River City, Iowa is where Al Biederman covers sports for the local newspaper--and perhaps the best copy to come his way in a long time is basketballer Belvyn Menkus, a prodigiously talented, unselfish playmaker for River State University. Al, a frustrated jock and greatly passionate fan, is entranced. But when Vicki, a stringer from the college paper, comes upon some information about under-the-table payments and scholastic dispensations made to Menkus, A1 is horned by dilemma. If he exposes the kid, Al will probably land himself a job in Milwaukee writing sports for a big-city paper; if he lets the story stay hushed, the team and the college and even Al's professor-wife Deborah (who's been Belvyn's extra-lenient tutor) will benefit. And, little by little, through having an affair with stringer Vicki to playing one-on-one with Belvyn (and accidentally tearing up the kid's knee in the process), Al sees his moral imperative becoming weakened--until he realizes that the exposÃ‰ would simply serve yet someone else's selfish interest. First-novelist Shields sprinkles this rather dubious lesson in ethics with platitudinous, hackneyed moments. ("" 'We are home,' I say, 'we're home for good,' and Deborah catches my drift and my heart does a reverse spin toward hope."") Annoying, too, are his pious cultural commonplaces. (""The unfinished malls and parking lots and abandoned foundations make me feel my life isn't being lived so much as put on hold, traded even-up for an urban planner's dream of the entire business district as a quiche dispensary."") But, though shallow and shaky in its theme, this is fairly sprightly, easy-reading debut fiction--with a modestly engaging blend of contemporary atmosphere and obvious sentiment.