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READ: The Last Amateurs - Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I Basketball
- John Feinstein 

Publisher: Little Brown
Price: £17, Hardback

Often mythologised from afar, at its highest levels, American college basketball commands huge support, media coverage and resources from the universities involved. Its Final Four is bigger than anythign the NBA can offer, second only in its standing to the Super Bowl itself.

The reason? Television and ticket revenues provide a massive source of income to the institutions, while bringing national prestige by association to their academic endeavours.

The coaches are compensated richly for their efforts in recruiting the best young talent onto their campus, those players in turn becoming fledgling superstars.  While officially, they remain amateurs and receive no direct payment, the spin-offs render their lifestyle a distinct one from their fellow students, most harbouring ambitions to reap their reward once they hit the professional ranks.

In his latest book, Feinstein however chose to eschew the bright lights and head for the lower reaches to be found within the Patriot League, a small-time conference populated by seven schools which includes the distinctive powers of the US Navy and Army colleges as well as lesser known stops such as Lafayette and Bucknell.

In this league, no-one leaves university early to join the NBA, the teams travel on buses rather than private jets, television takes little interest, and as students, they are expected to complete their assignments on time without assistance from any clandestine support network.

In the sort of access-all-areas book which only ever seems to come out of the States, Feinstein chronicles each of the teams over a course of a season, charting their highs and lows on and off the court. Rather than
merely reeling off a series of match reports, instead we learn about the personalities involved, where these no-names came from and where they hope to go once their four years come to an end.

Only a few will go on to make a career of the sport (most notably here, Brian Ehlers, a star performer of the campaign who spent last term at Newcastle Eagles). Their targets are largely to beat each other, run
fancied opponents valiantly close, and ultimately, to win the league championship which will send them onward to a berth in the NCAA Tournament and a brief turn in the spotlight.

It is often inspiring stuff, as much for those who fail to combine both roles as for those who excel on the parquet and in the classroom. Feinstein has previously devoted much of his efforts to the US PGA tour
and although his latest project suffers a notch by the anonymity of its subjects, the stories stand tall in their own right.

Occasionally, the detail offered borders on the excessive but anyone who has every pulled on a pair of boots just for the hell of it will identify with the travails of those concerned.

Rating:  7/10

Click here to buy this at Amazon.co.uk
 

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