1 THE STRAW THAT STIRS THE DRINK FOR MONTHS,
Billy Hicks had asked the boys to remember the pain: the failure of not making it to Rupp Arena and the tears in that locker room the previous March. He urged them not to forget the ridicule: how opposing fans had mocked them that day, reveling in their collective failure and laughing at their disappointment. And now, with a new basketball season upon them, Hicks unearthed the past all over again, as if the boys had forgotten. “All of Kentucky rejoiced when we got beat,” Hicks told them on the eve of the season. “But daggone, let’s make all of Kentucky howl this year. Let’s make ’em pay.”
As he spoke, Hicks paced before them, one hand on his hip, the other on his head. He hoped his boys were ready. In quiet moments, huddled up with his assistant coaches in recent days, he admitted that he wasn’t sure that they were. He wished they had another month to practice, another month to prepare.
But there was no use hoping and wishing anymore. It was time to play, time to win. Surely, they would win. The goal for the Scott County boys was simple: They were not to lose a single game to a Kentucky basketball team all season. Kentucky was theirs. Kentucky was Cardinal country. If they played like Hicks knew they could play, then no one would beat them. Billy Hicks was confident of that. They would win it all, every game, every time.
“Hey, guys,” Hicks said. “We’re going to make this our
And yet here they were just one night later, on the road, in the first game of the season, down three points with sixteen seconds to go, the undefeated year already unraveling, the boys staring at each other in the team huddle, and the opposing fans—some 1,500 strong—hollering themselves hoarse in the night.“We are Ballard!”Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!“We are Ballard!”Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!
Friggin’ Ballard. Stomping his feet and throwing his arms into the air on the sideline, Hicks could barely believe what he was seeing. In his pregame speech two hours earlier, he had been the very portrait of calm—or as calm as he ever got—adjusting the fit of his red tie in the visitors’ locker room and laying it, just so, against his blue-checkered, button-down shirt. His brown dress shoes shimmered in the lights as he stepped onto the floor in Ballard’s gymnasium and his pleated beige slacks were perfectly pressed. But now it looked as if someone had set those slacks afire and that Hicks had leapt into the brown waters of the Elkhorn Creek to douse the flames. His face, smooth and creased like worn leather, burned bright red as he screamed at his boys in the final, frantic moments of the game. The veins in his neck were bulging as if pumping crude oil through his towering six-foot-four frame. And he wasn’t merely sweating; Hicks was drenched, and his damp hair was disheveled from all the times he had grabbed his face in horror.
“How can you be out there, guys, and not rebound?” he asked the boys during one fourth-quarter time-out, shouting in an effort to be heard over the roar of the crowd. “Every time they miss, they get the ball back. REBOUND!
In the team huddle, with the boys’ chests heaving and sweat dripping to the floor, Hicks’s eyes, small and nut-brown, darted from one boy to another. He turned to Dakotah Euton, the six-foot-eight, bearded man-child who had once
“Keith O'Brien's absorbing narrative about a high school basketball team in rural Kentucky is so much more than a sports book: It's a portrait of a small town in the throes of change, and a story of redemption for a group of young men struggling to prove themselves.” —Parade
“If you have ever wanted a look into the broken but still beating heart of high school sports, into a world where a young man’s future—and a town's slipping pride--can hang on an in-bounds pass or one more foul, then Keith O’Brien has a book for you.” —Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of All Over But the Shoutin'
“What Friday Night Lights was to high school football in Texas, Outside Shot is to basketball in Kentucky…. Outside Shot transcends sports. This is a story about our times.” —Ken Armstrong, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and coauthor of Scoreboard, Baby
“O'Brien paints the bluegrassed landscape and its rugged chronology with an artist's eye for detail… Studded with real-time dialogue and exhilarating courtside action, O'Brien presents the Cardinals of Scott County High School as a meritorious collective bravely facing tough school rivalries, racial bias, peer pressures and the raw agony of a regional tournament defeat. A slam-dunk for readers energized by fast-paced, play-by-play sports stories.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A beautiful story about families, community, and the yearnings of young people. Like the Scott County High School Cardinals, this book has a lot of heart—and it’s a winner!” —Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor of The Last Lecture
“O’Brien’s sharp, intense reporting peers inside the souls of Cardinals nation while illuminating basketball’s value to the community and its participants.” —Publishers Weekly
“O'Brien paints the bluegrassed landscape and its rugged chronology with an artist's eye for detail… A slam-dunk for readers energized by fast-paced, play-by-play sports stories.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Where Blue Chips meet Blue Grass.” —Dan Shaughnessy, author of Senior Year
“A lyrical, fast-paced account of a season to treasure along with a team roster as touching as it is unforgettable.” —Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle
“O’Brien watched these boys and their fine coach with keen and compassionate eyes, and by the middle of the book, my gut was tensed up and I was thinking, ‘Man, I hope these kids win.’” —James E. Tobin, author of Ernie Pyle's War, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
“A wonderful book that should be required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in high school sports.” —Bill Reynolds, author of Fall River Dreams
“Keith O'Brien writes with a critical eye on larger social issues but is at his best in depicting with sympathy and understanding the teenage boys who would be our heroes.” —James S. Hirsch, author of Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend
“Inspiring. A story of young men striving for redemption and relying on each other, not only to prove all of the naysayers wrong, but to prove to themselves that they can be victorious.” —Etan Thomas, NBA player, poet, and author of Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge
“Outside Shot is for more than just sports fans—this is an inspiring story of determination, a community desperate for heroes, and the boys who would give anything to fill that role. Absolutely riveting.” —Seth Mnookin, author of The Pan