"The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season With Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty" by Adrian Wojnarowski is compelling enough that even if you're not from New Jersey, the book is hard to put down.
It follows Hurley and the St. Anthony High boys' basketball team in Jersey City. One of the great moments is Hurley going to a clinic for youth coaches a couple hours from his home. After the clinic he asks that his payment be made out to St. Anthony High.
He often celebrates victories with meals at fast-food restaurants. He works extremely hard to get his players into college and goes to great lengths to protect them from the dangers of life in Jersey City. Yet he also rages at them, often using language that wouldn't be accepted most places, and his mind games with and against them are constant.
One of the few problems is that Wojnarowski doesn't always let the story tell itself. He likens Hurley to the sun and St. Anthony to the earth -- there is no way the school would survive without him. He calls Hurley "the toughest S.O.B. ever to walk into a gym with a whistle."
These things may be true, but it's a bit of overkill. Hurley is compelling enough without the author stumping for him, too.
It is saying something that Hurley is the star, because there are other fascinating stories. There is an overbearing mother, four underachieving seniors, a talented freshman point guard, many dedicated coaches and hangers-on and a nun battling cancer.
There are treats for college fans, including some surprisingly honest stories about Rollie Massimino, Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and even Craig Esherick, whom Wojnarowski calls John Thompson's "overmatched successor."
And local fans should note that one of the featured St. Anthony players, point guard Derrick Mercer, will play for American this season.
-- Christian Swezey