The Assist ~ Hoops, Hope And The Game Of Their Lives

The Assist

Photo Credit: Debbie Harris

The Assist is a gripping, surprising story about fathers, sons, and surrogates, caught up in a drama of race and the narrow margins of urban life.  Neil Swidley spent three years immersed in the lives of the people at the center of the book.  He gives readers intimate access into a world they don’t know, populated by unpredictable, complex people they’ll find themselves caring about deeply. At the heart of the book are the interwoven lives of a coach and two of his stars.  There’s O’Brian, impossibly tough on the court but nurturing off it, sending out team Christmas cards and giving his players helpful hints for washing heir jerseys.  There’s Ridley Johnson, known as the nicest kid in school but pushed by O’Brien to get much meaner on the court.  And there’s Jason “Hood” White, with piercing eyes and a thuggish appearance, who stays on the phone with his girlfriend for hours because he doesn’t want to be the first one to hang up. Swidley follows Ridley and Hood through their senior year, on their hunt for a state title, and then stays with them, to see how young men who seldom get second chances survive without their coach hovering over them—and how he survives without them. A minister friend once said O’Brien does the Lord’s work by “filling the space in his.  But O’Brien is no saint.  Saints give without expecting anything in return.  O’Brien need his plays and their problems as much as they need him. The coach and his guys are linked in a fierce, intimate, sometimes claustrophobic struggle, as each plays out the game of his life.  

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