"Imagine all the people living life in peace"
-- John Lennon. (Yep. He was murdered, too.)
Why is the human race so successful at spawning murderous thugs? That's what I was sitting here thinking to myself as I equivocated about which of the two main characters I should be rooting for in this awesome basketball story that is so much more than a basketball story. Do I cheer for the abrasive college freshman phenom, from the projects in Motown, whose sister was accidentally murdered in a drive-by? Or should I be rooting for the kid from Croatia, the aspiring journalist who was sent off to America after his mentor uncle -- a crusading journalist in Croatia -- was blown into vapor by a
car bomb set up by an organized crime syndicate he was writing about?
What is wrong with humanity?
"Play by Play Man: We're headed to a second five-minute overtime session. And a fight breaks out on the court! It's between the two mascots! Unbelievable! Sparty and T-Roy -- two guys in seven-foot foam rubber costumes -- get into a shoving match in a wild scene that's now being broken up by
"Color Commentator: This is what the Final Four is all about. Emotions pushed to the limits, and even more so now as we strap ourselves in for double overtime."
The relentless action and team dynamics on (and off) the court in this year's NCAA men's basketball Final Four provide an ever-present boom-box soundtrack that intersperses with the stories of four of the players on the court -- two from the heavily-favored Michigan State Spartans and two from the
upstart Troy Trojans.
(2011's Final Four is being played in the Louisiana Superdome, which is also the setting for one of Paul Volponi's other YA masterpieces -- HURRICANE SONG.)
In addition to the cover-to-cover play-by-play capital-a Action in this hard-fought basketball contest, and in addition to the related stories of these four players, THE FINAL FOUR is also a tale about the money and the prestige that goes hand and hand with major collegiate sports and about the two coaches who are guiding these young men and creating name brands for their collegiate employers.
When I was an undergraduate in the seventies, I went to a fine state university. In those days, outside of that state there was not a whole lot of buzz about the school and many would stare blankly when I told them where I'd gone to school.
But now, twenty-five years after Jim Calhoun first became head coach of the UConn Men's Basketball program (a position that now earns him millions of dollars per year), I can mention that I went to UConn and vastly more people know all about that school because of its being a real basketball power:
Including last year's NCAA championship, Calhoun's teams are now 6-1 in Final Four play and Calhoun is one of only five coaches in NCAA history to have won at least three national championships.
This is a totally big deal. What a school like UConn gains as a result of these winning ways is measured in money and enrollment and prestige and more money. And so it is that THE FINAL FOUR also reveals the not-so-pretty underside of this whole process.
"I don't know what, they want from me It's like the more money we come across The more problems we see"
-- Notorious B.I.G.
(In recent years, UConn has had to deal with many of the same NCAA sanction-related issues that are part of THE FINAL FOUR.)
"'I've failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.'
--Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest basketball player
of all time, despite being cut from his high school varsity team as a
(One of the dozens of great basketball-related quotes employed as epigrams by author Paul Volponi.)
Patrick Jones talks about a year's truly great YA books being those that are chosen for both the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list as well as the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. This, to me, is exactly one of these sort of books.