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THE ASSIST by Neil Swidey

THE ASSIST

Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives

By Neil Swidey

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-58648-469-9
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Friday Night Lights meets Boyz n the Hood on the mean streets of Boston.

Obsessive basketball coach Jack O’Brien was a beloved mainstay at Charlestown High School, leading its team to multiple championships. What made his accomplishments so impressive was the fact that his team was comprised of young men from the projects who were bussed into school. During the 2004-05 season documented here, Charlestown was led by Jason “Hood” White, a cornrowed guard who, when he was three, was run over and almost killed by a crackhead on her way to get a fix. As important as it was for O’Brien to take another title, it was just as vital that his players get into college or, at the very least, survive the streets. If that meant helping Hood navigate his way through the Massachusetts court system, so be it. Award-winning Boston Globe Magazine staff writer Swidey comes from a hard-news background, which proves a double-edged sword in executing this hoops-in-the-hood book. His straight journalistic chops infuse the legal proceedings and the player profiles with a higher-than-expected level of gravitas, but his depictions of the games are less than gripping. Since basketball was the primary raison d’être for O’Brien and his brood, the lack of fire in the sports reporting diminishes its significance. (Swidey could take some lessons in suspense from Jack McCallum’s Seven Seconds or Less, 2006.) Perhaps the author seeks to emphasize that basketball should enhance people’s lives, not overwhelm them—a fair sentiment, but it doesn’t make for the kind of book that will resonate beyond a niche audience.

A noble debut with its heart in the right place, but lacking the substance of its spiritual cousin, Hoop Dreams.