eventually to him and some of his teammates made me keep on listening to the book.
The narration provide by Speer for the audio book was very good as she told the story of young men and their interactions in a manner that you didn’t realize the gender difference or that it was a woman speaking language and phrases that young men share only with other young men. I felt that by listening to instead of reading this book, I was able to stay connected to the basketball players. I was cheering for them to all have happy endings by the end – whether that happened is something that I will not give away here. If one wants to learn more about the inner workings of youth basketball, this is an excellent source of information for that topic.
Pace of the book:
It moves along very well. The story stays on track as the author rarely veers off topic on side stories. They are all about Coach Keller, his team, his players or their families.
Do I recommend?
Yes – although be prepared for some melancholy stories as not all of the boys have successful endings. If the reader wants to learn more about grass roots basketball, both the good and the ugly, this book covers it all.