With a rising number of high school basketball players entering the NBA draft each year, NBA commissioner David Stern imposed an age limit of 20 years last year for all draft entrants.
Before Stern’s age limit, there was LeBron James and the phenomenon surrounding the 18-year-old high schooler. James’ high school team – St. Vincent-St. Mary – got more media attention in 2002-03 than some professional basketball teams.
Before LeBron there was Spike Lee’s He Got Game, a movie that seemed to foreshadow everything that would come from high schoolers and their decisions to skip college and go from high school to the pros.
But before all of that was Darcy Frey’s The Last Shot.
Fifteen years ago Frey spent a year with four high school basketball players from Coney Island’s Abraham Lincoln High. Three of the players were seniors who had won a city championship the previous season and had entered the process of being courted by college basketball powerhouses. The other player was a hot-shot freshman point guard who happened to be named Stephon Marbury, who currently plays for the NBA’s New York Knicks.
Through the player-granted access, Frey was able to witness everything the players went through. He saw the shoe-sponsored basketball camps, one by Nike for example. He saw all-star showcases like the Empire State Games. Frey was then allowed to attend a college visit to Seton Hall to listen in on a pitch from then-Pirates coach P.J. Carlesimo. Former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino visited one of the players in Coney Island and Frey was there, too.
Soon after Frey visited Seton Hall, however, the NCAA told him he was no longer allowed to go on visits, possibly because he was a reporter and the NCAA did not want someone reporting on what happened during visits.
What came out of Frey’s time with the players from Lincoln High is one of the best books to date detailing what it is like to be an underprivileged high school basketball player with one shot to get out of his neighborhood and make something of his life.
That the book was written almost 20 years ago makes it that much more impressive. By not devoting much attention to how the players’ games went, Frey was able to focus solely on the players and the recruiting process.
He is also able to dig deeper to write about life in the projects, where three of the four players lived. To write about how the NCAA’s academic requirements hurt the players and not the schools recruiting them. To write about how basketball represents the only glimmer of hope kids like those from Lincoln High have – and how fragile hope can be in a locale like Coney Island.