Playing Without the Ball

Playing Without the Ball

4.0 10
by Rich Wallace

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Some might think Jay was cheated. By his mother, who walked out when he was 9. By his dad, who took a job a couple thousand miles away and let him stay above a bar in a one-room apartment. By the basketball coach, who saw his talent but chose youth over determination. And even Jay’s not sure whether this last year of high school in the small town of Sturbridge,


Some might think Jay was cheated. By his mother, who walked out when he was 9. By his dad, who took a job a couple thousand miles away and let him stay above a bar in a one-room apartment. By the basketball coach, who saw his talent but chose youth over determination. And even Jay’s not sure whether this last year of high school in the small town of Sturbridge, Pennsylvania, will add up to anything. But just when senior year seems a waste–kissing the wrong girls, offending the right ones, playing basketball on a church league with other “rejects”–life begins to click again. The church league gives him some of the best basketball he’s ever played, and the right girl gives him a second chance. Jay may not know what he wants next out of life, but he’s beginning to get a clue about how to play the game.

From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Demonstrating once again his gift for combining taut sports action with understated but convincing characterization, Wallace returns to the same small Pennsylvania town from Wrestling Sturbridge and Shots on Goal for the story of a 17-year-old basketball player," wrote PW in a starred review. Ages 14-up. (Aug.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Demonstrating once again his gift for combining taut sports action with understated but convincing characterization, Wallace returns to the same small Pennsylvania town from Wrestling Sturbridge and Shots on Goal. Seventeen-year-old Jay McLeod's mother left when he was nine, and his father has just moved to Los Angeles. Jay decides to stay behind until June in order to play varsity basketball, knowing that as a "borderline" player, it may be his last. He's shocked when the coach cuts him from the team, but isn't quite ready to leave Sturbridge just yet. Jay knows plenty of reasons to stay: his friend Spit, a gifted punk-rock singer with even more family baggage than Jay; the new church basketball league, whose players may not be as accomplished as the school team's but are just as committed and competitive; and the chance to figure out just where he might be headed. Wallace's detailed play-by-play descriptions deftly capture the rush felt by players deep in a game, anywhere and at any level; with equal skill, the author limns the resilient Jay and his realistically awkward and tentative forays into romance. A novel rebounding with pleasures for YA readers of all types. Ages 14-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Basketball means everything to seventeenyearold Jaybefore school, on weeknights, on weekends, at the Y, and eventually, in a churchsponsored league after he fails to make the varsity team. Although his father divorced his mother and moved to California to escape small town Sturbridge, Pennsylvania, the setting for two other Wallace sports books, Wrestling Sturbridge (Knopf, 1996/VOYA June 1997) and Shots on Goal (Knopf, 1997), and his alcoholic mother lives in New Jersey, Jay remains in Sturbridge to complete his senior year of high school. Living alone over a bar and working as its shortorder cook, he copes with his loneliness, his varsity disappointment, and his lack of parental supervision. His friend Spit, a singer who performs regularly in the bar, has her own problems with drugs and overdosing, loose seXual values, and sabotaging Jay's attempts to date another girl by having seX with him herself. Most of the characters seem dysfunctional. Fellow team player Alan runs the local Methodist youth group, but he thinks nothing of smoking and passing around joints with his friends right after a youth minister recruits him to speak about the infiltration of drug use in the community. Alcohol and drug use are prevalent throughout the book, eXcept by Jay, who knows that indulging would be bad for him. As the churchsponsored basketball tournament advances, readers will sense Jay gaining confidence in himself and in his ability to survive. The wellwritten basketball scenes are eXciting and fast paced and will appeal to older, more mature readers who like sports fiction. Other nonsports readers will appreciate the growth in Jay's relationships and his responsibility in developing views of hislife. PLB VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Knopf, 224p, $15.95. PLB $17.99. Ages 16 to 18. Reviewer: Jane Van Wiemokly

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4) <%ISBN%> 0679886729

Wallace, a sportswriter, author of Wrestling Sturbridge, turns his attention to a story about basketball and how the love of the game keeps one young man sane. It's not the pros, it isn't the playground in the inner city: it's basketball as played in Y's and church leagues in small towns across America. Jay is 17, a senior in Sturbridge, Pennsylvania. His alcoholic mother left him when he was nine; his father, who tried his best to be a decent parent, has just taken a job in California, leaving Jay alone, living in a room above a bar. Jay wants to stay in Sturbridge since it is his last chance to play varsity ball. Working out at pick-up games at the Y keeps him going until the season starts. The first quarter of this "novel in four quarters" ends when Jay is cut from the high school team. The next three quarters take him through an alternative basketball season—a church league exists in the town, and he is asked to join the Methodists and their team, with boys and girls playing together and no adult coaches to dictate to them. What starts out as a second-best solution for Jay turns into an exciting competition, especially when the starting guard on the high school team quits after a quarrel with the coach and joins one of the church teams in the league, bringing the play to a higher level. Wallace does the detailed action of the basketball games better than anyone—the reader feels right there, if not on the floor, then in the stands watching, sharing the excitement. So this is a fine sports story. And it is also much more than that, because of the person Jay is and how he changes in this year he is alone. In exchange for his room, he works in the kitchen at the bar, wherea band plays live most weekends. The lead singer, Spit (a.k.a. Sarita), becomes a friend, a sometime roommate, a lover, and then only a friend again. She is creative, exciting, loving, and messed up with drugs and bad choices. Jay makes other new friends, on his team, at the Y. As the novel ends, he is beginning a solid relationship with Julie, the kind of girl he never before could have imagined would be interested in him. Wallace is so adept at catching the nuances of Jay's growing friendships; when they get complicated, when they are comfortable. Yes, there's sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll in this story, but they are integral to the non-formulaic plot, with Jay making surprising decisions and facing strange situations. For instance, Jay, who because of his mother's alcoholism is a strict teetotaler himself, dodges stuff all the time at the bar and with Spit; imagine his surprise when the kids at the Methodist Youth Group light up joints and pass them around. Wallace knows his small town setting and makes it absolutely real, just as he does the basketball action. There are so many poignant, understated scenes that are memorable—Jay's Christmas, for one—that many readers, aged 14 and up, will cherish this book for a variety of reasons. KLIATT Codes: S*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2000, Knopf, 218p, 21cm, $15.95. Ages 16 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-The high school senior who narrates this coming-of-age sports novel lives alone in a one-room apartment above a Sturbridge, PA, bar where he works when he's not in school. His mother left him and his dad when Jay was nine, and his father has recently moved to California to forge a new life. Jay, however, decides to stay behind to finish school and to pursue his passion-basketball. Although talented, he and another teammate are cut from the varsity squad so that the coach can groom some upcoming sophomores. Tired of playing pickup games, Jay joins a YMCA church league and leads his team to a season-ending championship game. His best friend is a female punk-rock band leader named Spit-a sensitive, but conflicted and self-involved soul mate who tries to help him navigate but soon becomes part of his emerging sex life. Wallace clearly knows basketball; his story is permeated with tautly written play action and dramatic time-out scenes of strategy planning under pressure. The only non-basketball school scene in the book takes place in the lunchroom. The author has an excellent ear for the way kids talk; his dialogue is simple and crisp, reflecting the personalities of his teen characters. He ties all the loose ends together, and all's well that ends well: Jay makes the winning basket and ends up with the right girlfriend. Basketball addicts will eat this up, but the story also has a lot to say about friendship, independence, and self-realization.-Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Against the Sky

The wind catches you by surprise when you turn the corner onto Main Street in Sturbridge, Pennsylvania. It's brisker than you expect, and in your face if you turn off a half-deserted side street and head up toward the post office or Rite-Aid or the Turkey Hill convenience store. Especially in late autumn.

It's the week before Halloween, getting dark in a hurry, so Rite-Aid is busy with people picking up giant bags of miniature candy bars and little kids scoping out masks and plastic jack-o'-lanterns. The rest of the stores are mostly closed for the night, but the pizza place is busy and the music store is hanging on for another hour or so. Nobody's in there except the clerk guy with long stringy hair, reading a magazine behind the counter. You can get used CDs for five bucks.

The diner's open across the street, but on this side the gun shop is closed, and Sid's clothing store just shut its lights a couple of seconds ago.

I turn into the alley between Shorty's Bar and Foley's Pizza. The alley is just barely wide enough for Shorty's twenty-year-old blue pickup, but you can squeeze past it if you have reason to take a shortcut over to Church Street. You go around back to reach the steps up to the apartments.

There are four doors up here. The one marked number 3 is mine, just a room with bare walls and a scuffed hardwood floor. The bathroom is painted mint green and has a stand-up shower stall and an oval mirror above the sink.

I sleep on a mattress in the corner; I can't afford a bed yet. I've got a closet, but I also hang clothes on my chair, especially wet stuff like my basketball shorts.

I get free rent. Not exactly free--I work it off in Shorty's kitchen three or four nights a week. The deal includes meals during work hours and five dollars an hour off the books.

When I moved into this place in September, I was seventeen. I'd never had sex, never used drugs, never forgiven

my mother, never been to church, and never been a basketball star.

I guess that's all still true.

I played like hell last night--telegraphing my passes, missing layups. That's the sort of thing that eats at me until I get a chance to redeem myself. I heard there's a 6 a.m. game on Tuesdays at the Y, so I set my alarm for 5:30 and stumbled out the door.

Six older guys and a girl about my age--I don't know her; she's new in town--are shooting around when I get there.

"You in?" a tall, bald, old-as-my-father guy asks me.


"You, me, and these two," he says, pointing to my teammates. "Cover my daughter."

I smile a little. She's dribbling the ball at the top of the key. I've seen her around school. Cute. An inch or so taller than me, short blond hair. "Hi," she says.


"I'm Dana."


She passes the ball in and I turn to double up on the pivot guy. Dana cuts to the hoop on a give-and-go, takes a little flip pass, and lays it off the backboard and in.

I play back this time, guarding against the inside pass. She dribbles once, sets up from fifteen feet and shoots, hitting nothing but net.

I blush a little. "I ain't awake yet," I say.

"Right," she answers, looking me straight in the eyes.

I guard her tighter now, trying not to hack her. She's very quick. Very agile and sleek.

She drifts into the key, thinking she can post up on me, but one of her teammates has dribbled into the corner. He's trapped--double-teamed--with his back to the basket, but he's still trying to dribble his way out.

"Oh, dear," she mutters, close enough to my face that I smell peppermint. She gives me a kind of smirk, a half-look that elevates me. "Dribbling is bad," she says.

"Tell me about it."

The ball goes out of bounds. It's ours.

I stay inside. The ball comes to me. I try to back her toward the basket. She plays me tight; front of her thighs against the back of mine. I give a head fake and drive. She gets a hand on the ball, affecting my dribble, but I recover, spin, and lay it over her outstretched hand. It scores.

Listen to this dream I was having when my alarm went off this morning.

I'm at the diner and I'm finishing my third consecutive meal. All of them were chicken dishes; the first two were the same, the third somewhat different. I can't recall the exact meals, but the chicken seemed to be fried and had thick gravy on it. I kept ordering dinners because I was hoping the waitress I had would go on a break and the more enticing new one would take over. But that didn't happen. Plus, I was very hungry.

Eventually I got up to pay, timing it so the preferred waitress would be at the register. I remember saying to her that I'd made a pig of myself.

I paid with a twenty, and I needed two more dollars. I started digging in my wallet but I couldn't find any singles, even though I knew they were in there. There was an elderly guy on line behind me, and he said he'd give me the money. I said no, I have it, but thanks anyway. Then I managed to spill everything in my wallet (in fact, far more stuff than I possibly could have carried in my wallet--my report card, a couple of golf balls, the lyric sheet from an Allman Brothers CD, a naked G.I. Joe doll, and a thousand pennies) all over the counter and the floor. As I was picking it up, the waitress who had served me came over and punched me on the shoulder and said, "Nice going, Jay, that guy behind you just died." I stood up, kind of stunned, and she looked at me in disbelief and said, "Help him!"

Well, the guy hadn't died, but he was shriveled up and could barely talk, and he said he'd had a heart attack. The nicer waitress was propping him up. I said, "I'll get some ice." [Note: This would have been a useless gesture.]

So I ran into the kitchen, gathered up a huge batch of ice, and then (holding the armload of ice) started trying to open cabinets and drawers to find a plastic bag to put it in.

That's when my alarm went off.

Game point, 6-6. She sets a screen at the foul line, and I'm not sure of the protocol for fighting through an opposite-gender pick.

"Come on," she says softly, "use it." But the guy dribbles toward the corner again. Same guy, same corner. This time he's open.

"That's you," she says, still whispering, like she's announcing the game to herself. "Oh, dear," she says as he halts his dribble and starts looking around. "Gotta shoot that."

Instead the guy tries to force a pass back to her, but it's way too high. She gets a hand on it, but no way she can recover. I grab the ball, step behind the arc, and shoot.

"Shit," I hear her say as it goes in.

About time.

From the Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Rich Wallace is the author of two other books set in Sturbridge: Wrestling Sturbridge and Shots on Goal.

From the Paperback edition.

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Playing Without the Ball 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How dio u play withput a ball
orangecrush More than 1 year ago
My book was Playing Without The Ball. It is about a boy whose parents are divorced. He doesn't make his school basketball team because the couch would rather have young kids on his team. So he plays on a church team. He works at a bar. He plays pickup games at the local Y with kids and adults. At the end he gets a girl friend. My opinion about this book is I liked it and would recommend it to people that like basketball. There are some weird parts in it so only teens and adults should read it. I don't like how the coach didn't pick him for the school basketball team. It was nice of him for playing on the church team and sometimes he went to the church.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I like books that are honest and real, and Playing Without the ball is among some of the best I have ever read in that category. Wallace does a amazing job of capturing a life that most of us will never know, and he captures it beautifully. Playing without the ball is one teenager's journey though the adolescent landmines of sports, life, and loneliness. By the time you finish this book you will walk away looking at things differently. I highly reccomend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
(Playing without the Ball)By Rich Wallace... a basketball player wishing to become a star one day.You would imagine someone like that would be rich or something but this guy only lives on Church street in an a apartment the one with the three on the door.There's not much to look at there's a mattress and a bathroom nothing special about it.This is a story about Jay a boy whom never had sex or never has done drugs in his life.He only moved here because he and his mom got into a fight and he never forgave her.He goes to the Y every once in a while to play basketball because of his boring life.The one day he went he caught the wrong people at the wrong time. He met Jana a girl about his age and goes to his school. Now his life is suspensful he never knows what's going to happen next.They drank one time and Jana drank too much and ended up in the hospital. I give it 4 out of 5 stars it's boring in the begining but towards page 30-35 it gets interesting.When I read the other reviews they were like it was the best book ever but when you read it you'll have your own perspective.The theme is to never just do something to fit in. Do what you do and what happens happens,and if you make a mistake you know your real friends will take you back.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Playing without the ball This book starts out confusing, but it gets better s you read. Jay is the main character who loves basketball. He doesn¿t live with his mother or father because they got divorced, and his father moved out to California. Jay works at a bar, and lives above it, in the apartment. Jay goes out for the school¿s basketball team and doesn¿t make cut, but joins a church¿s youth group basketball team. Meanwhile he works, has sex, and two girls are fighting over him. He crushes on Spit, who is in a band, and then falls for Julie. Brenda is a tennis player, whom Jay thought he liked. They have sex, and he doesn¿t see her for a while. Julie comes back, and they almost go out, but spit comes in and ruins it. In the end Jay gets Julie, Spit and him are just friends, and he might go to college. I think that Wallace get use less profanity less talk about sex, and alcohol use. One thing that made it good, was the detail.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story is abouta kid(Jay) who's parents are divorced and left him to live by himself. He works for rent and food for his dads friend who owns a bar and a little appartment above it. Jay also loves basketball and plays everyday all the time. When him and his friend don't make the high school basketball team the play for the church league. During the time he also has these five girls that he likes and doesn't know what to do with at a point in the book he hurts a girl and winds up hurting himself too. After awhile though he settles down finds the girl he wants and he wins the church league. I like this book becuase he is sorted how i am in certain ways, like loving basketball, liking girls and getting into trouble. People who probably have divorced parents or parents who lefted them should read this book beacuse to show how you can do well without you parents or parent. Lfe is tough but if you have friends that will help you, you can get through it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jay was abandoned by his mother when he was nine years old. His father recently left to live in California. Jay, however, chose not to go with him. All Jay wants is to make the high school basketball team; it's his last chance. He must concentrate also on survival. Could you imagine being independent and answering to no one? What about food, money, and dates? Follow Jay on this incredible journey through his Senior year in Sturbridge, PA. Read about his struggles and love of basketball in this wonderful book by Rich Wallace. Discover the reality of independence Jay faces each and every day of his life. Your reality will be seen from an entirely new perspective after reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Playing Without the Ball is a good story about 17 year old named Jay Mcleod. He lives alone and works as a cook. His life is basketball. He is cut from his highschool team and joins a church league where his confidence grows. Jay is constantly offered drugs and alcohol from his friend Spit and other kids his age. Jay always makes the right dicision and says no. This is a book that shows how hard peer pressure can be and how Jay fights back.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a story about a guy named Jay who lives on his own. He is cut from his high school basketball team and joins a ymca team for the local church league. He is only seventeen and works as a cook at a bar. He gets in trouble with the wrong girls and messes up with the right ones. His good friens Spit, is a singer at the bar and she is in his life throughout the whole book. Read this book to find out what happens to Jay as he struggles through life.