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Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine Hardcover – October 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2010: Each year, millions of grammar school athletes swarm fields and courts armed with little more than an infectious love for their games. These endeavors represent the purity of sport, as kids are allowed to be kids and compete outside the demands of lucrative contracts and extensive media coverage. Yet sadly, as George Dohrmann's Play Their Hearts Out demonstrates, such a paradise is fading fast in today's corporate sports world. Dohrmann provides a first-hand account of the rise of a nine-year-old basketball phenom and the grassroots programs that both helped and hindered his dreams of superstardom. To call this story a cautionary tale is to sell it short, as Play Their Hearts Out is an unflinching look at the increasing need for hype in youth athletics. Fans of the brilliant Hoop Dreams documentary are advised to add this book to their cart immediately, as Dohrmann's masterful ability to remove himself from the plotline achieves an honesty that leaves any and all judgments to the reader. --Dave Callanan

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Starred Review. Dohrmann, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for Sports Illustrated, spent eight years chronicling the struggles and triumphs of a select group of California youths who chased their dream in his wonderful and immaculately reported first book. Dohrmann largely focuses his work on Demetrius Walker, the hoops phenom who seems destined for stardom at a young age, his travel team from California, and the club's complex and bombastic coach, Joe Keller. Dohrmann began reporting on the book back in 2000, when Walker and many of his teammates were only 10 years old, and followed them through to their high school graduation. Along the way, he shows the brutal nature of "grassroots" basketball, in which coaches can view their players as "investments," the power of sneaker companies in youth basketball, and the cutthroat antics of collegiate recruiting. But this is equally a story about relationships and the sad deterioration of many of them, whether it be among teammates, parents and son, or coach and player. It's a brilliant and heart-wrenching journey, and a cautionary tale to any basketball player who thinks the path to the NBA is a slam dunk.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345508602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345508607
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #527,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Patrick McCormack VINE VOICE on September 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I started this book with an expectation that it would be a long magazine article, turned into a book. Instead, I found a richly detailed story about basketball, expectations, and real people in the world of sports.

The story is about more than a star recruit and a coach... this book is about the system of development, where athletes are given small perqs, and coaches collaborate in a system that rewards up and coming, young, very young players. Each step is logical, from shoe contracts to help with homework, from summer camps to being named a starter at a young age.

This book shows what is missing, which is the perspective. Being a good junior player is like being given a lottery ticket. Yet we communicate to these young people that they have nearly won the lottery, that they are special, that they have a chance at the brass ring. Each person -- the parent, the coach, the player, the school administrators -- give their tiny message of unwarranted optimism, of perspective-less encouragement, on a path that is quite unlikely to lead to riches and millions.

The writing is very good, the research is deep and layered, the stories told from many perspectives. At times, reading this book, you want to take the young players aside and give them a more accurate world view -- this book helps you understand that this is what is lacking, entirely, among the well-meaning coaches, high schools, players, camps, shoe companies, and the basketball-industrial complex.

Every coach and every player should read this book to understand the world of basketball within which they live.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By hasselaar VINE VOICE on September 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having read "Friday Night lights", seen the movie and watched the series, I was sceptical about this book being able to contend with such quality. I am now a believer, this is a fine book, well-researched, well-written and a stunning display of how adults in the US are able to manipulate young kids into becoming their "meal tickets". I had no idea that kids as young as 10 or 11 could end-up on mini-pro teams, that there were men (coaches) who would prey upon these young basketball players in order to earn money and prestige for themselves. I was stunned to read that the major sports supplies businesses would pay and promote these ethics in their own bid to increase corporate profits. That so many parents allowed their young children to be manipulated in such a way was an astounding revelation. This book illuminates behaviours and actions that are scandalously wrong and need to be halted.

The "coach" featured in this book, a certain Joe Keller, is "on the make" and searching for any way to promote himself. He signs these young boys to a "team", uses them in every way possible, showing zero concern for their physical or mental health, building his own reputation through the efforts of the young boys in his care. He has no scruples, he lies to the boys, manipulates them against each other, "buys" boys from other teams, and generally comes across as one of the more unappealing characters ever to see the light of day.

It is appalling to read that young boys, as young as 10 or 11 are being "scouted" for pro-like teams and worked day and night, to the detriment of their education. The parents appear to be as bad as Mr. Keller, willingly turning their young children over to this brute, on the mere chance that this child might someday reach the NBA and enrich the parents.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Sanchez on October 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
What if I were to tell you that if you come with me and read this review, you'll make it someday. I'll do whatever it takes for you to read this review, because that's how confident I am that you are special. Honestly, I've never met anyone like you. You're incredible. We're going to be a team, you and I. You're so awesome. What? Your mom can't afford rent? Done. Helping you means that much to me. I'll always be there for you. OK, yes, we're like family. Every step of the way, you can rely on me. I can get you where you need to go. I have connections. Trust me.


What's great about this book is that it's not just for the basketball minded. In fact, it's an interesting study in human behavior, people using people to get ahead - only, in part, the people being used are 10 year olds. From chapter to chapter you have to remind yourself that these are just kids. Seriously. The pictures before every chapter helped remind you of that important detail. The narrative does a great job depicting the decisions and scenarios that surround these children at every turn. They're children. Before you know it, you involve yourself in those decisions. But believe me, you very rarely win. Shoe companies are using the coaches, coaches are using the kids, and the kids (rather their parents) are using the coaches. In the end, who wins? Bittersweet wins. College scholarships are on the horizon for some of these kids, that's the sweet part, and there are some real heroes in this story. The bitter comes with the success of the main (adult) antagonist/protagonist that with every chapter aims to "coach" his way into millions. Disliking he and the system he rode in on is the easy part. The hard part comes with, perhaps, finding yourself rooting against his teams at these kids expenses.
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