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

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  2,589 ratings  ·  186 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
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
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
Derek Prior
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
Lucy Montgomery
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
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
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
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
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
Jack Duboff
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.
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
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,
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]
Lucian Murdock
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
Tie Kim
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
David Quinn
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
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
Diane Wilkes
The "Coach" -- Joe Keller. A man who knows nothing about coaching basketball, but knows there's money in working with potential young phenoms.
The Star Recruit -- Demetrius Walker. A young basketball phenom and Joe Keller's meal ticket.
The Young Basketball Machine -- The AAU--a feeding ground for colleges, not liable to the NCAA or any real rules, peopled with predatory coaches and greased with the money from Nike, Adidas and Reebok.

PLAY THEIR HEARTS OUT is a heartbreaking and eye-opening book
This book does an excellent job of delving into the world of grassroots basketball, including the players, coaches, schools, shoe companies, and big money that comprise it. One of the biggest things I liked about the book was that the book covers about an 8-10 year period. The author started following this particular team from the absolute beginning and continued covering it until the end. That to me distinguishes it greatly from other sports books that just cover one season or that don't start ...more
This book was received as part of an Early Reviewers Program.

This narrative is like watching a train wreck.

It is a fascinating journey with a group of kids through their youth, starting at about age nine, all the way through middle school and to high school, and that all important time where they strive to achieve a scholarship. Its core focus is on the young talent Demetrius Walker, and his relationship with his Coach, Joe Keller.

The narrative covers all the elements: the hope, the hard
This book is about the growth of AAU basketball down to grade school kids. Now, 10 years old are subject to rankings and being heralded as the next LeBron, which is pretty awful if they or their peers haven't finished or started puberty.

The journalist followed a coach (Joe Keller) and his star athlete (Demetrius Walker). Joe Keller is clearly the villain. He's out to get rich off of finding the 'Next LeBron' despite not knowing much about basketball (he fails to teach his players basic ballhandi
Bob Mustin
There was a time when the second best avenue to writerly acclaim (the best being investigative journalism) was sports writing, and Dohrmann seems cut from that cloth. He’s a Sports Illustrated writer-Pulitzer winner – and, as this book demonstrates, a bit of an investigative writer himself.

But a bit about the book.

Dohrmann began following what he calls grassroots basketball, i.e., the entrepreneurial AAU system of pre-high school hoops. His main focus is a struggling coach, Joe Keller, and his
As someone with a bit of personal experience in the world of AAU basketball, this was a fascinating read. Dohrmann follows one particular coach, Joe Keller, during an eight-year journey to establish himself as a SoCal powerhouse, but he uses this framework to tell the story of the evolution of youth basketball as a whole, and how the system has been hijacked by the shoe companies. I used to see these kids of very limited means coming to elite basketball camps with unbelievable loads of Nike and ...more
Victoria Whipple
Last year I accompanied my son to AAU basketball 7th grade Nationals. It was only his second year playing AAU, and I had no idea until we arrived in Memphis what we had gotten into. Sure, there were some teams like his with all legitimate 7th graders, but there were many teams with boys sporting beards and tattoos. Rumors swirled about the ages of these boys, I learned of the term "reclassify" for the first time, I saw some great games, good and bad coaching, and parents who were either fully su ...more
Kenny Li
Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine explores the cruelty and hostility of youth basketball that has the ability to take the innocence from a teen.

This story follows a youth basketball team coached by Joe Keller, the coach who discovered Tyson Chandler, the NBA center currently playing for the New York Knicks. Joe Keller finds kids from around Southern California at first, but starts recruiting for his team all around the country. Joe Keller hopes to
Chronicles the rise and fall and semi-recovery of Demitrius Walker (now a freshman at ASU) as he came up through elementary, middle, and high school in the infinitely corrupt AAU system.

If you haven't already wept for the youth of our basketball nation, you will after reading this one. It's just tragic how these kids come up through a system designed to exploit them. They learn nothing. No wonder college basketball looks like a bunch of drunk eskimos trying to hunt boar in Brazil. And I know oth
Play Their Hearts Out is a true story about a group of very talented young baskeball players. It focuses on one of the players in particular.He is a special kid named Demetrius Walker. It is a very interesting book.
I enjoyed reading this book a lot. It explained the details behind the games and tournaments that the group of boys played in. It also gave information about the choices they made regarding college. The players are in college now and most are playing basketball.
There were a few thi
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Hand-Me-Down Dream (Essay): Father, Son, and the Burden of Basketball (PLAY THEIR HEARTS OUT) A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by Dohrmann, George(Author)Hardcover{Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine} on05-Oct-2010

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