If there's any doubt about John Feinstein being one of sport's true believers, The Last Amateurs
readily dispels it. After years of smartly dissecting our games at their highest levels in bestsellers like The Majors
, A Good Walk Spoiled
, and A Season on the Brink
, he returns to dissecting our games at their purest
level, ground he first staked out quite stirringly in A Civil War
, his chronicle of Army-Navy football.
In The Last Amateurs, he mines the 1999-2000 season of Patriot League basketball. Given the high-stakes, high-profile, and often dirty world of college hoops these days, Feinstein comes up with a remarkably refreshing place to visit, a sporting environment short on scandals, prima donnas, and sneaker contracts, but long on a pure passion for the game that complements achievement in the classroom. In the league's seven schools--Bucknell, Lehigh, Lafayette, Colgate, Holy Cross, Army, and Navy--academics come first, the hardwood second. These are campuses populated by students who happen to be athletes, not athletes stopping off on the way to lucrative careers in professional sports. Indeed, these are young athletes who have their post-college focus on the rest of their lives, not the NBA. Sports, for them, builds character, not bank accounts.
Still, the Patriot League is a Division I conference, with its champion earning an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. It takes the games seriously--often, as Feinstein reveals, heartbreakingly so--even if it doesn't necessarily play to ACC, SEC, Big 10, and Pac-10 standards. Feinstein's interviewing, skillful as ever, brings the players, coaches, and administrators of the colleges in this league to full form, making The Last Amateurs a rarity among sports books--a smart volume about smart people with their heads and priorities pointed in the right direction. Like the conference itself, it's in a league of its own. --Jeff Silverman
From Publishers Weekly
Army, Navy, Lafayette, Lehigh, Bucknell, Holy Cross and Colgate: these seven colleges make up the Patriot League, basketball's smallest Division I conference. In this book, NPR commentator and bestselling sportswriter Feinstein (A Season on the Brink, The Majors, etc.) gives an exhaustive account of the Patriot League's 1999-2000 season. He illustrates that exciting basketball can be played in front of crowds that can be as small as 1,000 and that rivalries such as Lafayette-Lehigh can be just as intense as those played by colleges in major conferences on national television. But Feinstein's intent is to do more than just provide details about the year's important games; he uses the Patriot League as an example of "what college sports are supposed to be about." Feinstein maintains that the conference's members are among the few colleges that can call their players 'student-athletes' with a straight face. Patriot League colleges hold athletes to rigorous entrance and academic standards and most scholarships are offered on a need-basis (although some schools are giving a limited number of basketball scholarships). Moreover, players regularly attend class since they are smart enough to know that there is little chance they will be playing ball at the professional level after graduation. Feinstein's portraits of these players and their coaches, his exploration of why they stay in the game and their encounters playing against soon-to-be-pro athletes of other teams bring an unusual emotional depth to this accountDwhich, like Feinstein's earlier books, should make a run toward, or on, the lists. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.