Thursday, December 30, 2010

Play Their Hearts Out - George Dohrmann

I love most everything about basketball. I love playing; I love watching; I just love the game. But what this book made me realize is that what I really love are the memories I have of amazingly supportive coaches, fabulous teammates, and everything I learned about being a team player, working hard, and who I wanted to be as a person. Dohrmann's book focuses on the grassroot AAU leagues that feature the allegedly most talented young players in the country. In particular, Dohrmann follows one coach (and opportunist), Joe Keller, as he scouts out talented 10 and 11 years old before focusing on one boy to coach onto greatness. But, instead of truly looking out for the boy's well-being and coaching him to became a better player and teammate, Keller seems to know absolutely nothing about basketball strategy or kids. Instead, he's all about marketing hype, getting Nike and Adidas sponsorships, and using young boys to pay his mortgage. What this book also demonstrates is that raw talent will only take a player so far - without discipline, hard-work, and dedication to the game, even the fastest strongest players will flame out in the face of true competition and adversity. The saddest part of this book was seeing how Keller could lure so many kids (mostly from poor backgrounds) to his team, and how quickly he could destroy their self-confidence and their potential. Dohrmann's book highlights the disservice so many coaches are doing to these children that they view solely as their own mealtickets. It's not a symbiotic relationship in which a coach provides potential NBA exposure to a player in exchange for some financial rewards. Instead, it's the financial rewards in exchange for false praise and ultimately no growth in skills. I liked Dohrmann's in-depth analysis (he's not a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist for nothing) and his focus on the various kids in the story. It reminded me a lot of Warren St. John's Outcasts United in this respect. But ultimately, it was disappointing to think that an experience that should be filled with so many positives - particularly for these ultra-talented kids - could result in so much corruption and betrayal. An amazing book for opening your eyes to the shady underworld of AAU basketball, but not one filled with much hope or inspiration.

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