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The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  620 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Jack O'Brien, the impossibly demanding basketball coach at Charlestown High School in Boston, has led his team to five state championship titles in six years. Less talked about is O'Brien's other winning record: Nearly every one of the players who stuck with his program--poor kids growing up in high-crime neighborhoods and saddled with the lousy educational system availabl ...more
Hardcover, 358 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by PublicAffairs (first published February 29th 2000)
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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Jun 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I love basketball, used to live in Boston, have painful memories of the 1970's racial tensions there surrounding school busing [the history of which is covered well in this book], and am a teacher who finds all heroic-teacher-bucking-the-system stories (Stand and Deliver re calculus teacher Jaime Escalante may be the prototype) compelling, so this book clicked for me on many levels.

However, I think even readers who are not excited about high school basketball would enjoy this one. Well-written,
Mar 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
For anyone who ever doubts the importance of a strong high school sports program, read this book. The Assist covers the 2004-2005 season of Charlestown High boy's basketball. What Coach Jack O'Brien is able to do with a group of inner-city boys is commendable. Over the course of seven years, he helped forty young men find their way to college against some pretty high odds. Neil Swidey's narrative is informative. Reading this non-fiction book is an education on the youth from the rough city.

Aug 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read the book in three days. It is a bleak reminder of the dysfunctional BPS school system and how difficult it is to break the cycle of violence that so many off our inner city students are subjected to on a daily basis.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
i enjoyed the book very much. the characters fighting through controversy was intriguing. this book had more than just basketball. there was death and drugs and even jail experience for one of the players. its also very interesting because it is a true story and there is a lot of lessons you can learn from this book.
Sep 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
this book is based on a true story and the characters are real people so at the beginning of the story jack is at the cemetery where him and hood along with Ridley were praying for Richard Jones who was one of his former players who had been on his way to a division 1 basketball scholarship before he was killed. Jack O'Brian is one of the most successful coaches in Boston high school basketball history winning a total of 8 state championships in the past 9 years talk about a coach but then his s ...more
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. Even if you don't like basketball at all, the book is all about how sports is a great motivator for kids in the inner-city to get a hold of their usually complicated lives. And no, I didn't just like this book because one of the main characters walks down my street (full of yuppies he recalls) everyday on the way to school....although that was have the people in the book tread all over my town. I would totally go see Charlestown High play (if the games weren't ...more
Jun 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, sports, 2008
This book provides a good look a season in an inner city basketball program, run by a very successful coach.

You begin the book feeling good about the Coach of the basketball team, however by the end, just like life, it's hard to know if he is totally good, or too self-centered.

I do believe that he cared greatly about the high school kids on his basketball team, but whether he cares about anything else is highly debatable.
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is about much more than high school basketball, though that's heavily featured. It also delves into the storied history of race and Boston public schools - both past and present. It's gratifying to read the success stories, but equally heartbreaking to read about the kids who couldn't pull through or catch a break.
Brice Sensabaugh
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
1. There was literally nothing bad about my reading experience while reading this book. This is one of the best books I have read in my life, being an athlete that likes to play basketball. There are many parts of this book I can connect to, and there was really nothing I can think of to dislike about this book. The part of this book that resonated with me is the change that Coach O'Brien experiences through hardships in his lifetime during this book. He grew as a person and a coach, and didn't ...more
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As of this writing I am on page 76

There has been a war in Manhattan for white people over blacks. O-brien is a white adult who does not look at people over their skin tones but rather looks at them for who they are and what they love to do. The first 76 pages of this book not only would introduce the story but give you a good background on what the city of Manhattan looks like. This book is a book for people who like sports and are interested in what the journey is like to the higher levels. Thi
Samarth Gupta
As good as Remember the Titans, enjoy re-reading it
Dec 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nate L.
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Neil Swidey's The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives is a year in the life of a high school basketball team in Boston, Massachusetts at Charlestown High School. Not just any high school in Boston, but an inner city school that has many different personalities. There are many important players like Hood and Ridley, but a very important character is the coach Jack O’Brien.
O’Brien is the coach at Charlestown. He brings the boys together to play basketball. I like O’Brien’s character a
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
"Neil Swidey’s The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives skillfully documents a few years in the chaotic life of Coach Jack O’Brien and the players that may as well be his children.

The book is somewhat hard to understand for people that do not follow or have a passion for basketball because the plot and facts that Swidey presents are frequently tied to the outcomes of basketball games or anecdotes. If the reader does not take an interest in basketball at all, there can be a whole dime
Walter Cohen
Apr 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Basketball is the religion in our home. Our boys (now 18 and 16) have forever been taught values, personal relationships, character, in all their variations through many lenses....but one has always been basketball. Much like life itself, basketball is a "life" in constant transitions, it is a "life" that occurs in a contained space, there are rules, judges, penalties, constant motion, you share, you rely on others. On and on....

So, The Assist has special meaning. Basketball is all about assisti
Michael L
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I like the book called The Assist because this is a book that basketball players would get it shows you the hard time with the team to the good times. This book is about a high school basketball coach name coach Jack O Brien and his team called the Titans trying to make a big name for their selves and go big to like a state championship. His star player Von was a big leader and role model to the team.He is a very static character throughout the story. In the begginnig of the story he pushes his ...more
Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Don't think this is just another entry in inspirational coach genre (Coach Carter, etc . . . ) With all due respect to other coaching stories, The Assist is much more.
As someone who was interested in Mass high school basketball in the early 2000s, I knew about the legendary Charlestown teams, but I had no idea there was such a deep story with such important connections to Boston's history. Part biography of an obsessive (Charlestown High basketball Coach Jack O'Brien), part story of a high sch
Jared Warren
Aug 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book has been one of my favorite books. When i first picked it up I was unsure if i would like it because I've never seen this author before so i was worried on how it would turn out. This book is about a basketball coach who everybody like at first but once it came towards the end of the year everyone was questioning their opinions on him. He was very nice to kids and cared about them deeply but other than that he didn't care about winning or losing he just wanted to make an impact on the ...more
Dec 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was extremely similar to "A Miracle At St. Anthony's", a book I read just a few months ago, but somehow it was just as interesting. Both stories chronicle maniacally devoted high school basketball coaches in the inner-city. Part of what made The Assist so interesting was the fact that coach O'Brien has devoted himself entirely to his job, no wife, kids, girlfriend. To him, his players are his kids, which makes it incredibly sad when despite his super-human efforts to keep them on the s ...more
May 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book has been well-reviewed and highly rated by enough Goodreads readers that I won't (be able to) add much that's new or original enough to note here.

In case no one else sited the website that adds some additional info about The Assist, etc., I'm attaching a hotlink to it herewith:

I just think that fans of Swidey's book might find some more to delight, amuse, & instruct them there, too.
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
This was a great book about a high school basketball coach in Boston who takes inner city kids and molds them into not only a state title winning team but into people who go to college or change their lives for the better. There's also a bunch of history on the city of Boston--particularly their sketchy moments regarding race and racism. Lots of interesting people get profiled and it's very easy to get swept up in rooting for the team and its players.

Pei Pei
It's strange to read a book about people you know.

Overall, I thought this was much better written than "A Hope in the Unseen," with Swidey doing a fairly good job presenting a neutral narrative and letting readers draw their own conclusions, but I wish at times that his commentary was a little more pointed and critical when dealing with Coach being wrong. Just my opinion, of course.
Paysha Rhone
Mar 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book on the championship-winning CHS basketball coach and team. I think it really captured the challenges many of our kids in Boston face -- and how opportunities can slip away after a few poor choices. It was especially cool to see two of my own students in the team pictures!
Agatha Lund
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: bostonians, hardcore basketball fans
Shelves: 2008, basketball
Tell-it-like-it-is story about one year in the lives of inner city Boston high school basketball players, intercut with a lot of history of racial conflict and gang violence in the city. Pulls no punches, sugar coats nothing, and still manages to tell the whole thing with empathy and a lot of heart.
Apr 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I liked this one better then The Last Shot. This is a heck of a book that follows a highschool basketball team up in the poor sections of Boston. They look at this from so many angles: Coach, players, head of the school, superintendant, parents, court system, college coaches. Its a great book that was really hard to put down. Once again also a true story.
Brandon Blitz
May 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A book similar to A Miracle at St. Anthony. This book follows the coach of Charlestown High in inner-city Boston and his teams success. A White coach in a nearly all black school, it shows the terrible conditions that the Boston school system is in and shows all the struggles of both the players and the coach.
Dec 23, 2013 rated it liked it
I never quite found coach Jack O'Brien and his players quite compelling enough to make the book really absorbing. O'Brien's dedication to his players was quite impressive and admirable, but that wasn't quite enough for me. In fact the portions of the book I found more interesting were the sections on the integration of Boston schools, and the ongoing problems the city schools are experiencing.
Dec 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book tells a great story - inspiring in parts, frustrating towards the end, but all in all, an enjoyable, informative read. And I'm not even a basketball fan. Should definitely be read in more English classes.
May 09, 2009 rated it liked it
An interesting read about inner city Boston and a special high school boys basketball coach. Not quite as compelling or well-written as Miracle at St. Anthony's (similar theme but Newark), but a worthwhile read.
Jerry Killen
Jun 17, 2009 rated it liked it
About a man who has given his life to help some talented inner city kids thru basketball. He controls the kids by his problem. Often, the kids return to the inner city life when he no longer has control, but some do get out.

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Neil Swidey is author of Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness (Crown: February 2014). He is also author of The Assist, a Boston Globe bestseller that was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, and co-author of the New York Times bestselling Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy. A staff writer for The Bos ...more

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