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About Swidey
Boston Globe Magazine writer Neil Swidey writes about the Charlestown boys basketball team in the book The Assist. Swidey is a winner of the National Headliner Award.

H.S. basketball chat with Neil Swidey


The Event is over.




Neil Swidey chat — Transcript
Updated Jan-10 12:21 PM
Neil_SwideyHi everyone. Neil Swidey here. Looking forward to answering your questions. Thanks for your interest
garydzen_1fan__Guest_Hi Neil... love the book. Can you give us an update on some of the key players from the book like Jason White.
Neil_SwideyThanks very much. It's been really gratifying to see so many people connecting so strongly with the book. I've been spending some time with Jason recently. He's had a tough couple of years, but he's eager to get back on the path. He has so much talent and intelligence, I'm hopefully he'll do it.
ctown__Guest_Neil, what's Jack O'Brien up to and any chance he gets back into coaching soon?
Neil_SwideyJack, as you probably know, is such a giant talent as a coach and a motivator that I expect he'll be back coaching before long. I think he just wants to make sure it's the right place. He is still teaching at Charlestown High.
NorthbridgeFan__Guest_Neil, any good stories that you couldn't squeeze into the book or any favorite moments from writing it.
Neil_SwideySo many! When I began the book, I naively thought I'd have to room to get all the great moments, and great people, into the book. But unfortunately, to keep the narrative moving, I was forced to leave out a lot. There was once chapter, which took place at the home of Zach Zegarowski, the longtime Charlestown assistant coach, that it killed me not to be able to include. Zach is such an important part of the Charlestown success story, and he and his family have opened up their home to so many kids over the years. But unfortunately I couldn't find a way to keep it in.
sbliwe__Guest_Can you tell us a little more about the Alray Taylor Second Chance Scholarship Fund?
Neil_SwideyWould love to. The scholarship will help promising students who left college get back on campus. In my research, I came across so many talented guys who had the talent and drive to get to college but, because of the narrow margins in their lives, had to leave school. Some really dedicated people worked with me to start this fund, and we're finding ways to direct proceeds from the book to it. It is named after a former Charlestown player who was killed in 2006. Alray was a beautiful person. There's more info at theassist.net.
Lee4t__Guest_Charlestown is looking pretty good this year... any chance for a sequel (or at least another state championship)?
Neil_SwideyCharlestown is looking great this year! I have high hopes for the team. I'm friendly with many of the players on the team, and the talented coach, Steve Cassidy, so I wish them nothing but the best.
assist_fan__Guest_neil, can you tell us a little about the reporting of the book. how many games did you see... it must have been extensive. also curious how the reaction has been from people in Charlestown.
Neil_SwideyI attended just about every game from the 2004-2005 season. Once, when I had pneumonia, I was sitting in my car, determined to get to the game when I finally gave in and turned around, and went back to bed. And I attended quite a few games from the next season. But as you can probably tell from the book, the real action took place off the court.
SilverSteve__Guest_Neil, what was your favorite moment from reporting on the book?
Neil_SwideyHard to narrow it down to one. I loved being there with the guys, in Ridley Johnson's bedroom as they celebrated the biggest win of their lives. I loved walking the halls of Charlestown High with many of the guys, like George Russell and Lamar "Spot" Brathwaite, who couldn't have been more genuine and funnier guys. I loved spending time with Ridley's family (including the Coleman branch) and Jason's family (particularly Jason's father, Willie). They all did so much to welcome me into their lives. Then there are the quiet moments that really stick me with, like Ridley's trip from the airport to CHS after his freshman year of college.
Bubba__Guest_Neil - Great book, I ordered a copy last week.
Neil_SwideyThanks so much!
SpeedyDL__Guest_Neil, are you a high school basketball fan in general? What drew you to Charlestown and what is your first recollection of the program.
Neil_SwideyI am a big basketball fan. I played a little in high school before realizing that I'd have more of a future writing than playing! But basketball really is the backdrop for me to this powerful story about family, struggle, triumph and history. And the most fascinating group of people I've ever come across in all my years of journalism.
coachinboston__Guest_Hi Neil...Thanky ouf or taking the time to do this...I have yet to read this book and am looking forward to it. I have coached high school and college basketball in Boston for over 15 years. I was wondering if any of the rumors about how Jack broke rules for his kids was ever brought up?
Neil_SwideyI think I chased down every rumor about Charlestown out there -- and believe me, I heard them all! But in the end, I found that Jack wasn't doing anything different from most other coaches in the league other than one thing: Spending every minute of every day thinking about his players and his program. That level of attachment is hard for some people to understand. It was hard for me to understand in the beginning. So I think that, combined with the unparalleled dominance of the team, made some people suspicious. But in the end, I found real honesty and caring in his commitment and his drive.
SpeedyDL__Guest_Hey Neil: Is Jack O'Brien as animated away from the court as he is stomping up and down it?
Neil_SwideyThis is one of the things that makes Jack so fascinating. Just to watch him from the sidelines, you'd think all he cared about was winning. But off the court, he could be so nurturing -- giving his guys tips on how to wash their jerseys, driving them to doctor's appointments and college visits, or driving all weekend to visit one former player in college or another. He could still be very demanding off the court, but he matched those demands with compassion.
BostonCityMan__Guest_A lot of people wonder about recruiting in the City League. Were you surprised that none of the kids on Charlestown's roster were actually from Charlestown?
Neil_SwideyThere are actually very few students -- never mind student athletes -- at Charlestown High School who are from Charlestown. That's just the way things are.
HoopsGuru__Guest_Just how important is the City League championships to the kids? Reading that chapter in the book, it seemed like that was as big as a state championship to the kids. They seemed motivated to win it all after falling in Cities in 04-05.
Neil_SwideyYou're exactly right. At first, I didn't see the Cities as that big a deal. But there is a huge turnout from Boston people for the city finals, and very few Boston people in attendance at the state finals in western Mass, so in some ways the city title does resonate more in their lives.
TheBGCrules__Guest_How's Mr. Fung doing these days? He seemed like an interesting character.
Neil_SwideyHe's doing great. He's one of the most interesting people I've come across, largely because he is his own man who cares so much less about politics and perceptions than your average school administrator. He's also super bright and funny. Michael is one of the people helping out with the Alray Taylor Second Chance Scholarship Fund.
cantjump__Guest_Have not read the book yet, only the excerpt but look forward to it. What do you make of Jack O'Brien's activities over the past couple years, especially the incident with Lynn English?
Neil_SwideyThanks. I think the book help explains what was really happening, in Jack's head and around him, while the Lynn English drama was playing out. I hope readers understand this chapter a lot more after reading the book and new perspective it provides.
Whitey__Guest_Hi Neil, will you be having a book signing?
Neil_SwideyYes. Several set up. The next one will be this Tuesday, Jan. 15, at Harvard Book Store on Mass Ave. Please check theassist.net for other dates. And please come if you can!
Igor_Pestorov__Guest_What's the most surprising thing you learned about the Charlestown basketball team in writing this book?
Neil_SwideyAt first, I expected a powerhouse program to work like a well-oiled machine, getting more efficient each year. But from the inside, I saw what a struggle it was each year just to get back to where you left off the year before. But the biggest surprise for me was how narrow the margins are for the players -- the Boston boys at the center of this book. It takes such drive on their part to get through all the distractions and detours they face every day, just to get back and forth to school, and get to college. But then even slight missteps can have huge negative consequences. That really doesn't happen in the suburbs.
IanRiderGreenRoom__Guest_Neil, did you see a lot of the alumni games. Who's the best to come out of Charlestown in recent years?
Neil_SwideyThe alumni game is probably the biggest event on the annual Ctown calendar. Jack and Zach told me early on it was more meaningful to them that to any state championship win. I was skeptical, but I came to understand what they meant. To see all these success stories walk through the gym door, and then be so motivated to beat their brothers on the court, is a really powerful thing. So much talent.
ItsFourthQuarterBaby__Guest_You mentioned Zack... is a head coaching position somewhere in his future?
Neil_SwideyZach would be a fantastic head coach, on and off the court.
BiggerBaby__Guest_Hi Neil, Fellow journalist here. When and how did you decide you were going to turn one of your stories into a book? How do you know when you are ready to take something like that on?
Neil_SwideyIt's funny. One of things I love most about my job as a magazine writer for the Globe is the ability to sink deep into a topic, emerge to write a story that hopefully connects with people, and then move on to something else. Curiosity is my fuel, so I never want to get bored with a story. But the amazing thing about this story is that it just kept getting more interesting. It stayed with me, so I stayed with it. I probably realized that when I attended the end-of-the-season banquet in 2005, which took place right after my original three-part series on the Charlestown team ran in the Globe Magazine. The event was so powerful, I was dying to write one more installment. That's when I knew there was a lot more there. Incidentally, that banquet is the focus of the excerpt from THE ASSIST that appears in the current issue of the Globe Magazine.
TheRealBGC__Guest_Neil, how much did Jack's coaching make these kids better? We could use some players like this at my alma mata: Brandeis!
Neil_SwideyJack's focus was to let nothing slide. Little things mean a lot -- being on time for practice, running out every drill, shaking hands when you meet a stranger, looking a teacher in the eye and saying "good morning." But you have to give a TON of credit to the actual players, like Ridley, Spot, George, Hood, Robby and the rest. These are all special guys who I felt lucky to get to know. What made this story so compelling for me was that it wasn't a one-way street. The coach may have filled the space in these guys' lives, but they also filled the space in his.
C4444444__Guest_Neil: How is the relationship between coach O'Brien and Steve Cassidy now?
Neil_SwideyThere's a lot of respect between the two of them, but there's no denying there's real strain in the relationship, given how things turned out.
t_bid__Guest_Neil, I am in the middle of the book and really enjoying it. I played for Jack when he was coaching freshmen in Medford and the book is bringing back vivid memories of that experience. I compliment you on recognizing what a great story this is.
Neil_SwideyThanks very much! I've been hearing from a lot of people like you lately, who had Jack as a coach at some point in his career. It's been gratifying to hear that people who know some piece of the story from the inside feel the book captures things accurately. If you have time, please visit www.theassist.net for more on the book.
Neil_SwideyThanks very much for all the great questions, and interest in the book. A few final reminders. Please visit www.theassist.net for more info about the book and the Alray Taylor Second Chance Scholarship Fund. (You can also find a clip of our recent appearance on the Today Show which ran across the country but for some mysterious reason not in Boston!) If you haven't read the excerpt in the Globe Magazine yet, you can find it boston.com/magazine. And, if you can, please stop by one of the upcoming events, which include the signing at Harvard Book Store at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, and events as part of the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield on Jan. 20-21.
Neil_SwideyOne final plug: Any fans of Bob Hurley, the legendary coach of St. Anthony's, and the fabulous bestselling book about him by Adrian Wojnarowski, please head out to the Springfield College gym on Monday, Jan. 21 (Martin Luther King Day). The HoopHall Classic will be holding a roundtable discussion at 12:30 p.m. with Bob Hurley, Adrian W., Jack O'Brien, and me, talking about everything from coaching styles to writing styles. It promises to be a fascinating discussion. Hope you can join us. Thanks again. -Neil