Wednesday, September 16, 2009

12 @ 12: Best basketball books

Want to get into the basketball mood now that football is in full swing? Pick up a book, dive into it and get your mind right for the upcoming season. Here are our 12 picks to read in today's edition of 12 @ 12.

1. Sole Influence by Dan Wetzel and Don Yaeger – Arguably the best book regarding grassroots basketball, the stories behind the scene and the tall tales that used to go untold. It was the book that made me want to dive into the high school basketball and recruiting world. Now only if Sole Influence 2 were in the works. The stories are countless and the scandal is even bigger.

2. Big Game, Small World by Alexander Wolff – This is, without question, my favorite basketball book of all-time. It’s simplistic. It’s easy to read. It’s a journey. Wolff traveled the world and captured the way basketball is played, worshipped and respected in that community. Absolutely brilliant read.

3. My Losing Season by Pat Conroy – Every one loves winners. We worship them, we honor them and we want to read about them. But Conroy was a loser. At least in this amazing tale of his playing days at The Citadel. Like every great sports book, the message goes far beyond the game. The book is a great look at how to deal with adversity.

4. The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski – Absolute gold and probably the best story ever told about a high school team and the dramas that follow. Wojnarowski dives deep into the world of St. Anthony basketball and the best high school basketball ever in Bob Hurley. There have been several documentaries that have captured the program but this book does it best. A must own, a must read (and a must read again and again).

5. Paddy on the Hardwood by Rus Bradbury – I love a good sleeper when talking about recruits. If you like books that are under the radar, pick this one up. Bradbury moved to Ireland to coach and to learn how to play the fiddle. His tales are well-written, detailed and intriguing.

6. Can I Keep My Jersey? by Paul Shirley – The former Iowa State big man has bounced across the globe to play basketball for a living. He kept his tales along the way and eventually published a book about his quest to play for money. His humor is dry and his stories are real. Getting to the NBA is the goal for most players. Staying there is an absolute dream. Shirley does a great job of painting the picture of what it is like to live the professional life.

7. Season on the Brink by John Feinstein – Many consider this the best sports book of all-time. It’s a good one, no doubt about it. Feinstein, one the best sports authors of all-time, spends a season with Bobby Knight. It is as close as you can get to the most opinionated coach in sport.

8. Raw Recruits by Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian – Before there was Sole Influence, there was Raw Recruits. The book was the first major publication to uncover Sonny Vaccaro and his role with grassroots basketball and high level (and high dollar) recruiting. Read it today and it almost seems G-rated.

9. Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander – Before he became known as one of the top sports columnists in the country for the Chicago Sun-Times, Telander spent a summer in Brooklyn and played on the blacktops with the local kids. His book about that summer is a must own, must read and must re-read books regarding basketball out there. If you don’t read it at least once every other year, you should.

10. The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam – Prior to Feinstein’s book about Knight and Indiana, Halberstam spent a season with the 1979 Portland Trailblazers. Halberstam uncovers the life behind the team and eloquently describes how a professional team runs throughout a season.

11. The Last Amateurs by John Feinstein – You could argue that Feinstein’s work could capture all 12 spots. He does great work. This book is about a season in the Patriot League. His book is in the same concept of others on the list. But very much worth the read.

12. Birds, Dogs and Kangaroos: Life on the Back Roads of College Basketball by Rich Zvosec – I recently finished this book by Zvosec, a former Division I head coach at the low-major level, tells the tales of working at that level. College basketball isn’t always about what happens in Chapel Hill or Lexington or Lawrence or Westwood. The best stories usually come from tiny towns in middle America. Zvosec’s book is a great look at coaching at that level.


  1. Paul Shirley's agent Keith Glass wrote a book called Taking Shots. Pretty good read. Not as funny as Shirley's but definitely some interesting stories.

  2. The Last Shot by Darcy Frey is my favorite basketball book ever, especially with the updated epilogue on the 10th anniversary. Must read, must have for every basketball fan.

    Eagle Blue by Michael D'Orso follows a high school basketball team from the barrens of Alaska. Very well done and enlightening about the challenges faced in that area of the U.S.

  3. love the suggestions everybody. my shelves have some open real estate right now. looks like i'll be making the trip to the bookstore.