Before The Title Past

By Jeff Shelby


"November is My Favorite Month"

     November is my favorite month.

     Not because of Thanksgiving, not because of the change in the leaves, not because of the change in temperatures and not because we’re almost to Christmas.

     November is my favorite month because it is when basketball season begins.

     For as long as I can remember, I have associated the month of November with the smell of the gym, the sound of the ball on the hardwood and the yells and screams that are unique to a cheering bunch of zealots in the bleachers.  The last few years, I have coached high school girls basketball and the anticipation of this time of year has become even greater for me.  (As a coach, I have to anticipate the tough questions I will face on the first day of tryouts – things like “Will we play man or zone?” and “What color ribbons are we wearing in our hair this year?”  As you can see, it takes a special kind of talent to coach.)

     One of the things I ask my players to do each year is to select a basketball-related book that they must read over the course of the season.  The books provide a source for conversations at team dinners and on long bus rides.  Here are a few new ones that I will recommend to the girls this year, as well as a couple of old favorites:

My Losing SeasonMy Losing Season by Pat Conroy

I freely admit to bias here.  Conroy is my favorite author of all-time, fiction or non-fiction.  His newest book tells the tale of his senior year at The Citadel, as his basketball playing days came to a close.  His account of a season that he desperately wanted to be so great, but turned out awful, is meaningful and genuine.  This book isn’t just about basketball – it’s about dealing with adversity and the loss of something you love.

The PunchThe Punch: One Night, Two Lives and The Fight That Changed Basketball Forever by John Feinstein

Feinstein has taken another isolated piece of the sporting world and filled it out so compellingly that one can’t stop reading.  In a game during the 1977 season, Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich so viciously that Tomjanovich nearly died.  The incident has remained with both men since and Feinstein traces how that night affected both men emotionally and professionally over the last 25 years.

In These Girls, Hope is a MuscleIn These Girls, Hope Is A Muscle by Madeleine Blais

Blais chronicles a season of girls basketball at a powerhouse high school in Amherst.  Probably the best book ever written about young women in athletics, Blais lets us in on the lives of these girls, as they try desperately to win a state championship.

Big Game, Small WorldBig Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure by Alexander Wolff

Written by maybe the best basketball writer of the last few decades, Wolff takes us on an around the world trip, tracing the popularity of basketball around the globe.  Wolff captures the power of a sport to unite people, yet eloquently describes how the game means different things to every individual.

Lat ShotThe Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams by Darcy Frey

Four boys from a crime ridden area of Coney Island play basketball at Lincoln High School for one reason – to earn a college scholarship so that they can avoid the depressing reality that awaits them if they can’t escape their neighborhood.  Frey followed them for a season and this is her account.

     And now I have to make a tough decision, one that might dictate the course of our season this year – do we wear the blue ribbons or the white ribbons???

Jeff Shelby earned a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine. His first mystery, Dead Week, was released in December 2001. He and his wife live in Castle Rock, CO. His website is .