Thursday, April 4, 2013

Keith O’Brien

Keith O’Brien's new book is Outside Shot: Big Dreams, Hard Times, and One County's Quest for Basketball Greatness. From his Q & A with Jeff Duncan for

Where did the inspiration for this story come from for you? How did a reporter from Boston stumble upon a high school basketball team from Scott County, Ky.?

The most interesting stories are within subcultures. And there is no doubt that Kentucky basketball is a fascinating subculture. Unlike most every other state, Kentucky has no classifications for high school basketball - no 5A, 4A and so on - that divide schools into divisions based on their size or talent. In Kentucky, every March, all 270 high school basketball teams enter the postseason. Only 16 make it to Rupp Arena. Crowds of 20,000 fans or more fill the arena to watch kids play basketball. And the boys and men who get there will literally kneel down and kiss the floor. They shed tears; they weep. They believe that just making it to Rupp and playing before these adoring crowds will change their lives -- even though, of course, it usually does not.

How familiar were you with Kentucky's passion for the sport of basketball before spending eight months there? And were you surprised in any way by the zeal once you moved there for the fall and winter?

I grew up in Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. So I was familiar, at least in passing, with the Bluegrass. I knew, in Kentucky, I'd be able to tell a story that would convey the power and meaning of basketball in rural America. What surprised me, though, was that there was a flip side, a dark side, to this passion. The kids and their families were often under so much pressure to win. The fans could be merciless, attacking teen-agers for their failures and shortcomings. It's one thing to criticize college players - say, Coach John Calipari or his players at the University of Kentucky. It's quite another thing to do the same thing to a 16-year-old kid. There should be...[read on]
View the video trailer for Outside Shot, and visit Keith O'Brien's website and Facebook page.

See O'Brien's six favorite books about people who have beaten the odds.

The Page 99 Test: Outside Shot.

--Marshal Zeringue