It's not unusual for high school coaches to play big roles in their players' lives. But Jack O'Brien, the basketball coach at Charlestown High School in Boston, takes it to another level. In "The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives" (Public Affairs, $26), Neil Swidey, a staff writer for the Boston Globe Magazine, uses practically unfettered access to detail the ups and downs of O'Brien's powerhouse program and the coach's fierce dedication to the players.

The school's history mirrors the city's troubled racial history, and Charlestown, with black players and a white coach in the middle of an upscale Boston neighborhood, has issues of class and race that complicate O'Brien's task. "Suburban coaches have to contend with meddling parents furious when their kids don't get playing time," Swidey writes. "They wish the parents would just go away. City coaches get to see what it's like when that wish comes true."

In many ways, O'Brien acts as a tough-love father figure for his players. "They, in turn, would go to battle for him," Swidey writes. The program has its share of victories, including a handful of state titles, and nearly universal success at getting players into colleges. But it's not all happy endings. O'Brien can't keep every player on the right path, and though he's decisive when giving direction, he struggles to decide what's best for himself.


Frightful Weather? Pack Your Tent.

“Yes, it is colder, windier. But the air is crisper, the views clearer, the animal tracks easier to see,” Dave Caldwell writes in The Times tomorrow. “So, it is the perfect time to go camping, right?” Read about five ideal spots in the Northeast for the hardy lover of snow and cold.


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