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
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
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
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.