Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review of The Final Four by Paul Volponi

The Final Four by Paul Volponi; Penguin, 2012
Four collegiate basketball players on two different teams share a common goal—to make it to the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament and, ultimately, to win the coveted title.  Playing for the Michigan State Spartans, Malcolm “One and Done” McBride hopes to be drafted into the NBA after only one year of college.  It is only because of an NBA rule stating that players cannot enter into the draft directly from high school that he is playing college ball at all.  His hapless teammate, Michael “MJ” Jordan, is named for the most famous player to ever grace the game by his late father, who was a big fan.  However, MJ cannot fill his namesake’s shoes, nor is his idol “Air Jordan”.  The Spartans are also joined by John “Grizzly Bear” Cousins and DeJuan “Baby Bear” Wilkins, two huge centers who have talent of their own.

This year’s “Cinderella Team” hails from Troy, Alabama—the Troy University Trojans.  Their star player, Roco “Red Bull” Bacic, has had a hard life, growing up in Croatia and is grateful to be able to attend college and play ball in the United States.  Playing alongside him is Crispin “Snap-Crackle-Pop” Rice, the biggest guy on the team, whose heart belongs to Troy cheerleader Hope Daniels, whom the media has dubbed “Hope of Troy”.  Roko and Crispin are joined by fellow player Aaron Boyce, whose family lived through Hurricane Katrina when it hit New Orleans.

Waiting in the wings for the second game of the final four, are the teams from North Carolina and Duke.  Join them as they wait through four tense overtime periods played by the Spartans and the Trojans to learn who their opponent will be in NCAA semifinal game at the Louisiana Superdome!

Final Four opens with the end of regulation play as the game is tied at the buzzer.  Both teams from Michigan State and Troy are exhausted, as the game has been extremely taxing, both physically and mentally.  The coaches from the teams are trying their best to rally their players and figure out a game plan to win and make it to the end of the game. 

Each chapter opens with a quote about basketball and life, in general, from various celebrities, mostly coaches and players—LeBron James, Bill Walton, and “Pistol Pete” Maravich—among others.  There is fantastic play-by-play action woven into the plot, as well as media releases thrown into the story.  Newspaper articles, flashbacks, and live radio broadcast scripts tell most of the back story of the players’ lives, leading up to the game. A possible NCAA scandal is added into the mix, which only serves to thicken the plot! 

Although Malcolm and Roco have both had hard young lives, it is Roco, who has grown up in war-torn Croatia, who remains a true optimist, despite all he has witnessed and been through in his country.  Both basketball and the opportunity to receive a college education bring him true joy!  Malcolm, on the other hand, has a huge chip on his shoulder.  He resents being forced to play college ball just to become eligible for the NBA draft, and he feels that the NCAA is profiting off the backs of college players.  He is not shy about making his feelings known, even to the media!  Malcolm is not a team player because there is no “I” in team!

There are a number of slang terms used—kicks, scratcher, crew—that I was unfamiliar with and had to research for meaning.  There are also excerpts of Roco’s diary, which he begins as a young boy and continues through college, in his own handwriting, which give readers a first-hand look into his life.  Readers can also see him mature through his writing process.

The cover art gives the reader a true feel for what is in store for him if he opens the book.  The Final Four is a great guy book, but any basketball fan would enjoy this “Trojan War”!  I recommend it for high school and public libraries.