The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams

( 8 )


It ought to be just a game, but basketball on the playgrounds of Coney Island is much more than that—for many young men it represents their only hope of escape from a life of crime, poverty, and despair. In The Last Shot, Darcy Frey chronicles the aspirations of four of the neighborhood’s most promising players. What they have going for them is athletic talent, grace, and years of dedication. But working against them are woefully inadequate schooling, family circumstances that are often desperate, and the slick, ...

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It ought to be just a game, but basketball on the playgrounds of Coney Island is much more than that—for many young men it represents their only hope of escape from a life of crime, poverty, and despair. In The Last Shot, Darcy Frey chronicles the aspirations of four of the neighborhood’s most promising players. What they have going for them is athletic talent, grace, and years of dedication. But working against them are woefully inadequate schooling, family circumstances that are often desperate, and the slick, brutal world of college athletic recruitment. Incisively and compassionately written, The Last Shot introduces us to unforgettable characters and takes us into their world with an intimacy seldom seen in contemporary journalism. The result is a startling and poignant expose of inner-city life and the big business of college basketball.

It ought to be just a game, but basketball on the playgrounds of Coney Island represents the only hope of escape from a life of crime, poverty, and despair for many young men. Here is the intimately-told story of dreams and cynicism--of the often painfully naive hopes of youth played out against the realities of SATs, the NCAA, and the brutal world of college recruitment.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Coney Island, Brooklyn, once New York City's playground, is now an archetypal ghetto, filled with high-rise housing projects and populated almost exclusively by African-Americans. High schoolers there attend Abraham Lincoln High, known all around the East Coast for its outstanding basketball teams, where players see the sport as their way out of second-class citizenship. In his first book, Frey, a contributing editor at Harper's and the New York Times Magazine, has composed a sensitive account of a year in the lives of four exceptional players (three seniors and one freshman), their coach and their families, and he shows that the game can indeed be a means of escape in spite of their school's poor academic reputation. But the way out is fraught with difficulties. For instance, Frey offers devastating anecdotes about dishonest college recruiters and about the NCAA. This excellent book is not only about basketball but about realizing a dream, and its appeal should be very wide. (Nov.)
Library Journal
For many adolescents on Coney Island, basketball is their only escape from the urban hell of poverty, crime, and drugs. The Last Shot chronicles a group of teenagers playing for one of the best teams in New York, the Abraham Lincoln Secondary School Railsplitters. These young males continually cope with circumstances beyond their control in a society that has failed miserably to provide a safe environment and, more importantly, a good education. The author, who won a National Magazine Award for the story upon which this account is based, also explains how those living in high-risk areas suffered the most when the National Collegiate Athletic Association raised the standards of acceptable SAT scores for athletes. The young men whose stories Frey so poignantly captures exist in a world of "mean streets and basketball dreams." Recommended.-L.R. Little, Penticton P.L., British Columbia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618446711
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/3/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 239,019
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

DARCY FREY is a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in New York City.

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Abraham Lincoln High School is a massive yellow brick building of ornate stonework and steel-gated windows at the end of Ocean Parkway, a stately, tree-lined boulevard about a mile from the Coney Island projects. Built in 1930, in the grand style of public architecture, Lincoln once counted itself among the top academic high schools in New York, its student body filled with the sons and daughters of the immigrants who had arrived in the neighborhood at the turn of this century. But as Coney Island has deteriorated over the years, so has Lincoln High. Directly across Ocean Parkway from the school are Brighton Beach and several other Jewish neighborhoods; but the kids from those areas are often sent elsewhere for their education, as Lincoln has become, little by little, a ghetto school for the projects.

Lincoln is by no means the worst or most dangerous of New York's almost two hundred public high schools. That distinction is shared by Thomas Jefferson in Brooklyn, where two students were recently gunned down in the hallway as they walked to class; William Taft in the Bronx, where kids occasionally throw M-80s into crowded classrooms; and the forty-five other schools throughout the five boroughs where metal detectors have been installed at the front doors to separate students from their coat-pocket arsenals. The faculty at Lincoln includes some of the most dedicated teachers in the city, as well as a principal who just retired after twenty-two years of holding the school together through this era of enormous change. Still, a malaise has set in at Lincoln, as it has at so many inner-city schools. Twenty-five hundred students attend Lincoln, packing every inch of itsyellow-walled corridors at dismissal time, and it often seems that an equal number of security guards is required to keep them from inflicting grievous bodily harm on one another. The first day I dropped by, in the spring of 1991, there was much commotion in the Lincoln hallway because the locker of a student was found to contain a handgun. On my second visit, the weapon in question was a six-inch knife. After one student was taken by ambulance to Coney Island Hospital with a neck wound requiring forty stitches, even some of the most peaceable kids at the school began carrying X-Acto knives for protection.

Most of the African-American students at Lincoln arrive each morning from the nine subsidized housing complexes that run from West Twenty-first Street in Coney Island to West Thirty-seventh, and between Neptune Avenue and Surf -- a thirty-block grid of streets comprising not much more than project buildings and basketball courts. Many of the students' parents are jobless and support their families with welfare and food stamps. Although the universal teenage fashion of baseball caps and baggy, low-riding jeans provides a certain camouflage, the overwhelming poverty of these families is evident in the Lincoln corridors, where kids sometimes show up for school in midwinter wearing nothing but hooded sweatshirts, huddling close to hallway radiators to keep warm; or at the end of each school year when a handful of seniors who cannot afford the school's $88 cap-and-gown fee apply for special dispensation. A lot of Lincoln kids remain in the neighborhood after they graduate, working as orderlies at Coney Island Hospital or store managers at McDonald's or foremen on construction crews -- jobs not much better than the ones their parents have, if indeed their parents have any jobs at all.

Amid such diminished prospects, the opportunities presented to those kids who make the school's varsity basketball team are stunningly vast -- a door in a constricted room suddenly flung open on the wider world. Filling its rosters with kids who, in a grim bit of humor, call their court the Garden, though they must share it each day with the neighborhood's prostitutes and junkies, the Lincoln team has become the odds-on favorite each year to play for the city championship at the real Madison Square Garden, under television lights and the gaze of six thousand fans. And Lincoln's reputation as New York's best public school team is now drawing invitations to national tournaments, allowing kids who have never lived anywhere but the Coney Island projects to find themselves on week-long, all-expenses-paid trips to Florida, Las Vegas, and San Diego.

But city championships and national tournaments, however thrilling, are transient moments. The ultimate reward of making the varsity squad arrives in the form of the dozens of college coaches who visit Lincoln each year with the promise of full, four-year athletic scholarships to schools like Seton Hall, Providence, Temple, Syracuse, and Villanova. Every year they come -- descending upon this forgotten corner of New York to take the measure of the school's best players. You can always tell when a college coach has entered the crowded Lincoln gym for a game: the long wooden bleachers have already begun to fill -- with hopeful parents, older brothers curious to check out the new crew, kids from the junior varsity studying the moves of the upperclassmen. Everyone in Coney Island reads the high school sports section in New York Newsday to size up Lincoln's competition in the city's Public School Athletic League (the PSAL); and for every crucial home game the neighborhood packs the house, streaming into the Lincoln gym until the door monitors stanch the flood and the refs tell everyone to "take a couple of big steps back from the court now, or we're not gonna start this game." And just at that moment, before the ref walks to center court and the ball goes up, a famous coach -- P. J. Carlesimo from Seton Hall or Rollie Massimino of Villanova -- will appear at the door, and the news will ripple through the raucous crowd, already decked out in Seton Hall caps and Villanova sweatshirts in anticipation of a moment like this.

Out on the court, the players fight the urge not to eyeball the new arrivals; etiquette requires a cool indifference. But the presence of the suits amid the Afros, flattops, and box-and-fades in the Lincoln bleachers is unquestionably momentous. For the prospect of being recruited by a top college coach offers a Lincoln student more than the opportunity to play NCAA ball for four years in front of millions of viewers on ESPN. It promises something substantial and long-lasting: that even if an NBA contract isn't in the cards for any of the players, their talent and tenacity on the court will at least reward them with a free college education, a decent job after graduation, and a one-way ticket out of Coney Island -- a chance, in other words, to liberate themselves from the grinding daily privations of life in the ghetto once and for all.

Coaches were everywhere at Lincoln during the spring following the team's 1991 city championship. Russell, Corey, and Tchaka were finishing their junior year, and Stephon was expected to join them as a freshman in the fall. Winning a championship at any time during his high school career gives a player a tremendous boost toward college recruitment. That Russell, Corey, and Tchaka had won their titles as juniors seemed even more auspicious. Now that the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of college athletics, allows high school players to sign with colleges in the fall of their senior year, most coaches pick the promising juniors and watch them play during July and August, when the nation's best players go head to head at the summer basketball camps. Then the coaches start recruiting as soon as the players return to school in the fall.

It was a fine time to have caught up with the Lincoln varsity. Celebrations of the team's 55-40 victory over South Shore High School at Madison Square Garden kept going off throughout the spring, like intermittent explosions after the Fourth. The New York City Board of Education awarded each L

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 19, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This book is about 4 young African American basketball players t

    This book is about 4 young African American basketball players they grow up in the ghetto in New York. It talks about how hard they work to make something out of nothing. They were born in a hostile enviornment and are trying to get away from the Coney Island projects forever. This book talks about basketball in all kinds of ways, from why they play to the pressure of getting recruited for college level ball. One major theme in this book is dedication. The author illustrates perfectly what the main characters, Russell, Corey, Stephon, and Tchaka, go through in order to get out of the ghetto. They avoid drugs, alcohol, and gang violence in any way so they can escape their destructive childhood. One thing I liked about this book was how well the author described the setting of the each scene. He gave me an idea of what the Coney projects looked like and how things were run in this part of town. As well as how he described the atmosphere of the crowd and players during the basketball games. One thing I didn't like was how the little the author talked about hmself. Little was known about his lifestyle and where he lived and grew up. This book should be read by young high school athletes who are looking to make a living out of the sport they love. It shows how talent and dedication can connect and make a marvelous athlete who will show they world how good they are at what they do.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2010

    Dribbling into the American Dream

    In the novel The Last Shot written by Darcy Frey, a life of distress and despondency is portrayed where the only source of faith comes from young men with the dream of a basketball career. This story focuses on four underprivileged teenage boys; Tchaka Shipp, Corey Johnson, Russell Thomas and Stephon Marbury who depend on basketball to be there one-way ticket out of chaotic Coney Island. This intriguing story follows these young, inspiring student-athletes and their journey through a hard high school life. In Coney Island, basketball is one of the only positive aspects for the citizens. "Even the dealers and hoodlums refrain from vandalizing The Garden [basketball courts], because in Coney Island the possibility of transcendence through basketball in this case, an athletic scholarship to a four-year Division 1 college is an article of faith"(5). Furthermore, this book exemplifies the menacing attitudes of college recruiters attempts to bribe the athletes through a process of lies. Athletes can no longer trust coaches and academic achievement is more important than ever. Coney Island education is also terrible and these four athletes are immensely behind in academics. They have to score a 700 on SAT's and are barely passing classes. Throughout the novel these four athletes stay determined of their goal while dealing with inadequate schooling, family troubles and a city full of poverty and crimes. The Last Shot contains many important messages and themes. Determination and bravery are commonly shown in the book. Athletes at Coney Island are determined for a better life and an education at a great college. They live in dangerous streets where chances of being shot are extremely high. The ghetto town is filled with dangerous drug-dealers and it takes plenty of bravery to practice basketball in the city. Another major theme is to not judge a book by its cover. Coney Island's reputation is that all the citizens are dangerous and involved in horrible crimes. This novel clearly shows that this statement is false. These four athletes and their families are represented as great people who only wish for a better future. This is an interesting book that can appeal to basketball fans and athletes in the recruiting process. This novel gives an inside look on how reaching your athletic dream can really be. Athletes are lied to by recruiters which is terrible because deciding on a college can determine the next forty years of a person's life. This novel is also relatively easy and a short read for children. The Last Shot is a unique book that reveals an inside look at true struggles one may have to reach an athletic dream. Frey equally adds plenty of detail into the book that helps avoid boredom or questioning. Words Between Us is also written by Darcy Frey and is recommended if you enjoyed The Last Shot. One drawback of Frey's work is that it can be repetitious in some sections.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2009

    The real story of inner city high school basketball.

    There are so many inner city youths that dream of big time college basketball but there are so many obsticles.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2009

    The recruiting process

    This book is about fore young inspiring athletes in their pursuit to use basketball to better them selves and their life styles. The story tells about fore high school boys named, Corey, Tchaka, Russell and Stephon Marbury. They ear some of New York's Coney Islands finest basketball players. It also tells about their whole recruiting process and their time in college. this is a wonderful book fore young inspiring athletes to read because you could relate to some of the trials they go through with the recruiters and apply them to your self and also even if you haven't experienced it yet. You cloud learn about thing you could possibly go through later.

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  • Posted March 17, 2009

    Dribbling Into The Flashing Lights

    Following the life of four young liclion High School Basketball players. Russell, Tackha, Corey and Stephon Marbury shows the every day strugle with school and basketball. All four young athletes all have high hopes and big dreams of playing in the NBA or playing on a college team. Corey and Russell Strugle with school and SATS's. But are they going to stay focused and live there dream or stay in the hood? These are choices that these young athletes have to make. Read the book and find out what really goes down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2007

    Good Book

    The last shot is a story about four underprivileged kids trying to make it out of Coney Island by way of basketball. Basketball keeps all of the kids from drifting astray and becoming involved with the drug-ridden neighborhood. In chaotic Coney Island, the boys use basketball as their anti-drug and as their ticket out. The story is non-fiction and highlights Abraham Lincoln High School moreover it follows four real student-athletes on their journey through high school and the attempt to get out to college. In more detail, the book shows the sinister attitudes of college coaches and NBA recruits in their attempts to get them to attend their schools¿. The coaches promise playing time but in reality they promise that to everyone, recruiting is shown to be a brutal process. I liked how the players, even with all the distractions, kept their eyes on the goal of leaving the sub par conditions. The book really opened my eyes on the fact that college recruitment attempts are simply like used car sales. The recruiters say almost anything and promise everything to get as many players to attend their universities. You must learn not to trust them because it is very likely that their attempt to recruit you has been used on many other players. Overall, I recommend this book to anyone, especially people in the recruiting process or basketball fans. The book is a relatively easy read and I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2007

    The Last Shot--Book Review

    In The Last Shot written by Darcy Frey, described Coney Island as a place of desolation and despair where the only source of hope comes when young men who are gifted at basketball because it provides them with a chance to escape the neighborhood they grew up in. As Frey noted in his introduction, ⿿even the dealers and hoodlums refrain from vandalizing The Garden, because in Coney Island the possibility of transcendence through basketball - in this case, an athletic scholarship to a four-year Division 1 college - is an article of faith.⿠Frey followed and wrote about the hard work and dedication of three Abraham Lincoln High-School seniors: Tchaka Shipp, Corey Johnson, and Russel Thomas and a freshman with tramendous talents, Stephon Marbury. Tchaka Shipp is invited to the Nike camp, performs well, and is chased by the entire Big East conference. I enjoyed reading each coach's visit, as they tried different approaches to make the connection with Tchaka. Frey documents the senior season of star guard Russell Thomas. Thomas was a 6⿲2⿳ guard that has the ability to explode for 50 points in a game while locking down an opposing team⿿s star player to less than 10 points. Russell has the talent but comes with baggage. Because of his unique personality and unlimited determination, your heart is broken by the stories focused on him. Russell is neglected by coaches because of his SAT scoring problems and doubts about his mental-emotional capacity (suicide attempts scare coaches). Russell is the kid that readers can rally around and want to see succeed. A reader wants him succeed because he wants to use basketball to achieve concrete realistic goals. Russell has a dream of a 4 year degree, becoming a registered nurse, and never going back to Coney Island. Corey has had trouble with his grades many times. He relaxed his way to three failed classes and now possesses a 66 average-approximately one failed test away from losing his eligibility to play on the Lincoln team. Corey always cuts a stylish figure and is found with girls at sometimes. Last but not least, the player who has the most potential is Stephon. Stephon is the youngest and is a contributor right away when he joins the team. Some of the main themes in this book are discrimination, the love between each player, for example, ⿿You my little point guard.⿠Tchaka says to Lawrence, a player he meets Nike Camp. ⿿We got ourselves a relationship,⿠replies Lawrence. Also the jealousy between some of the players, the struggle of grades, and college recruiting are other themes. Being a high school basketball player, I really enjoyed this book. Reading about the player⿿s interactions between each other was fascinating and reading about the NBA star growing up Stephon Marbury was one of the reasons why I chose this book. This non-fictional book is wonderful and I advise any basketball fan, player or anybody who loves sports to read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2005

    one of the best I have ever read.................

    This was a great book! I was depressed that I had to read 3 books for school 3 weeks before school started. Well, this was the first book I read and finished it in 5 days while working. A great read for young people and a must read for aspiring athletes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2005

    the real stories...what we usually never hear

    i'm a 19 year old college student totally in love with college basketball, i chose to read this book because i wanted to know what the real stories are behind college superstars from the projects. By the end of the novel my heart was broken and i yearned to know more about every player in the league. This book is a good read for anyone, any age..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2003

    Dad with a 13 yr old Hoopster in Las Vegas

    A good story for young men to read. It will give them insight about the requirements for the path to a college scholarship. I thought the main character had the most realistic approach to basketball; get a scholarship, get a degree and find a better life. He understood that not many find the path to the NBA. Wisely knowing that basketball could be used as vehicle to a good career.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2003

    Great Book

    I thought this book was great. It's to bad what happens in the end. I liked it and recomend it to any basketball lover

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2001

    The American Dream

    As a 16 year old kid still growing up, i don't read alot. Maybe 10 full books read in my life. Although, i will NEVER forget this book. I love books that show that 'otherside' that people don't see. That life of the projects that most people fear. This shows there are good people stuck in there without an option. As a big fan of Stephon Maubury, i believe this is the best book i have ever read. Thank you for writing this book!

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