The Assist by Neil Swidey
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"Swidey, an award-winning journalist for the Boston Globe Magazine, quickly converts his readers into genuine fans of these young men. Like O'Brien, he shows a fanatical devotion to his subject. He follows the team off the court and into the projects, to pizza parties and prestigious tournaments. The Assist will prove indispensable to anyone interested in the art of coaching at any level or in any sport. And by distracting us from the sordid, steroid-fueled headlines, Swidey reminds us why we enjoy watching sports in the first place."

"I highly recommend it."
-Bill Simmons, ESPN's The Sports Guy.

"Team sports, like life, are never simple. Beneath the concrete final score, there are games within games, small plays leading to big plays, a melding of diverse talents and personalities into a cohesive (or disparate) unit. Rarely is that tapestry revealed as fully, and as convincingly, as in Neil Swidey's The Assist."

"Neil Swidey might have started out trying to tell the tale of an exceptionally successful high school basketball team and their coach, but as he spent time with the subjects of his story, he realized that they could help him explore a much larger story. His book is about basketball, certainly, but it is also about education, race, the hypocrisy with which our games are riddled, and a collection of young men trying to figure out who they are and who they can be."

"One does not have to be from Boston to appreciate Swidey's writing skills. His characters are real and have a story to tell. It's a tale that pulsates with the intensity of a full-court press." - TAMPA TRIBUNE

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY gives The Assist an A- 'There's triumph, tragedy, and salvation in this story. Not to mention a movie.' Read review here

"He shoots, it's good...Swidey masterfully deploys his observations to make his points."

"[Swidey] builds narrative momentum and details his subjects with the touch of a skilled novelist. This is a prodigiously reported, compulsively readable book that readers (sports fans or not) will savor."

"The Assist is a great book that should be read by every high school athlete in the country."
--Dan Rea, host of "NightSide with Dan Rea" on WBZ Radio (AM 1030)

"With a powerful, moving narrative, Neil Swidey has delivered the rarest of transcendent sports books. Coach Jack O'Brien and his Charlestown players will bring you to your feet, and they'll bring you to tears. Most of all, they'll make you care about a game so much bigger than winning and losing. This is a brilliant book, one that will stay with you."
- ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI, author of New York Times bestseller The Miracle of St. Anthony

"Thankfully, The Assist isn't a formula sports story where everything leads up to 'The Big Game' that's won in overtime. It's an absorbing examination of at-risk, inner-city youths who succeed against all odds. GRADE: A." --ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS

"This is a fine piece of journalistic literature; do not make the mistake of thinking it is for sports fans only." --SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

"Like Hoop Dreams, this captivating account transcends its time and place." -BOOKLIST

"Swidey is there for it all." -NCAA Champion Magazine

"A noble debut." -Kirkus Reviews

"A powerhouse work of literary journalism about a powerhouse basketball program and the coach who wouldn't take no for an answer."
-Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

MORE REVIEWS: See more reviews here


Race, Class, and Public Education.
In a recent Kennedy Library Forum, Neil joined UMass Chancellor Keith Motley, former Charlestown High headmaster Michael Fung and Diamond Educators founder (and former Charlestown High star) Shawn Brown in a discussion about urban education and other issues highlighted in The Assist.
Watch, listen or podcast the forum here

Support the Second Chance Scholarship Fund with your Amazon purchase

Neil is one of the co-authors of LAST LION, the new, definitive biography of Ted Kennedy, published by Simon & Schuster.

See Neil's other writing at
Click here
image The Charlestown boys basketball team Hoops, hope, and the game of their lives
The Assist is now available in paperback. It features a brand new Epilogue capturing all the drama that has continued to unfold in the story since the hardcover was released. Join The Assist Facebook page by
clicking here
The Alray Taylor Second Chance Scholarship Fund
imageInspired by the stories in The Assist, this new scholarship is designed to help promising Boston students who left college get back on track and graduate. It is named in memory of Alray Taylor, a warm-hearted former Charlestown High basketball star whose life was cut short in 2006.

For more info on the fund, go to

Tax-deductible donations to the fund can be made by credit card using Paypal. Click here:

Or by check:
The Alray Taylor Second Chance Scholarship Fund
PO Box 590214
Newton, MA 02459

image Jack O'Brien is a high school basketball coach extreme in both his demands and his devotion. With monastic discipline, he has built a powerhouse program that wins state championships year after year while helping boys rise above the neighborhood forces pulling them down, and get to college. He does this as a white suburban guy working exclusively with black city boys who make the daily trek across Boston to attend Charlestown High School, where the last battles of the city's school desegregation wars were fought a generation ago.
The Assist is a gripping, surprising story about fathers, sons, and surrogates, all confronting the narrow margins of urban life. At its center are the interwoven lives of O'Brien and two of his stars, easygoing Ridley Johnson and fierce Jason "Hood" White. The book follows Ridley and Hood on their hunt for a state title. But it also stays with them, to see how young men who seldom get second chances survive without their coach hovering over them -- and how he survives without them. A minister friend says O'Brien does the Lord's work "filling the space in these boys' lives." But O'Brien is no saint. Saints give without expecting anything in return. O'Brien needs his players and their problems as much as they need him.
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PREVIEW: Read the excerpt
imageis a staff writer for The Boston Globe Magazine and a winner of the National Headliner Award. His writing has been featured in The Best American Science Writing, The Best American Crime Reporting, and The Best American Political Writing . He lives outside Boston with his wife and three children. To see his other writing, go to
MORE: Expanded bio and contact info
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Interested in choosing The Assist as your next selection for your book club?
Click here for a reading group guide.
Parade Magazine recommends The Assist as part of its classroom curriculum on current events, sports, physical education, careers and critical thinking.
Download Lesson Plan
The Assist honored by Iowa High School Book Awards 2011-2012
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The Assist has been named a 2010-2011 nominee for the Rosie Book Award. Named in honor of Eliot Rosenwater, a recurring character in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, the award is chosen each year by high school students across Vonnegut’s home state of Indiana. The students will be reading the nominated books throughout the school year and then voting for their favorite. If you have any Hoosiers in your networks, please spread the word!
View the details here
The Assist named honorable mention on Dime magazine's list of Top Ten Basketball Books of All Time.
Story and list here
The Assist named to Barnes & Noble's Best Books of the Year 2008 List.
More info
Rocky Mountain News selects The Assist as one of its favorite books of 2008.
View the list here
Watch Neil Swidey, Ridley Johnson and Coach Jack O'Brien discuss Charlestown basketball and second chances on NBC's Today Show.
Watch the Today Show segment here
The Assist logs multiple weeks in the Top 5 of The Boston Globe Bestseller List.
View list here
Watch here
Sports Illustrated spotlights The Assist
Read the Sports Illustrated coverage here
Bill Littlefield, host of NPR's "Only A Game," interviews Neil and gives The Assist a big thumbs up.
Listen to interview part 1     Listen to interview part 2
Read Bill's review here
NECN News Night host Jim Braude: "The Assist: Get it. Read it. It is really terrific."
Watch the interview here

The Dale and Holley Show
Co-host Michael Holley: "There was a point for Bostonians where Common Ground was the book you had to read. I think The Assist is that book now."
Co-host Dale Arnold: "Spectacular."
Listen to Neil's entire "Dale and Holley" interview here
THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE'S PLAY: 'More Than a Coach.' Read profile here
BORDERS selects The Assist for its ORIGINAL VOICES, which highlights the work of the most promising new and emerging authors.
Original Voices
Neil Swidey's new book takes you inside the boys basketball team in Charletstown.
Watch interview here
THE NEW YORK POST: 'He Shoots, It's Good.'
Read review here
here and now
NPR's Here & Now spotlights The Assist
Listen to the interview here
FOXSPORTS.COM COLUMNIST MARK KRIEGEL (AUTHOR OF PISTOL): "The Celtics may have reached 30 wins in fewer games than any team in NBA history, but the best story to come out of Boston this season is The Assist by Neil Swidey."
Original Essay Series features a piece by Neil on Jay-Z videos and other adventures from writing the book.
Read essay here
YAHOO SPORTS: 'This Is Great Literature.'
Read review here
"One does not have to be from Boston to appreciate Swidey's writing skills. His characters are real and have a story to tell. It's a tale that pulsates with the intensity of a full-court press." -Bob D'Angelo
Full review here
ESPN: 'Gripping Journey.' Read excerpt here