THE CONQUERING HEROES by Peter Gent

THE CONQUERING HEROES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Gent tries to do for college basketball what he did for pro football in North Dallas Forty (1973) and The Franchise (1983): blow the lid off the cynicism and corruption festering behind the scenes. But that lid's been off a long time, and this turgid effort brings nothing new to an old story. Lapsed idealist Pat Lee, ""recruiting coach"" at Southwestern State in Dallas, finds his job on the line when a coed is raped by star center Chuck Small. Small had threatened to declare his eligibility for the NBA draft, and coach Barry Sand, Lee's one-time friend, charges him with using the covered-up rape as leverage to convince Small to stay. Failing that, Lee had better sign high-school sensation Eddie Sanford, a seven-footer whose mother Lee has been coincidentally hitting on in a hotel bar. Sand, who will do anything to make the Final Four, also orders Lee to join the bidding war for Jamail Jenks, whose high-school coach, O.K. Free, demands his own share: ""It wasn't wrong, it was just against the rules."" Gent uses lengthy flashbacks to Lee's golden youth in 1950's and 60's small-town America to show that, despite his acquiescence, Lee may still be able to recapture his lost innocence. When the coed is found hanging in her dorm room, and when a guilt-ridden policeman who's helping Lee is found ""blown away"" in his squad car, Lee decides ""to bring them all down."" That includes drug-store mogul Sam Watts, whose monogrammed, money-filled envelopes turn up in more than one pocket. Lee wins the day by substituting crime scene stills for the expected game highlights at a press conference, thus embarrassing Sand and Watts, getting the school placed on probation, and Small throw in jail. All the usual suspects, and their attendant vices. Predictable and obvious.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1994
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Donald Fine