Rural Scott County, like most of Kentucky, has endured its fair share of woe in recent years: massive unemployment, an educational system ruled by indifference, and a general sense of hopelessness. One happy constant is high school basketball. The Cardinals of Scott County High School, led by longtime coach Billy Hicks, are a perennial powerhouse in a state devoid of pro sports teams, where “the folk heroes here have to be boys.”
O’Brien, a former Boston Globe reporter, tracks the team’s tumultuous 2009–2010 championship drive and its players. Star Ge’Lawn Guyn struggles with injury at the worst time: he needs an athletic scholarship to get out of the county and, possibly, into the NBA. Big man Dakotah Euton, the levelheaded leader, feels the weight of expectations after receiving a basketball scholarship to the University of Kentucky at age 16. Chad Jackson battles the comparisons to his father, a basketball star victimized by drugs and bad decisions, who died before he turned 40.
O’Brien’s sharp, intense reporting peers inside the souls of Cardinals nation while illuminating basketball’s value to the community and its participants: the former uses it as a distraction from the gloomy everyday; the latter see it as a pressure-packed escape route.