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Rucker Park Setup

Rucker Park Setup

3.4 7
by Paul Volponi

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Best friends Mackey and J.R. have waited their whole lives to win the basketball tournament at Rucker Park, where their favorite pro ballers squared off against street legends. But the day of their big game, J.R. is fatally stabbed—and it’s Mackey’s fault, even though he didn’t wield the knife. Now Mackey has a score to settle, but the killer


Best friends Mackey and J.R. have waited their whole lives to win the basketball tournament at Rucker Park, where their favorite pro ballers squared off against street legends. But the day of their big game, J.R. is fatally stabbed—and it’s Mackey’s fault, even though he didn’t wield the knife. Now Mackey has a score to settle, but the killer is watching his every move.

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
Mackey and J.R. live to play basketball and they dream of winning the big tournament at Harlem's Rucker Park—that is, until J.R. is stabbed to death on the court. Mackey wants the killer caught and he feels both grief and guilt for his role in what went down. But meanwhile there's the final game of the tournament to play. Mackey is caught between a rich rapper and a local wheeler-dealer, who have some serious money on the outcome. They both think they have Mackey in their pocket. How will the game play out? Much of the narrative is a play-by-play account of the game by Mackey, interspersed with brief commentary from others, like J.R.'s father, who's the ref in the game. Lots of sports action and suspense will keep readers turning the pages of this gritty, streetwise tale (with lots of profanity) by the acclaimed author of Black and White and Rooftop. It's a brief but powerful basketball story that has much to say about loyalty and betrayal.
VOYA - James Blasingame
J.R. and Mackey grew up playing pickup basketball in Harlem, and by the time they reached high school, there was no doubt that "[t]hese two got man-style game." Although the duo took Washington High to the state playoffs, garnered All City honors, and received college scholarship offers, their lifetime goal has always been winning the tournament at Rucker Park, the toughest, most prestigious basketball tournament in street ball. When their dream is on the verge of becoming reality, however, everything goes wrong. J.R. is murdered right on the court, and Mackey is left to clean up the mess that he may very well be responsible for creating. By the time the final whistle blows, Mackey will have to settle the score in both the game and the murder of his best friend. The reader will have no doubt that Volponi has played street ball in New York City. His description of playing pickup ball on one of the toughest courts in the world feels wholly authentic. The characters also feel real and are probably composites of people Volponi has known. Readers need not be sports fans to enjoy the story; it has equal merit as a character study and has a surprising murder-mystery element as well. Language and violence do not rise to a level that would preclude middle school students from reading this book, and high school students will find the story and characterization complex enough to be an engaging read.
Children's Literature - Melyssa Malinowski
On the streets of Harlem, New York, basketball is king. Local thugs, rappers, and community pillars all vie for control of the rising talent they watch on the courts. They gamble on street ball, sponsor teams, and even bribe players to shave points, turning teammate against teammate. Mackey and J.R., best friends, teammates, and talented basketball players, have managed to stay above all of that nonsense. They know that to really make it, their dreams and talents have to belong to them and no one else. That is until Mackey becomes one of the fallen. He accepts a $500 payoff from the coach of the opposing team in the Rucker Tournament to win by only a certain number of points. The true cost is painstakingly told through the eyes of Mackey and Stove (J.R.'s father), the story chronicles the final tournament game and an attempt at redemption. This is an excellent piece of urban fiction, told with truth and depth.
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up In this intense sports novel, Mackey is about to realize his ambition of participating in one of Rucker Park's legendary street basketball tournaments. When he and his friend J.R. are chosen to play on rap star J-Greene's squad, the Greenbacks, it seems that their dreams are coming true. Then J.R. is murdered on the court, and Mackey finds himself haunted by the role he played in the tragedy. J.R.'s father, Stove, who is refereeing the tournament, knows that Mackey has not told the truth about J.R.'s death; the man's thoughts form a Greek chorus to the action on the court and Mackey's inner struggles. In high-velocity street ball, elbows and punches fly as players zigzag and streak across the court, and eager crowds line up to see mind-boggling steals and gravity-defying slam dunks. Volponi's sportswriting is finely attuned to the action, and he weaves the true, storied history of Rucker Park, located in New York City's Harlem, throughout his story. At times, the drama threatens to boil over, but Volponi keeps things in check with driving sports action and nuanced characterizations. Recommend this fine work to basketball fans, and to those who've enjoyed Walter Dean Myers's and James Bennett's sports novels.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews
Harlem's Rucker Park amateur basketball tournaments combine street players and wannabes in a showcase of slam-dunk explosive talent. No one is supposed to die. Volponi explores the temptations of money and fame for talented young players who showcase in the park. Mackey is black, but he's been tight with J.R. since fifth grade, and they've become a duo that can read each other completely on the court. Now J.R., a Puerto Rican who lived across the street from the park, is dead, but the tournament goes on. J.R.'s dad, Stove, has been more a father to Mackey than anyone, and is also the fairest referee at Rucker Park games. J.R. and Mackey had joined the Greenbacks sponsored by a rapper who's floating money around the neighborhood, and gambling against Nonfiction-the toughest team around, known for their coach's dirty tricks and mean mouth. Throughout the vivid descriptions of the game, it seems that Mackey is caught between guilt and anger. Whether he's sold out for money or if he will turn in the man who killed his friend appears to be the conflict, which is illuminated in the last few pages and incidentally last few minutes of the game. The most demanding hoops fanatic will love the descriptions of the action, and those looking for suspense will hang in for the whodunit aspect. A slam dunk! (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
770L (what's this?)
File size:
169 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Paul Volponi is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult novel Black&White. From 1992 to 1998, he taught adolescents on Rikers Island in New York City to read and write. Mr. Volponi worked at a day treatment center like Daytop teaching students and helping them prepare for the GED. Mr. Volponi lives in New York City.

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Rucker Park Setup 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mason Phillips More than 1 year ago
slow to get into...but turned into really great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
McDonald Mackey and J.R. have been best friends since elementary school. They have dreamed of playing basketball ball in Rucker Park since they were youngsters. J.R.'s dad Stove is close with the boys, and when his son is killed he looks to Mackey for answers. Greene, a famous rapper and owner of Mackey's team, makes a bet with the other teams coach, Fat Anthony. At this point it's about money and the championship game, but Stove still wants answers. Mackey struggles to focus, but read more to find out what happens. This story by Paul Volponi, Rucker Park Setup is a short book that is simple. The way it was written made it interesting and mysterious at times. My favorite character was Greene. He was a very wild, cocky, and loud. The book was interesting in how real it was portrayed. These problems actually happen in some areas of the world. This book was okay and would recommend it to people who like sports and real life situations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Basketball is life for Mackey and J.R. They've known each other forever and spend most of that time involved with basketball. Lucky for them, Rucker Park offers the cream-of-the-crop. The park has long been the scene of pick-up games and tournaments between actual pro-players and the best street players ever. Mackey and J.R. have long dreamed of playing in the annual tournament.

Unfortunately, Mackey gets involved in the "dark" side of basketball (game fixing), and as a result he may have been responsible for the fatal stabbing of his friend, J.R. Determined to make things right, Mackey starts the final tournament game intending to win it for J.R. no matter the consequences. But between his feelings of guilt, the pressure from the "dark" side, and the fact that J.R.'s own father is the long-time referee for the tournament, Mackey has everything he can do to play the game and not fall apart.

Paul Volponi demonstrates his knowledge of basketball in RUCKER PARK SETUP. The entire story revolves around the one tournament game. Readers are artfully filled in on the background information of Mackey's family and J.R.'s death through the use of flashbacks and the tormented thoughts of young Mackey. Colorful characters, top-notch players, and streetwise vocabulary help make the reader feel a part of the non-stop action. Fans of Volponi's BLACK AND WHITE and ROOFTOP will not be disappointed.