Last Shot : A Final Four Mystery
by Feinstein, John

After winning a basketball reporting contest, eighth graders Stevie and Susan Carol are sent to cover the Final Four tournament, where they discover that a talented player is being blackmailed into throwing the final game.

John Feinstein is the author of many bestselling sports books, including A Season on the Brink and A Good Walk Spoiled. Feinstein worked for The Washington Post as both a political and sports reporter for more than 10 years and continues to contribute articles. He is a regular commentator for National Public Radio and Sporting News Radio and an essayist for CBS Sports. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in Bethesda, MD, and Shelter Island, NY.

From the Hardcover edition.

Gr. 6-9. Best-selling sportswriter Feinstein joins the parade of adult authors testing the waters of children's publishing. Unlike so many show-biz celebrities turned writers, he brings plenty of craftsmanship and a kid-friendly story to the table. The setting is college basketball's Final Four, and the stars are the two teenage winners of a writing contest, Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson, whose prize is a free trip to the tournament and an opportunity to cover the games. Friction between the pair quickly turns to camaraderie when they overhear one of the players from fictional Minnesota State being coerced into throwing the title game. Feinstein makes good use of his insider's knowledge of the Final Four as the intrepid junior reporters set out to expose the scandal, ultimately weaseling themselves into the bad guys' lair in classic Hardy Boys' fashion. The premise holds together, if a bit shakily, and Feinstein keeps the action moving throughout. The draw, though, is the vivid background, complete with cameos by real-life media personalities and big-name coaches. ((Reviewed February 1, 2005)) Copyright 2005 Booklist Reviews.

When Stevie Thomas wins a sports writing contest and gets to cover the Final Four college basketball championship in New Orleans, he knows it's going to be the most unbelievable weekend of his life. And unbelievable it is, but in unexpected ways. Amidst the circus atmosphere at the Superdome-with the Blue Devils, Huskies, Coach K, Dick Vitale, and the clamor of hawkers, scalpers, and the best sportswriters in America-Stevie and his co-winner Susan Carol overhear a plot to throw the championship game. Veteran sportswriter Feinstein uses simple prose, lively dialogue, and authentic details of an event he knows well to recreate the pageantry of college basketball's big show. No little-guy-overcoming-the-odds story, this is a tale of celebrity, big business, and corruption as witnessed by two eager and innocent fledgling reporters who must decide what to do with their unexpected knowledge. A real treat for basketball fans young and old. (Fiction. 10+) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Excerpt from chapter 5 of Last Shot by John Feinstein

“Nothing here,” Susan Carol said. “I guess we–” She stopped in mid-sentence. “Hey, look who’s here.”

She pointed across the dark, open area to the outside door. Stevie could see a group of young men in purple-and-white sweats coming through the doorway. “Straight down this hall to the end and turn right gentlemen,” someone they couldn’t see was saying. “Your locker room is the first one you come to on your right.”

“As if they can’t read the signs,” Stevie said.

“He must have forgotten that they’re student-athletes,” Susan Carol said.

Stevie laughed. He hated to admit it, but she was kind of funny.

“Well,” she said. “Should we head–”

She stopped in mid-sentence again. Stevie turned and saw one final purple-and-white suited player walk through the doorway, peering around as if to make sure no one was there. Stevie recognized the floppy blond hair right away. It was Chip Graber. Right behind him was a man in a charcoal gray suit who was also looking around in a suspicious way. Instinctively, Stevie took Susan Carol’s arm and stepped back so they were hidden behind some rolled up Astroturf.

Graber and the charcoal suit finally seemed satisfied they were alone, then walked towards the loading dock until they were almost directly below Stevie and Susan Carol–who were both frozen with surprise and curiosity.

“Okay, Chip, we’ve got about two minutes to get this straight before the press conference,” the suit said. “You can’t get cold feet now.”

“I never had warm feet,” Chip Graber answered in a stage whisper, still plenty loud enough for Stevie and Susan Carol to hear. “What if I won’t do it?”

“Then the team gets stripped of all its wins and your father gets fired. We’ve been through this. . . .”

There was a long silence. Stevie wondered if perhaps the conversation had ended, but there were no signs of movement below. Susan Carol started to open her mouth to say something, but he put a finger to his lips to indicate she should stay silent.

Just when Stevie thought he was wrong, he heard Graber’s voice again. “This is unbelievable.”

“Hey, Chip, the world’s a cold place sometimes. Cooperate and you’ll be a millionaire in a couple of months. Your dad will get a big contract extension for making the Final Four. Quit whining, do what you need to do, and we’ll all walk away happy.”

“But what if we lose Saturday? There’s no guarantee we’ll win that game. Why does it have to be Monday?”

“That’s not something you need to worry about. You just play your butt off against St. Joe’s and choke against Duke. We’ll take care of the rest.”

“I’ll get you for this. All of you.”

“Please. You don’t even know who we are. And if you try anything with me, the roof will fall in on you and your dad. Now let’s go. You’ve got a press conference.”

This time they could hear footsteps walking away. Stevie and Susan Carol stood stock still for a moment looking at one another.

“What did we just hear?” she asked finally.

“Well, unless I’m crazy, we just heard the best player in the country being blackmailed to throw the championship game.”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard too. But he has to win tomorrow. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know very much about gambling, but if someone is trying to make a lot of money by betting against Minnesota State, why wait until Monday?”

“That’s what Graber asked. There’s got to be a reason why it has to be Monday. And he said he had to lose to Duke on Monday. How’s he know Duke will win tomorrow?”

For the first time since they had met that morning, Stevie thought Susan Carol looked lost. “What do we do?” she asked.

Stevie shook his head. “I don’t know. Tell someone?”

“But who?” she asked. “Who’d believe us?”

“Good question,” he said. “I barely believe us. Man, I wanted a story no one else had, but this is insane. Let’s get out of here. It’s spooky.”

She didn’t argue.

As they opened the doors that led back to the hallway and the bright lights hit Stevie’s eyes, he felt like he was leaving a movie. But there was no leaving. Now he and Susan Carol were part of the movie.

From the Hardcover edition.

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