The author of overlong novels (Beach Music, 1995, etc.) returns with an overlong memoir of his last season (1966–67) as an overachieving point guard for the Citadel’s mediocre basketball team (8–17).
Conroy can be entertaining and endearingly self-effacing. In this autobiography of a roundballer, he reminds us from the first sentence to the last that he was among the least talented players on his or any other team. Still, he was all-state in high school and won the Citadel’s MVP award with his (self-described) hustle, intelligence, and passion for the game. Here he gives us dribble-by-dribble accounts of some significant basketball moments from elementary school through his final college game, and he interviews his former coach and teammates, several of whom came to see him when he was on tour promoting Beach Music. Some of their stories are affecting, none more so than that of Al Kroboth, a POW during the Vietnam War. Looming large are coach Mel Thompson, whose bullying tactics, Conroy alleges, ruined the careers of some of the players, and—no surprise—the author’s late father, a softened version of whom was the Marine meanie in The Great Santini. Don Conroy appears here as the quintessential crude abuser who slugs and slaps his son in the face, demeans his talents, calls him a “pussy,” but somehow experiences an epiphany after reading Santini and becomes a Nice Guy (“the great miracle of my adult life,” avows his son) whose bruised children grieve at his passing. Conroy is not an especially gifted writer, nor always even a careful one. He tells us that his college English professor taught him to avoid dangling participles and verb-subject agreement errors, but he makes both mistakes here and for good measure throws in a pronoun-case error and a lockerful of sports clichés, mixed metaphors, and sexist language (all women are “pretty” or not).
Still, this compensates for its frail artistry with hustle, intelligence, and passion for the game.