Saturday, January 14, 2012
Book Review: The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball
Hardcover: 320 pages (January 5, 2012)
Publisher: Blue Rider Press/ESPN Books
Gene Wojciechowski, a senior national columnist for ESPN.com, takes college basketball fans back to March 28, 1992, whether we like to revisit that game or not.
When I originally saw that there was going to be a book published on that game, I wanted to know why. Of course, I'm one of those Kentucky fans that is forever haunted every March. Every CBS broadcast. You know what I'm talking about. THE SHOT. The shot that gets forced down our throats every year no matter how many times we cringe in disbelief.
In 320 pages, Wojciechowski takes us through memory lane. After a prologue with various coaches watching the final 2.1 seconds wondering why there was not a defender guarding the inbounds pass from Grant Hill. It's after that where we start going back into the past with what it was like growing up for Coach K and how he got the job at Duke.
We revisit a dark period for Kentucky basketball that saw the firing of Kentucky legend Cliff Hagan. Gene revisits the hiring of C.M. Newton and Rick Pitino. Yes, Jerry Tipton picked fights then as he still does now.
Whether it's Rock Oliver being hired as a strength and conditioning coach (after John Calipari told him to take the job) or seeing the Unforgettables come together as a team, Wojciechowski revisits it all. To think that there was a time when Richie Farmer quit basketball. Or Jamal Mashburn wanting to walk away from it all.
In 300 plus pages, Wojciechowski gives us the behind-the-scenes details that lead up to March 28th and the legacy that that game imprinted on the programs be it discipline, strategy, gamemanship, philosophy, etc. that made people legends, for good or for bad.
Wojciechowski tells us of why Bob Knight did not want anything to do with Coach K for nearly 9 years.
It all leads up to March 28, 1992. If we could end the game after Sean Woods' floater, we would (Thank you, Jeff Sheppard, not that I watched that replay in 2009).
If you haven't seen Fab Five, Gene provides us with some information given that Michigan played Duke in 1992 for the National Championship.
In an epilogue, Wojciechowski tells us how the members of the Unforgettables feel when it comes to watching replays of that game. Like me, many of them can't. Sure, some will, but knowing what happens, it's just so hard to do.
We all know where we were that fateful day just like we know where we were during the classic rematch that followed in 1998. I know exactly where I was that day. I was at home. During the first half, and I don't like bragging about this, I was rooting for the team in white until my father corrected me and told me Kentucky was wearing the blue jerseys. I was 7 years old at the time.
The Unforgettables are a team that nobody will ever forget. They restored the glory to Big Blue Nation after a dark period. Four seniors on that team (Sean Woods, John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus and Richie Farmer) saw their jerseys get retired without ever having won an NCAA Championship game.
I won't lie that I cried while reading this book. Despite that, it's a must read for anyone who considers themself a fan of college basketball. Wojciechowski successfully alternates chapters between Kentucky and Duke so it's not just a Duke book or a Kentucky book. It's devoted to both.