Make it take it a novel by Rus Bradburd
El Paso, Texas : Cinco Puntos Press, 2013 ISBN 9781935955436
School sport here in Australia is important - I remember when our school Aussie Rules team beat the cross-town Catholic School it was a day of great joy - the First XVIII was paraded in front of the school and there was much cheering. But that's about the size of it when it comes to sport in education Down Under - coaches are part of the teaching staff, on teaching pay and don't really make it into the paper or onto the news.
The US is a whole different ball game (pun intended), and Rus Bradburd has given us a novel about College basketball that sails us into the murky water that stagnates out of view of the stadium lights. Rus Bradburd is an author who is gaining a name for himself in the sporting genre, with two previous works Paddy on the Hardwood and Forty minutes of Hell receiving good reviews. Both non-fiction works about basketball, they were received well by those who know what they're talking (or writing) about. Rus also knows what he's writing about, as he spent over 10 years coaching College basketball.
I, on the other hand, know very little about basketball - being an un-reconstructed Australian male who grew up in the 70s, my two sporting loves are Australian Rules Football and Cricket. So why am I reading a novel about basketball? Time for a little disclaimer - Rus is the brother of my brother-in-law, which is how I came to know about him and his work. I read Paddy on the Hardwood - the story of his year coaching basketball in Ireland - with enjoyment.
Make it take it is a good book: Rus has based the "plot" around a fictional State University Basketball team; some of their new recruits, the assistant coaches and the coach. Each chapter comes from a different viewpoint, and is almost a self-contained story. The book reveals what goes on to keep the show on the road - how much of the assistant coaches duties revolve around baby-sitting star players, solving their problems, and hunting out the gun recruit that will help them make the jump to senior coach.
As each viewpoint gets added to the mix, the reader is in turn appalled, dismayed and occasionally uplifted by what's happening. The chief coach, Jack Hood, is not a sympathetic character, and he gets his comeuppance late in the book in a way which turns out to be both funny, and an insight into his character.
Steve Pytel, the assistant coach is another protagonist who has to come to terms with what the coaching life has done to him - he almost has an "awakening" moment early in the book, which he rejects as a path forward. The soul-less nature of the basketball business has affected him, and by the end of the book he is close to achieving his dream, only to have it snatched away.
The players, seen by the coaches as kids, are characters in their own right, and their travails, suggestibility, cynicism and nobility come through as the book progresses.
What resonated most for me was the selfishness that abounds in the novel - everyone is looking for their own angle, and those that aren't are initiated by the others into doing so for themselves. Where the sport has gone, I don't know (and nor do some of the characters).
I approached this book with a little trepidation - as someone who doesn't follow basketball I wondered if I would understand it or like it at all - but what Rus has given us here is a fine study of human nature, with a basketball covering. A book I stayed up late to finish, which is always a good sign.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell