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Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine

4.20  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,088 Ratings  ·  207 Reviews
Winner of the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting
Winner of the Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Youth Sports

Eight years of unfettered access and a keen sense of a story’s deepest truths allow Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist George Dohrmann to take readers inside the machine that produces America’s basketball stars. Play Their Hearts Out reveals a cutthroat w
ebook, 256 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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Donnie Edgemon
Jul 25, 2011 Donnie Edgemon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All sports fans on my news feed should read this book. Every single one of you. "Play Their Hearts Out" is an eye-opening account of what the players we see on college basketball courts go through before we see them. It's not the rim nailed to a barn, or the neighborhood pick-up game in a cul-de-sac or even twenty-five games a winter with a high school team that paves the path to a college scholarship. All-consuming grassroots basketball with all of its shady operators makes up about 90% or more ...more
Feb 18, 2011 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One reviewer billed this book as the Friday Night Lights of AAU basketball, and the book lived up to this lofty standard. The author spent eight years following an AAU team, with much of the focus on the "coach" and the star player, who was once the No. 1 ranked player as an 8th grader.

While I was aware of the arguments that the AAU system was a major cause of the degradation of team basketball, to see the system in action was downright repulsive. The "coach", after identifying Demetrius Walker
Lucy Montgomery
Aug 14, 2011 Lucy Montgomery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting book, especially for someone who has a child/children who play sports at a high level. The book illustrates the morally questionable (and highly profitable) "grassroots" basketball system that funnels kids from grade-school age travel through college recruiting. As with all sports, it is not necessarily the early stand-outs that ultimately reach the highest levels nor are those with the most talent coached/guided to reach their greatest potential. And as with life, the ...more
Derek Prior
Dec 28, 2010 Derek Prior rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book and became attached to many of the people that Dohrmann follows. At its core, it's a story about Demetrius Walker and the ways in which the grassroots basketball system chews him up and spits him out. At various points I found myself wanting to stop the story to give Demetrius advice. It seems even the author had a hard time remaining strictly a biographer and it's hard to blame him.

The planets that orbit Demetrius are interesting in their own right. Coach Keller, Aaro
Aaron Poorman
I am a die-hard sports fan. Evidence of this fact is not hard to find ; For instance I spent the majority of yesterday afternoon watching preseason NFL games - All in anticipation of the Broncos opener. (and the debut of Touchdown Jesus Tim Tebow) Basketball, and the NBA's Denver Nuggets rank second in the hierarchy of my rooting heart. At least where the so-called 'major' sports are concerned. Despite all that I rarely read sports related books. My reasoning for this is simple. I can usually pl ...more
Nov 07, 2010 Kristen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book made me so glad that I am a girl. I grew up playing AAU basketball in tournaments all over the nation, and I attended some recruiting camps after receiving letters from colleges in middle school like these kids in the book, but neither my more talented friends, nor I ever faced the crazy pressures that these boys did. Shoe companies were not lining up to take advantage of girl basketball players, and for that, I am so thankful. The free gear and the money that was thrown at the coaches ...more
Tom Gase
Mar 28, 2012 Tom Gase rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I read a better book in 2012, I'll be very shocked and pleasantly surprised, as this book is about as good as it gets.
The author, George Dohrmann, follows an AAU basketball team and its players,coaches and parents for eight years. This book has been called by some people the "Friday Night Lights of youth basketball." I couldn't disagree more. I actually liked some characters in Friday Night Lights. No, the Hamlet of youth basketball is probably better.
Although without giving away the ending,
I'm really excited for this one. I won it thru First Reads ...

This book took me a little while to get into, but I was SO hooked. It was literally like watching a train wreck and I would keep my husband up at all hours of the night telling him all the outrageous things I had read that day.

This story is Demetrius Walker's story: about how as a 10-year-old he was recruited by a jerk of a coach (Joe Keller) in the AAU system of SoCal. Joe Keller used this boy so disgustingly to make himself a milli
Though it took me a long while to get into this book, when I finally did I was hooked. I think Dohrmann started out just a little slow--the first third of the book felt glacially-paced to me. But as the boys age, the story really picks up, and it's really a very informative and interesting read. For anyone who likes sports, and especially basketball, I feel as if this is a must-read. I have seen the LeBron James documentary (the one that starts with him playing in AAU basketball), but that film ...more
I've watched countless hours of basketball in my life (March Madness is my favorite time of year!) but didn't know much about grassroots youth basketball and just how dominant (most Division I college/NBA players have come out of that system) and corrupt (and unregulated) it is. This is an extremely illuminating look at grassroots youth basketball (mainly in Southern California). The author focuses on a coach, Joe Keller, and his protege, Demetrius Walker, who comes to see Keller as a father fig ...more
Dec 10, 2010 Stefanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book as a Christmas gift for my dad and as I started wrapping it, I thumbed through it, read the cover and decided I'd read it to see what I thought. Wow, what a great book! Eight years of investigative reporting and George Dorhmann has written a Pulitzer prize-winning non-fiction account of a group of incredibly talented boy basketball players.

This book details the inner world of AAU basketball for players beginning at the age of 10. The author is credible and believable and seem
Edel Henry
Mar 28, 2016 Edel Henry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was an addictive but enraging read. Incredibly well written, it really makes you care for the young players at its heart - which makes it all the more difficult as they are exploited and discarded by the corrupt American youth basketball system.

While the book is framed around the difficult journey of Demetrius Walker there are so many cautionary tales within it that it is very easy to finish the book feeling quite empty - particularly when the coaches and camp runners who created the
Very interesting book on grassroots basketball. Full review is posted on my blog:
Jarrad Hamlin
Play Their Hearts Out, is a very in-depth look at the world of youth basketball. As a former high school assistant basketball coach this book really angered me. The total disregard for athletes and their futures is sickening. The youth basketball machine is exposed for the terrible modern day institution of slavery that it is. Read this book if you are a fan of basketball and want to better understand the sometimes seedy world of youth basketball. Dohrmann put his life into the research and writ ...more
Griffin Bryant
May 16, 2016 Griffin Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Play Their Hearts Out is a nonfiction novel by George Dohrmann. There was one big point that Grorge Dohrmann made clear. It is that AAU basketball is corrupt weather it is the coaches, the players, the players parents, or the shoe companies. To any young kid that has a bad upbringing a coach can help the a kid eye sly or bring him down and take him on the wrong path with lies and deceitfulness.

One of the points someone can take away from the novel is that these kids in AAU are being way over hyp
Apr 26, 2016 Laurel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a parent who has spent most week-ends at AAU (grassroots) tournaments while my son and his team chase their dream. He is one in a long line of kids and the coaches who both make them happen and take advantage and leave a child worse off.

The book focuses on Joe Keller and his dream to become rich. He's ambitious, imaginative and willing to do whatever. He finds Demetrius Walker -the 10-year-old talent who looks like the perfect vehicle with the will to drive to the basketball fast lane. He
Arjun Balaji
Jan 02, 2016 Arjun Balaji rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars; some of the most well-researched work I've ever read in sports journalism. George Dohrmann spent eight years following students beginning in fifth and sixth grade all the way through their senior years to see how they eventually turned out. He shows unbelievable patience by presenting facts (for the most part) and letting readers make their own judgements about the trials and tribulations of the grassroots system.

The problem that I had with PTHO was that I had no one to root for; almo
Jack Duboff
Dec 03, 2012 Jack Duboff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book, Play Their Hearts Out: A coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann is a really good book because it really opened my eyes and gave me a great insight about what happens behind the scenes with coaches in AAU basketball. It really surprised me that coaches would exploit their own player's talents for their own good, and then just move on and treat them like yesterday's news. If you want to find out what really happens in this world, then read this.
Feb 01, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a parent of two elite basketball players in Southern California, I found this book to be a pretty accurate depiction of the perilous and highly competitive field of AAU basketball. I'd always been an athlete in high school and college, but it was not until my son bloomed into a 6'6 1/2 giant did I see the inner workings that take a player from the mundanity of Varsity sports to emotionally charged excitement of Elite Varsity sports. Every day is a challenge, and Play Their Hearts out logs eac ...more
Muneer Uddin
May 20, 2016 Muneer Uddin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: set-aside
Dohrmann uses his considerable reportage skills to uncover the cesspool that is AAU basketball. We see the greed and exploitation that young boys are subjected to in the coaches' quests to "make it". I hope that this book leads to some changes in the amateur youth basketball system, to better protect players and ensure that they are given all the opportunities in life that their talent will allow them,
May 16, 2011 Chip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
Fascinating and insightful. Up there with Friday Night Lights. The author spent years following the boys that are the subjects of his book, and it shows.

FYI, the author's blog provides occasional updates on how the boys are doing in college - e.g. [SPOILER]
Trenton Dianovich
Sep 08, 2015 Trenton Dianovich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann was a very good book. It gave great examples of how bad the grassroots machine can be. The book was full of detail and gave me a different perspective on AAU basketball.

This book is about how Joe Keller puts together an all-star basketball team. He first starts off by just getting the best kids from Southern California. Then he starts getting kids from all over California. He promises the kids that he recruits that if they join him they will be stars at
Lucian Murdock
Jan 12, 2014 Lucian Murdock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book Play Their Hearts out is a completely eye opening experience of what goes on in the greatly talented players. The book shows the insides and out, and the good and bad in amateur basketball. Play Their Hearts Out strongly captures what it is like when you are considered a young star. Everything from what the coaches’ act like to all the things that tries to push a star off track is reveled throughout the book. The book exposes how cut throat competitive the league really is, and that som ...more
Shivam Patel
Sep 10, 2015 Shivam Patel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann is a good book. One reason why Play Their Hearts Out is a good book is that it's about basketball, determination, and competition. A good book should have something about people going through hard times and overcoming their obstacles. One example of determination was when Demetrius was under so much pressure, started playing bad, and then he started faking injuries so he won’t have to play but a newly hired Coach Smith helped him become a better teammate ...more
Tie Kim
Aug 03, 2014 Tie Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was presented to me as a gift from the parents of the NJB team I coached this past winter. I would highly recommend it to parents of kids participating (or who are considering participation) in the elite AAU programs.

Information and knowledge of what happens in the grassroots system of youth basketball is vital in ensuring that your kids are protected. Of course, not every coach behaves like those mentioned in this book, but the slimy dealings of unscrupulous coaches and representativ
Feb 26, 2016 Amber rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a compelling read, chronicling a youth basketball team in southern California--its coach with ruthless ambition, the mostly naive boys hoping to play basketball in college and the NBA, and their families.

It has been on my to-read list for years, and when I saw yet another really positive reference to it from a favorite sportswriter, I finally decided to read it. And it is good--thoroughly reported, fair to a mixed cast of characters, and enlightening as to the particulars of the youth b
Sean Kelly
I think my opinion of the book was exactly as it suggests in the two-star rating: it was ok. Hats off to Dohrmann for putting the effort (years) into researching Play Their Hearts Out so thoroughly. There is no doubt in my mind that a person of lesser patience would have knocked Joe Keller (the coach and main protagonist in the story) out cold within the first year, if not the first month of following him around southern California and the continental USA. Potentially the most unfortunate (unset ...more
Stefan Balaban
Sep 01, 2015 Stefan Balaban rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although I agree with Mike to a point, I cannot accept his overall conclusion that AAU and the way the book portrayed it is the best way for kids to better their future in basketball. I think that he is mistaken because the evidence he used is semi-invalid. If your evidence is invalid, then I can’t agree with the conclusion. He said that Kobe Bryant grew up playing AAU, and that is inaccurate.

The book, however, is quite unique and different from other sport books, and that I agree with. To clar
David Quinn
Sep 29, 2013 David Quinn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This felt like a guilty pleasure, not that it was poorly written but because the author unabashedly slams the sleazy types that dominate the grassroots (AAU) basketball scene. About the only awful things we don't read about is how the bad guys drown kittens and kick orphans. The author seemed to me to be less than objective in the way he portrayed the evilness (the bad guys were only bad, for the most part) and virtuosity (some were positively saint-like) of the adults but that didn't detract to ...more
Sep 07, 2010 Nathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another book I won from goodreads...

I wanted this book to be good and it far exceeded my expectations. The book tells the true story of an AAU basketball coach in California obsessed with becoming "big time" and the team of boys he used to reach his goals. Dohrmann followed the coach and the team for years, recording their triumphs and defeats both on and off the court, then masterfully wove their stories into a gripping and fascinating book. The stories in the book will make you smile, make you
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