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The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I College Basketball Paperback – November 1, 2001
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Feinstein is a prolific chronicler of the American sporting life, having authored well written and easy to read books on everything from the Army-Navy football game and the Baltimore Ravens to the PGA Tour and Bob Knight. If I were to attempt to read every one of Feinstein’s books, I might have to live to age 107.
The organization of The Last Amateurs is familiar and easy to follow – Feinstein summarizes a Patriot League men’s college basketball season, highlighting the high and low points and crafting uncritical profiles of head coaches and players. Although a Season in Review concept is a common framework for a work of sports non-fiction, Feinstein’s literary talent sets The Last Amateurs apart from most jock/sportswriter diaries.
Since the publication of The Last Amateurs, the Patriot League has expanded from seven to ten teams, adding Loyola (Maryland), American and Boston University. Athletic scholarships are now available to basketball players attending Patriot League colleges. But the qualities that set the Patriot League apart from the pack remain intact. Most Patriot League games were (and still are) played before crowds of less than 1,500. The ESPN cameras are at seemingly every game on the Division I schedule, except the ones involving Patriot League schools. And most of the players, genuine scholar-athletes, are majoring in substantive disciplines, courses of study that will lead to something beyond a ten-day contract with the Orlando Magic.
For Spitler, Campolieta and Aylsworth, college basketball was a minor item on life’s resume, a stepping stone to what one hopes are rich and fulfilling lives.
Since Feinstein proudly wears his bias, the question becomes whether he has written about the subject in a way that justifies his feelings. Ultimately, I didn't feel that he did. While I did find the subject very interesting, I thought that Feinstein stretched the story too thin by looking at the entire league. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his depiction of the league's players and coaches. There are strong hints that there are some interesting stories among the league's personalities. However, the depiction that Feinstein gives them never seems to rise above a one-line blurb (Stefan Ciosici: top player trying to regain form after devastating injury. Chris Spitler: over-achiever than wins over the coach. Ralph Willard: coach trying to rebuild his career). He would have been better suited by focusing on one team in the league and examining the actions of that team's administrators, coaches, and players as the season developed in order to give an example of the struggles faced by participants in the league as a whole. Even centering the story on the league's new commissioner as she struggled to maintain the league's character in the face of external and internal challenges would have provided the reader with a better sense of the unique nature of this conference. Instead, Feinstein short-changes his subject by jumping from team to team.
Feinstein does write in a journalistic style that makes for very easy, entertaining reading. Yet, I never felt that I got the full reason why Feinstein thought this league was so special (other than they lack many of the perks of other conferences and have brighter students). As it stands now, The Last Amateurs did not strike me as the definitive telling of the story of the Patriot League's uniqueness. It seemed to be only the framework from which that story could be written.