In this originally self-published hit, the small town of Willow Creek, Mont., is the place where dreams go to die. English teacher and basketball coach Sam Pickett hasn't won a game in five seasons and decides to quit coaching, but he changes his mind after getting a look at the 6-ft.-11 Norwegian exchange student, Olaf Gustafson. Sam's other recruits include Tom Stonebreaker, whose drunken father would rather see him working the family farm, and Peter Strong, who moves in with his hippie grandmother after his parents' divorce and would rather be back home in Minnesota with his girlfriend. As the team coalesces around Olaf and begins winning games, their march toward the state tournament inspires Willow Creek and ignites a touching romance between Sam and his assistant coach. If the novel is a little too long, its sentiments worn too shamelessly on its sleeve, and its symbolism a little too obvious (Sam dubs the team bus "Rozinante" in honor of Don Quixote's steed), this uplifting story about the triumph of human decency is sure to be enjoyed by those who fondly recall another David vs. Goliath roundball yarn--Hoosiers. (Jan.)
West has created a moving story, and one that moves along quickly, tying the lessons of basketball to those of life. As Coach Pickett says, "Maybe after so many losses along the way we all need to win at something," a sentiment so true after all.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
A fervent feel-good fairy tale of a novel.”
West has created a moving story, and one that moves along quickly, tying the lessons of basketball to those of life. As Coach Pickett says, "Maybe after so many losses along the way we all need to win at something," a sentiment so true after all.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Fans of Rocky/Cinderella stories will cheer this heartwarming tale of forgotten small-town America making good as a ragtag rural high school basketball team of perennial losers (five years and ninety-three losses in a row) carries the dreams of the whole town on the backs of its mismatched, faded, blue-and-gold uniforms. Sam Pickett, like so many others in Willow Creek, Montana, is hiding out, on the run from sad memories, teaching English literature and coaching basketball. The school board wants to pull the plug, since Willow Creek cannot even field a full roster, but when a 6-foot, 11-inch Norwegian exchange student enrolls and Sam discovers Peter Strong, who has moved in with his grandmother during his parents' divorce shooting amazing free throws, he wonders if maybe, like his hero Don Quixote, he might just tilt at windmills one more season. There is lots of play-by-play action for hoops fans, but the real heart of the book is discovering that even in a place where everyone knows your name, everyone's stories hold secrets and a small store of hope. Originally a self-published word-of-mouth favorite, West's frame of Don Quixote and impossible dreams can be a bit overworked (the team bus is Rozinante), and the sentiment of family, friendship, and a second chance at love for Sam and his assistant coach can veer into the sentimental. But readers will love the way these kids' "one for all and all for one" attitude makes them winners no matter the final score. Reviewer: Mary Arnold
This novel by West (Amos: To Ride a Dead Horse) originally was self-published in 2001; republished in paperback in 2010 and selected as an Indie Pick, it is now newly available on audio. The high school boys' basketball team in the tiny, forlorn town of Willow Creek, MT, has lost its last 93 games. Just as the coach, English teacher and widower Sam Pickett, is about to retire, he discovers the school's new 6'11" Norwegian exchange student, who has a great outside shot. As the team marches toward the state tournament, the spirits of Willow Creek's residents soar, and Sam's broken heart begins to heal. Actor Traber Burns warmly narrates this wonderfully sweet and sappy inspirational sports story, which will appeal to those who enjoyed Hoosiers and Field of Dreams. Ripe for a movie adaptation. [For a less laudatory take on this title, read the review of the Algonquin pb, LJ Xpress Reviews, 12/23/10.—Ed.]—Beth Farrell, Cleveland State Univ. Law Lib.
Elegiac but hopeful novel, originally self-published, about the redemptive power of people—and, of course, roundball.
Sam Pickett is a mess of a man. He has a good excuse, having witnessed his wife's murder in a fast-food joint back in the big city, with bits and pieces of her "spattered on the wall, shrapnel from her head, small bits of brain and bone, skin and hair, sailing down the stainless steel on a sea of gore."Yuck, you may say—and so does he, dropping everything, only to rediscover himself in a small town in Montana, tucked away in a valley surrounded by tall mountains and only a single paved road. "It was hard to tell where the fields and cow pastures ended and the town began,"writes West (Finding Laura Buggs, 1999, etc.), making it a fine place for Pickett to leave the world behind. Alas, no such luck, for in his new role as high-school teacher and emissary from civilization, he finds himself called on to make Willow Creek a better place by giving its residents something to live for in the form of a decent basketball team. He recruits an improbable Scandinavian exchange student ("Olaf, you're the most dangerous center in the tournament...a Maalox Moment for all opposing teams"), rounds up a few other sports fans, enlists the townies and works his way through angst, a sort of outtake from Hoosiers without the DTs. The story almost begs to be layered in cliché, but West steers clear of it and of sentimentality; his characters act and speak as real peopleas they maketheir way toward the satisfying conclusion.
Worthy of a place in Montaniana alongside Ivan Doig and Deirdre McNamer, this is a modest tale, elegantly written—and, in the bargain, there are multiple sightings of Man of La Mancha for the Dale Wasserman fans in the audience.