Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Legends Club by John Feinstein

Posted by Rebecca Brendel


Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I Read: The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry by John Feinstein

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Although John Feinstein’s career began with a classic basketball book, A Season on the Brink, these days the Golf Channel contributor more frequently writes about golf.  In The Legends Club, Feinstein returns to his roots with a nostalgic, bittersweet look back at the glory days of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball in the 1980s and beyond.

When Jim Valvano and “Coach K” took their head coaching positions at North Carolina State and Duke in 1980, Dean Smith had already established the North Carolina program as a perennial NCAA powerhouse.  Valvano and Krzyzewski had the ability and audacity to take on Dean Smith, but their early experiences were not very successful.  In fact, Coach K came very close to getting fired in his second year with the Blue Devils.  Today he’s still at Duke as the winningest coach in Division One history.

In addition to retracing Coach K’s journey to that pinnacle of coaching achievement, The Legends Club also includes many exciting game and tournament accounts, as well as fascinating stories about the sometimes contentious interactions among the three coaches.  John Feinstein is a Duke graduate and a personal friend of Mike Krzyzewski.  He openly admits a Duke “bias,” but he also writes movingly of Coach Valvano’s 1983 national championship, as well as his brave, public battle with cancer ten years later.  And he writes admiringly of Coach Smith’s brilliant basketball innovations and his unwavering loyalty to his players.

What I Thought:  Although John Feinstein’s The Legends Club is a very enjoyable sports book, readers should not expect an expose of big-time college basketball.  Feinstein points out personal quirks and foibles of the three coaches, but he is clearly an admirer of all three men, as well as being a fan of ACC basketball.  The book does drag a bit after Valvano and Smith exit the story—due to Valvano’s death and to Smith’s retirement and later death from Alzheimer’s complications.  The final few chapters recount recent Duke basketball history in a fairly perfunctory narrative that lacks the drama of the earlier chapters.  Overall, however, Feinstein gives the reader fine portrayals of these three legendary coaches and the high-stakes environment in which they competed so successfully.

Readalikes: Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four by John Feinstein;  Glory Road: My Story of the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship by Don Haskins.

Or look this book up on NoveList!

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