Seven-tenths of a second till the buzzer. Russell Thomas bounces the ball at the foul line, in his hands the outcome of the game—and a lot more. For the 6'2" senior and his varsity teammates at New York City's Abraham Lincoln High School, basketball looms much larger than the court. It is, as Darcy Frey, a contributing editor at Harper's and The New York Times Magazine, demonstrates in this tomahawk dunk of a first book, their one and only shot at making it out of the projects; of avoiding the likely prospects of poverty, drugs and despair.
But it's a long shot, even for someone with the gifts and grit of Russell, who does wind sprints up the pestilential, 14-flight stairwell of his housing project and has fine-tuned his jumper to such precision that his friends call him Tick Tick.
During the eight months Frey follows him and the others—savvy Tchaka, smooth Corey and Stephon, the 14-year-old prodigy—it becomes apparent that their target, an NCAA scholarship, is harder to hit than a three-pointer. Among the obstacles: exploitative recruiters, the NCAA's self-serving fiats and, most dauntingly, required scores on college entrance exams—a rule, Frey argues, that discriminates against many of the most needy.
The Last Shot, which grew out of the author's National Magazine Award-winning piece for Harper's, moves with the drive and poetry of a well-executed fast break, offering a vivid picture of the players both on and off the court. Frey tells us a lot about basketball—and even more about the bigger game in which we all have a stake. (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95)