Understanding basketball through books
March 12, 1998
By Jonathan D. Austin
Web posted at: 3:51 p.m. EST (2051 GMT)
CNN Interactive Books Editor
(CNN) -- College basketball hits full boil in March as the top 64 teams square off in the NCAA championships for men and women.
The first round of play is often the most interesting, with top-seeded teams like North Carolina or Kansas facing scrappy 16th seeded teams like Prairie View or Navy.
But if you're one of the millions who don't live and breathe basketball, maybe the winnowing-out process leading to a national championship can be confusing.
And what if you have difficulty following any game, whether it be in a packed St. Louis arena for an NCAA semifinal game or at the YWCA down the street as your kid drives for the basket?
"Isn't there somewhere I can find out the details of the game?" you ask the people around you. They don't answer; they're dancing in their seats in reaction to a missed free throw, or jeering as the ref calls the fifth foul for their team's top scorer.
You may not even know what it means to get five fouls.
So where do you turn?
Turn to books and turn a page. Find out all you need or want to know about the feverish game that drives March Madness.
In the beginning ...
Maybe the best place to start is at the beginning, with a book by THE MAN who invented the sport.
James Naismith was teaching physical education at the YMCA Training College in Springfield, Massachusetts, and felt discouraged because calisthenics and gymnastics didn't engage his students. What was needed, he felt, was an indoor wintertime game that combined recreation and competition. So one evening in late 1891 he worked out the fundamentals of a game involving two peach half-bushel baskets and a ball.
"Basketball: Its Origin and Development" was written by the inventor himself,
who was inspired purely by the joy of play. The book covers the
creative reasoning behind his basket game, later refinement of rules
and development of equipment, the spread of amateur and professional teams
throughout the world, and the growth of women's basketball (at first banned
to male spectators because the players wore bloomers).
Naismith lived long enough to see basketball included in the Olympics in 1936. Three years later he died, after nearly forty years as head of the physical education department at the University of Kansas.
His game is now one of the most widely played sport in the world.
"The Composite Guide to Basketball" delves into the tale of Naismith and the early pioneers who helped it grow from a game in which a score of 20 points was usually enough to win, into the fast-paced, high scoring game of today.
Or is all that just too cerebral, to much like stuff from ninth grade history class? Maybe "Basketball for Dummies" is for you.
Written by Digger Phelps and John Walters, "Basketball for Dummies" provides players, fans, coaches, parents -- heck, even newcomers -- the information they need to get into the game.
Phelps, the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, and Walters, a staff writer with Sports Illustrated, cover bare bones basketball, 'the wear and where', the rules and statistics, and offer insight into shooting, offense and defense, rebounding and strategies.
And yes, it has that geeky yellow cover that has become a hallmark for all the "Dummies" books.
A tale of coaching
Do you love (or hate) Indiana University coach Bob Knight? Writer John Feinstein was allowed unprecedented access to Knight's team for a season, which he recounted in the book "A Season on the Brink."
More recently, Feinstein spent the 1996-97 season with nine teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The result was "A March to Madness: The View from the Floor in the Atlantic Coast Conference."
Other books about specific teams, coaches or conferences:
"The Big Ten: A Century of Excellence" is a comprehensive view of the Big Ten and stories of its greatest figures, including Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas.
"Adolph Rupp: Kentucky's Basketball Baron" tells the story of Rupp's life and career at the University of Kentucky, where his teams won four NCAA championships.
"Clem Haskins: Breaking Barriers" is an autobiography about the University of Minnesota's first full-time African-American head coach. He led the team to the NCAA Final Four and the 1997 Big Ten Conference championship.
"Stanford: Home of Champions" is a sure bet for fans of the No. 3 seed Cardinals, while "Michigan: Champions of the West!" will be a treat for Wolverine fans as they cheer on their No. 3 seed team.
With a title like "Arizona Wildcats Handbook: Stories, Stats and Stuff about Arizona Basketball" there is little need to give more description. The Wildcats enter the first round at a top seed, and their fans will surely turn out to cheer them on.
"ACC Basketball" gives the rabid fans from Tobacco Road the ins and outs about the conference that has won more NCAA tournament games than any other. And since the ACC has five teams in post-season play -- including two top seeds -- the fans are sure to be loud and boisterous.
Getting into the game
If you understand the game and want to get instruction in play, there's a wide range of books to study. You could consider:
-- "The Basketball Coach's Bible: A Comprehensive and Systematic Guide to Coaching"
-- "100 Defensive Basketball Drills" and "100 Offensive Basketball Drills"
-- "Basketball - Multiple Offense & Defense" written by Dean Smith, the all-time winningest men's Division 1 basketball coach.
And if the statistics are a bore, if the strategies aren't attractive, perhaps what you need is a role model. If that's the case, try reading "100 Greatest Basketball Players of All Time," which offers well-rounded biographies of the 100 top players. If that doesn't excite you, you can consider spending the mad month of March on a long vacation, far from television and the sound of the frantic crowd.