The best college basketball books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about college basketball and why they recommend each book.

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Full Court

By Dennis Trudell (editor),

Book cover of Full Court: A literary anthology of basketball

In the 1990s, I didn’t know of any collection of basketball stories and few great basketball books had been written. Dennis Trudell saw the same thing and fixed it with this literary anthology. I appreciated the broad array of stories in the collection. It includes John Updike’s poem, “The Ex-basketball Player.” In “Posting Up,” Stephanie Grant captured the beauty of basketball in a story about a teenage girl learning to play the post. Most stories tackle hard topics beyond the basketball court. If you love basketball and literature, you must find this hard-to-find book. 


Who am I?

I’m a storyteller and jack of all trades who grew up on a family farm in Indiana. I can operate a combine, analyze data, or edit a book. Writing about sports can create great stories, but the true beauty lies in the people and circumstances, not the stats and game highlights. Most of my works are nonfiction—personal interest, sports, history, and sports history. I enjoy unearthing untold stories, especially when they involve equal rights, underdogs, hidden history, and non-famous people. Everyone has a story to tell.


I wrote...

Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

By Matthew A. Werner,

Book cover of Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

What is my book about?

This is the incredible true story of the 1950 Indiana high school basketball season. The circumstances of that one season captured the essence of Hoosier hysteria in all its glory. But this is more than a sports story. The students were born into the Great Depression and grew up in the shadow of World War II. The coaches were veterans of war. A fire destroyed a school, but not its spirit. A coal strike threatened everything. There were hard times and happy memories. In the end, everyone shared one common love: basketball.

The Crossover

By Kwame Alexander,

Book cover of The Crossover

Written in poetic verse, this novel is captivating, clever, and emotional. I love it when a book is written with so much emotion that I have to wipe away the tears. Yes, I cried. Alexander combined sport with heart, and this book has depth, and covers so much more than basketball. The family scenes are realistic and powerful.


Who am I?

As a child I loved to read and write but I also loved sports. I played every sport I could, and races and games fueled me. My mother called me the “joiner.” Teams create bonds and friendships and I’m still in touch with former teammates. This gives me inspiration to write human interactions. Determination and perseverance are part of being an athlete and I write about strong characters who want to succeed but often meet obstacles along the way. I honestly believe that my sports background has helped me survive publishing, because both are full of highs and lows. Please, enjoy my recommended list because they’re books with heart.


I wrote...

When You Least Expect It

By Lorna Schultz Nicholson,

Book cover of When You Least Expect It

What is my book about?

Seventeen-year-old Holly Callahan desperately wants to make the national rowing team so she can compete overseas, but she is the last rower cut. Her summer dreams are shattered, and she finds herself back at home, living with her mother's annoying new boyfriend, Super Stew.

Holly's not a quitter. She lands a summer job, and then is handed an unexpected lifeline in the person of a man who offers to coach her in a single rowing boat. For a girl raised without a father, the coach's generosity — and rigorous demands — are a gift. But where did he come from and who is he, really? Discovering the answer plunges her into sadness — but then he inspires her to work beyond her comfort zone.

The City Game

By Matthew Goodman,

Book cover of The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team

A gripping, fascinating story by Matthew Goodman of the 1949-1950 City College of New York Men's basketball team, the only team in history to win both the NCAA and NIT tournaments in the same season (teams have long since been barred from competing in both). Led by the legendary coach Nat Holman, the 15-man squad of working-class kids comprised 11 Jews and four African Americans. Goodman weaves a tale of corrupt big-city politics, the extraordinary engine of upward mobility that CCNY was mid-century and the tragic downfall of the team, as several of its star players became implicated in a point-shaving scandal the following season, a stain that followed several of those involved for the rest of their lives. 

During their run to the 1950 NIT championship, CCNY played the University of Kentucky, then the two-time defending NCAA champs, barred from playing in the NCAA that year, and at a…


Who am I?

I am a professor of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and I have written about the intersection of sports, media, and politics for many years. I am also the co-host of a podcast, Agony of Defeat, with Matt Andrews, that explores the connections between sports, politics, and history. Basketball is an especially rich topic for mining these intersections. And I’m also a lifelong sports fan.


I wrote...

Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

By Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler,

Book cover of Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

What is my book about?

Two award-winning political scientists provide the psychological key to America’s deadlocked politics, showing that we are divided not by ideologies but something deeper: personality differences that appear in everything from politics to parenting to the workplace to TV preferences, and which would be innocuous if only we could decouple them from our noxious political debate. Drawing on groundbreaking original research, Prius or Pickup? is an incisive, illuminating study of the fracturing of the American mind.

The Secret Game

By Scott Ellsworth,

Book cover of The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph

Scott Ellsworth's account of a legendary game that took place between the Eagles of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) and Duke University on Duke's campus in Durham, in 1944 (the Duke team comprised medical students but included several former college stars). John McClendon, a protege of the game's founder, John Naismith and coach of the Eagles is widely credited with having transformed the sport, refashioning a slow, stolid affair into a fast-paced, exhilarating game. In the process, he turned the Eagles in mid-century into a juggernaut in the Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a conference of Black colleges and universities. Jim Crow made it illegal for the Eagles to compete publicly against their intracity rivals, but both programs relished the prospect of playing one another, and a secret game was organized, widely considered the first integrated collegiate game to be played in the south. Ellsworth paints…


Who am I?

I am a professor of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and I have written about the intersection of sports, media, and politics for many years. I am also the co-host of a podcast, Agony of Defeat, with Matt Andrews, that explores the connections between sports, politics, and history. Basketball is an especially rich topic for mining these intersections. And I’m also a lifelong sports fan.


I wrote...

Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

By Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler,

Book cover of Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

What is my book about?

Two award-winning political scientists provide the psychological key to America’s deadlocked politics, showing that we are divided not by ideologies but something deeper: personality differences that appear in everything from politics to parenting to the workplace to TV preferences, and which would be innocuous if only we could decouple them from our noxious political debate. Drawing on groundbreaking original research, Prius or Pickup? is an incisive, illuminating study of the fracturing of the American mind.

Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time

By Lisa Yee,

Book cover of Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time

Stanford isn’t a happy camper when, because of a failing grade in English, he has to go to summer school instead of basketball camp. Used to being a star basketball player, he’s embarrassed by this new turn of events. Millicent Min as his tutor is the last straw. I love how the plot and various situations, along with his parents’ bickering and his grandmother entering a nursing home, feel real and something today’s kids can relate to. And also how, despite Stanford’s disappointments, he puts forth his best efforts all the while he tries to manage his problems. There’s plenty of humor, too.


Who am I?

I’ve always been a fan of stories where the underdog makes good due to their own strength and determination. Although my book picks are all connected to sports I don’t happen to participate in, I feel the power of choosing the life you want by working hard encompasses all fields whether it be learning to sing or dance or becoming an expert in science, chess, juggling, or whatever one’s passion might be. For me, I guess it would be writing and not giving up even when it sometimes feels like playing the lottery each time one of my manuscripts is sent into cyberspace.


I wrote...

Roller Boy

By Marcia Strykowski,

Book cover of Roller Boy

What is my book about?

After his baseball dreams fall through, Mateo’s mood sinks low. What can he be good at? What will take him from that skinny little kid with the big hair to someone who matters? Mateo struggles to find his true purpose while dodging bullies, avoiding gluten, and falling for Roller City’s star skater. In doing so, he discovers he’s a pretty good skater himself. But still, roller-skating? What if his buddies find out he’s whirling around in girly skates? Anybody halfway to cool would be hanging at a skate park, on boards or blades.

Mateo keeps his sense of humor and channels his innermost strength into an incredible ride on roller skates that just might take him all the way to regionals.

Heaven Is a Playground

By Rick Telander,

Book cover of Heaven Is a Playground

While the titles mentioned so far focus on high school teams spending their winters inside gymnasiums with referees on the court and fans in the bleachers, this one, written vibrantly by a staffer for Sports Illustrated magazine, shifts outside, to a blistering hot summer on the asphalt courts of Flatbush in Brooklyn, where teenage boys (including future legends Fly Williams and Albert King) and full-grown men play a tougher game, replete with trash-talking, flashy in-your-face moves, and tests of manhood that often turn to violence, with no officials to enforce order or rules, and few bystanders besides aging ex-athletes betting a few dollars on the outcomes, and other pickup teams waiting to take on the winners. As on inner-city playgrounds across the country, the game of basketball offers a rare respite from otherwise grim lives framed by poverty and the almost complete absence of hope.


Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.


I wrote...

Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

By Michael D'Orso,

Book cover of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

What is my book about?

In October of 2004, I flew from my home in Norfolk, Virginia, to the tiny Arctic village of Fort Yukon, Alaska, where I rented a small cabin and spent the next six months climbing into the day-to-day lives of the community’s indigenous Native population while shadowing the village’s boys high school basketball team through the course of an entire season as they, their families, and their neighbors faced a myriad of challenges (poverty, inadequate schooling, alcoholism, suicide, teen pregnancy, and the loss of their traditional culture) while clinging to the one thing that gives their community hope and pulls together most of the state’s 200 “bush” villages: the game of basketball.

The Sphas

By Doug Stark,

Book cover of The Sphas: The Life and Times of Basketball's Greatest Jewish Team

The little-known story of promoter Eddie Gottlieb’s South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team begins in the 1920s when professional basketball in this country was often played in a cage-encircled court to protect the athletes from the rabid fans in Philly and other cities in the hard-scrabble Eastern League. The unathletic Gottlieb kept the SPHAs at the top of the pack, along with Harlem’s all-Black Renaissance team. The story ends in the 1940s when helped organize the whites-only Basketball Association of American, the forerunner to the NBA. Gottlieb, who coached the original Philadelphia Warriors, spent the last 30 years of his life preparing each NBA season’s schedule by hand with a pencil and a legal pad.


Who am I?

I am an author whose works have spanned several genres, from mysteries (I won an Edgar for Strike Three You’re Dead), to psychology (I coined the word “psychobabble” and wrote a book about it), to humor (Bad Cat and Bad Dog were both bestsellers), and, more lately to nonfiction, including Such Good Girls, true story of three Jewish women who survived the Holocaust. I have worked in television as a comedian, writer, and producer, and as a senior editor in the publishing industry, but my first and enduring love is the magic of writing.


I wrote...

Tough Luck: Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL

By R.D. Rosen,

Book cover of Tough Luck: Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL

What is my book about?

It would be impossible to have stumbled on a true story that aligned with so many of my interests: professional football, organized crime, Jewish families and their secrets, and my Chicago suburban childhood.

When I discovered by chance that, in 1935, future Hall of Famer Sid Luckman’s father made New York headlines as a mobbed-up murderer who went to Sing Sing, at the same time that young Sid was making football headlines in the same papers, I was shocked that this story had been swept under the rug of history. I couldn’t not dive into this amazing saga of an 80-year-old secret. I had to gain the cooperation and confidence of Sid Luckman’s children to let me tell their father’s tragic story, which even they knew little about. 

One Small Town, One Crazy Coach

By Mike Roos,

Book cover of One Small Town, One Crazy Coach: The Ireland Spuds and the 1963 Indiana High School Basketball Season

Mike Roos did a great job telling this true story of Indiana high school basketball. Roos’s father was the high school principal that hired that crazy coach referenced in the title. He used extensive interviews and years of rewrites to recreate meetings, locker room pep talks, and dialogue. Not only is this a good story, but Roos showed readers what is wonderful about creative nonfiction. It reads like a novel, but it’s genuine nonfiction.


Who am I?

I’m a storyteller and jack of all trades who grew up on a family farm in Indiana. I can operate a combine, analyze data, or edit a book. Writing about sports can create great stories, but the true beauty lies in the people and circumstances, not the stats and game highlights. Most of my works are nonfiction—personal interest, sports, history, and sports history. I enjoy unearthing untold stories, especially when they involve equal rights, underdogs, hidden history, and non-famous people. Everyone has a story to tell.


I wrote...

Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

By Matthew A. Werner,

Book cover of Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

What is my book about?

This is the incredible true story of the 1950 Indiana high school basketball season. The circumstances of that one season captured the essence of Hoosier hysteria in all its glory. But this is more than a sports story. The students were born into the Great Depression and grew up in the shadow of World War II. The coaches were veterans of war. A fire destroyed a school, but not its spirit. A coal strike threatened everything. There were hard times and happy memories. In the end, everyone shared one common love: basketball.

The Last Shot

By Darcy Frey,

Book cover of The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams

This book is similar to mine, following a team of high school basketball players through a season, but it’s set in an urban environment: Brooklyn’s Coney Island. The boys it focuses on are African-American, the off-court struggles they and their community face (crime, violence, drug use, the lure of the streets, and the corruption of college basketball recruiters) differ from those that challenge the kids in remote Alaska, but the joy and solace they find in the game itself are the same. The writing is terrific—lucidly and intimately bringing to life the four boys whose lives it focuses on.


Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.


I wrote...

Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

By Michael D'Orso,

Book cover of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

What is my book about?

In October of 2004, I flew from my home in Norfolk, Virginia, to the tiny Arctic village of Fort Yukon, Alaska, where I rented a small cabin and spent the next six months climbing into the day-to-day lives of the community’s indigenous Native population while shadowing the village’s boys high school basketball team through the course of an entire season as they, their families, and their neighbors faced a myriad of challenges (poverty, inadequate schooling, alcoholism, suicide, teen pregnancy, and the loss of their traditional culture) while clinging to the one thing that gives their community hope and pulls together most of the state’s 200 “bush” villages: the game of basketball.

Dough Boys

By Paula Chase,

Book cover of Dough Boys

I love Dough Boys because it’s an engrossing, authentic story about basketball, music, friendship, and the hard decisions thirteen-year-old kids sometimes have to make. It follows Rollie and Simp, best friends who play on an elite basketball team in their low-income neighborhood...but playing on the team means getting involved as lookouts for a local drug ring, and the boys have very different feelings about the pressures and responsibilities they face. Basketball scenes provide an entryway into important topics, and through the two well-developed protagonists, Chase explores what happens when a sport feels like your only chance at the future you want, and what happens when you’re no longer sure you love a game that used to be part of your identity.


Who am I?

I’ve always loved watching and playing sports, and now I love writing about them, too. As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how sporty books appeal to sporty kids. But after publishing my novel Up for Air, which is about a star swimmer, I’ve been struck by how many readers tell me they connected deeply with the main character even though they don’t like sports at all. That made me think about what makes sports stories resonate, and now I look out for books that capitalize on all the most exciting and relatable things about sports while also offering compelling hooks to readers with all sorts of interests.


I wrote...

Coming Up Short

By Laurie Morrison,

Book cover of Coming Up Short

What is my book about?

Bea’s parents think she can accomplish absolutely anything. But at the end of seventh grade, on the day she makes a play to send her softball team to the league championships and Xander, the boy she likes, makes it clear that he likes her too, a scandal shakes up her world. Bea’s dad took money that belonged to a client. He’s now suspended from practicing law, and another lawyer spread the news online. To make matters worse, that lawyer is Xander’s dad.

The thing she was best at seems to be slipping out of her fingers along with her formerly happy family. She's not sure what's going to be harder—learning to throw again or forgiving her dad. How can she be the best version of herself when everything she loves is falling apart?

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