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How to Fix Unholy Union of College, Pro Football: Books

February 11, 2013

'Outside Shot'

"Outside Shot: Big Dreams, Hard Times and One County's Quest for Basketball Greatness," by Kieth O'Brien. Source: St. Martin's Press via Bloomberg

Move over, Milan, Indiana. Make room for Scott County, Kentucky.

Milan is the tiny town with only 161 high-school students whose basketball team won the 1954 Indiana state basketball tournament -- and inspired the movie classic “Hoosiers.”

Scott County is not quite Milan; its high school is bigger, and its Cardinals were defeated in the state semi-finals. But its story is as inspiring, and maybe as movie-worthy. Keith O’Brien has done it justice in “Outside Shot” (St. Martin’s, $25.99).

Kentucky has no divisions in high-school basketball and thus any school -- no matter how small, how tucked away, how star-crossed -- can dream, and maybe win.

The Cardinals did dream mightily, and they played mightily, too, in a county where even a Japanese car plant couldn’t bring lasting prosperity and one of the few growth industries was crack cocaine.

The principal was a Marine. The coach approached basketball “like a trapped miner shoveling for daylight,” O’Brien says. The kids were the sort who fought each other by the glow of car headlights in a business park.

But these kids were good, very good, and their story is a good one, too. It played out at the University of Kentucky’s storied Rupp Arena, where their dreams confronted reality -- and a better team.

‘Make It’

Here’s another take on basketball dreams deferred. Rus Bradburd is a former assistant coach at the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University, and one day he tossed it all away -- the dreams of hard-court glory, a resume that included recruiting five-time NBA all-star Tim Hardaway -- for the pursuit of a different dream.

He got a Master of Fine Arts degree and became a fiction writer. Stranger things have happened, though not often.

“Make It, Take It” (Cinco Puntos, $14.95) is his latest effort, an appealing novel that revolves around an assistant basketball coach in the Southwest. Maybe it’s not totally fictional after all.

Either way, it’s engaging and imaginative, and includes one of the most unforgettable characters in (the admittedly lean genre of) basketball literature. Coach Jack Hood is a wretched waste of human protoplasm with “the ethics of an executioner.” One of his tactics: protesting an official’s call by playing dead on the sideline and remaining there, corpse-like, for five full minutes.

The book is a brisk read which features episodes of recruiting foolishness and basketball-camp shenanigans, a merry- go-round of fired coaches and a player on a shower strike.

‘Super Agent’

“Super Agent” (Sports Publishing, $24.95) is no novel. Here is its thesis:

The NCAA behaves like the Mob. The NFL is a cartel. The two are guilty of collusion. College and pro sports, football especially, are corrupt.

The book is strong, bombastic, intemperate, self-righteous, simplistic and probably mostly true.

Of course “Super Agent” is both a title and a description of the book’s author, Jerry Argovitz, who’s unlucky enough to have two occupations unloved by the public. (The other one, improbably, is dentistry. Hold the drilling, root canal and flossing metaphors.)

Sports Manifesto

This is an autobiography, brag-a-thon and manifesto. The first two are of limited interest and even less artistry. The third -- the manifesto about how to reform college sports -- is provocative.

While almost none of Argovitz’s proposals are appealing, they do shine an unsparing light on the unholy alliance between college football, which started out pure, and the pro game, which by piggy-backing on the universities manages to avoid all the muss and money that would be required to have a real farm system of its own. Who says football owners are dolts?

Among the proposals: Pay college athletes. (As if we need more money in college sports.) Let them negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. (Because that worked out so well this winter with pro hockey.) Give them a separate curriculum. (Wait: Don’t they already have that?)

Actually the last one is a pretty good idea, because the Argovitz curriculum would include English and economics. Maybe the guy is onto something after all.

(David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Greg Evans on television.

To contact the writer of this column: David M. Shribman at

To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at

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