The Final Four
by Paul Volponi
Viking, 2012. 244 pgs. Young Adult
The Final Four of this title refers not only to the March Madness of the NCAA Tournament, but to four young men playing against each other in a classic matchup between perennial powerhouse Michigan State and Cinderella school, Troy University, in a fictional but furious matchup. Malcolm McBride is the one and done freshman, playing only long enough to secure an NBA contract, and outspoken in his criticism of big money collegiate sports, with none of the money going to the athletes. Roko Bacic is a refugee from Croatia and the Balkan wars who has had to leave his family behind to play in the United States. Michael Jordan struggles with the legacy of a famous name without matching skills, and Crispin Rice is engaged to be married to a Troy cheerleader who has become the school's good luck charm. Radio play-by-play takes the ball game to a breathtaking conclusion and then through four overtimes, all the while giving background about each of the four young men. Malcolm is from the projects and his sister has recently been killed in a drive-by shooting. Roko's uncle and basketball tutor is also dead, killed by terrorists. Michael works hard in school and on the court but is not often included in Malcolm's self-centered offense, and Crispin keeps catching "his girl" making moves on other guys. Volponi skillfully blends backgrounds and basketball in an exciting, rich narrative of this beautiful game and the nuanced characters and backgrounds of the young men who play. Highly recommended.