Final Four
by Volponi, Paul

Competing on the four remaining teams during the NCAA basketball championship, four young athletes desperately strive to realize respective dreams while looking back on the events that have led to the most important games of their lives. By the author of Summer Ball.

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.

*Starred Review* There's a strange alchemy in the sporting world, where a single game can take on mythic proportions, thanks to orbiting clusters of mini dramas in perfect alignment around it. Volponi's novel creates such a game in an NCAA tournament Final Four match between the heavily favored Michigan State Spartans and the über-underdog Trojans, of Troy University. The Spartans are loaded with NBA-caliber talent, including one-and-done freshman superstar and trash-talker extraordinaire Malcolm McBride, while the Trojans fuel their Cinderella-story winning streak with team play led by an underrated Croatian point guard, Roko Bacic. But there's also a Spartan benchwarmer who's flailing under the weight of his name, Michael Jordan, and a Trojan center struggling to keep his mind on the court and off his maybe-cheating fiancée and cheerleader, Hope, nicknamed Hope of Troy by the media, angling for a feel-good human-interest story. Volponi dribbles out the players' backstories as the game goes into single, double, and then triple overtime, and in so doing finds room to comment on the divide between raw talent and focused dedication, individualism and teamwork, and confidence and arrogance. Most fascinating and timely is the discussion of the uncomfortable truth that although college athletics has become a multi-billion-dollar business, the players who make it all possible aren't allowed a dime of the earnings. As with all clutch performances, Volponi nails it when it counts in this dynamic story. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Volponi's latest combines in-the-moment action, basketball history and the points of view of four college ballplayers with very different lives. The frame story here is a white-knuckle NCAA championship game between Michigan State's Spartans and the underdog Trojans from Troy University. Television interviews, news articles, radio transcripts and segments narrated from individual players' perspectives lay out the minute-by-minute action of the game and the context and personal histories surrounding it. Readers meet talented but arrogant Malcolm McBride, who plans to leave Michigan State for the NBA immediately after his freshman year, second-tier player Michael Jordan (MJ), whom Malcolm berates for not living up to his namesake's prowess, Crispin Rice, who became a viral video sensation when he proposed impulsively to his cheerleader girlfriend after a dramatic play on the court, and Roko Bacic, who lost a journalist uncle to an attack by Zagreb mobsters. No story or character is simple: Malcolm, for instance, is both sympathetic and perilously self-centered, and his argument that the NCAA profits unfairly from student athletics will provoke debate among readers. The pace of the game lulls a bit in the middle but picks up again in the tense and unpredictable finale. Compelling characters and solid sports action. (Fiction. 12 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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