Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Last Great Game [Book Review]

Hello again, readers of the blog. As part of my "year of FOCUS" in 2015, I am wanting to read at least one book every month. I started off early this year by knocking out a book the week after Christmas. With that, I'd thought I would share my thoughts on the book and why you should read it. As always, no one paid me to write this review, and if they had, I would be writing more than 1 review every 6 months.

As you can guess, I am a big sports fan, especially when it comes to college basketball, and even more especially when it comes to the University of Kentucky. Living in Memphis, this is not a popular school, though in my defense I have been a fan for over 20 years now...

Which brings me to this book - The Last Great Game, the story of the 1992 NCAA tournament regional final between Duke and Kentucky, called by many the greatest college game ever. It was the first game I really remember watching from start to finish, and, sadly, the first (and only) game I ever cried over when it ended.

Gene Wojciechowski clearly did a lot of research for this book, interviewing the coaches, players, and even athletic directors involved in the game. The back story is what honestly makes the game that much better: Duke, a perennial Final Four team from the last 80's an early 90's that never could win the title; and Kentucky, a once-proud program stripped of its dignity by, well, not following NCAA law and getting caught. With a rag-tag group of Kentuckians and a star recruit Jamal Mashburn, Rick Pitino led his team from NCAA purgatory (and postseason bans) to one of the best teams in the country with a pressing defense and run-and-gun offense. Duke, meanwhile, was led its iconic Coach K and its star big man Voldemort Christian Laettner. It had been to 4 straight Final Fours, only to have their hopes dashed without a title. This book dives into the seasons of both teams leading up to this instant classic. Once you see the behind-the-scenes look, you'll have deeper appreciation for just how great the game really was. Even if you don't know the game, you've seen "the shot," which is only replayed every March, much to my chagrin. When reading the book, I found myself having a greater appreciation for the coaches, because both Duke and UK faced adversity during the year that could have easily derailed the teams. What you find is a great look at what goes on behind the curtain as 18- to 21-year olds get thrust into the spotlight of the national stage. What you see are two coaches who know what buttons to press and how to get maximum effort out of every player. Gene does a great job at diving into the players' backgrounds, personalities, and motivations to succeed.

This was a great, fun, easy read, even if the ending is terrible... ok, ok, I'll try to let it go. In all seriousness, this really was a great book to read. I enjoyed every chapter and every story. If you have a sports fan in your life, chances are they know this game, so buy them the book to see the story behind the game.

Thanks for stopping by!

-Daniel

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