Book Review: “The Last Shots: City Streets, Basketball Dreams”

"The Last Shot.." proves that sometimes the best stories are where we least expect to find them

“The Last Shot..” proves that sometimes the best stories are where we least expect to find them.    Photo:

In the non-fictional work “The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams”, the author Darcy Frey takes his reader to a dark, isolated part of New York City, which every self-respecting New Yorker avoids – Coney Island.

In his book, Frey concentrates on the only thing that could bring an outsider to the poverty-struck, drug-infiltrated island and, on the other hand, the only product of Coney Island that sells outside of its borders – basketball. For its young residents, however, basketball is more than entertainment, much more – it is the only alternative to the triad of street life, drugs-imprisonment-death.

Frey follows the performance of the three senior stars of Coney Island’s Abraham Lincoln High School basketball team – Tchaka Schipp, Russell Thomas and Corey Johnson – and freshman sensation Stephon Marbury during the summer of 1991 and the 1991/1992 school year.

By describing experiences he shared with each of them, the author portrays the distinct personality of each of those players, especially the first three. He also describes their dreams for the future, ranging from academic success and middle-class lifestyle to the bright lights, sports cars and rest of the package that comes with NBA stardom. The dreams of all these young men, however, start at the same place – college. And for the unfortunate, under-educated and opportunity-deprived Schipp, Thomas, and Johnson – even Marbury – there is only one road to college – NCAA Division I basketball.

Over the course of the months that he spends with these players, Frey describes every step on the way to the NCAA –  traveling to multiple of summer leagues and camps; reaching the required 700 score on the SAT test; maintaining certain grade average – and the difficulties the players face getting there.

He pays special attention to the never-ending and gruelling recruiting that each player has to endure and reveals interesting experiences with the infamous process.

On the side, Frey provides the reader with the notorious past of Coney Island and describes how much basketball means to the entire community.

Although not a novel, “The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams” is a of dreams, high hopes, successes and failures, and continuous fight against fate, which will appeal to basketball fans and other readers alike.



Un Finale Grande

Yesterday (Wednesday) Italian side AS Roma defeated Inter 3-2 in the second leg of the semifinal match of this year’s edition of Coppa Italia (Italian Cup). After winning the first leg in Rome 2-1, Roma advanced to the final with aggregate score 5-3. This will be their 17th final appearance in franchise history.

Saving the season: Roma made a huge step toward qualifying for Europa League next season.

Saving the season: Roma made a huge step toward qualifying for Europa League next season.

On May 26, when the decisive match will be played, Roma, a nine-time Coppa Italia winner (most in tournament history) will meet eternal rival S.S. Lazio, a five-time winner, which eliminated Juventus in the other semifinal. Despite winning 14 trophies altogether, the two rivals have NEVER before contested in a final. As if to make the match even more dramatic, the game will be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the stadium which Roma and Lazio have both used as home ground since 1937.

Although Roma has more trophies than Lazio overall, such dominance cannot be detected in recent years, for the teams have triumphed twice each in the last ten tournament editions. In addition, Lazio has been clearly the more successful club in the past few years in terms of  European tournament participation. To add turmoil to the final, the winner qualifies directly for next year’s Europa League competition. Winning Coppa Italia will give Roma the opportunity to return to the European stage after three-year absence.

However, statistics rarely play any effect on the outcome of any Rome Derby, let alone the final of the national cup.

One thing is for sure: Roma’s fans in the Curva Sud (South Curve) of Stadio Olimpico, and Lazio’s fans in the Curva Nord (North Curve) have long dreamed of such a match and will be more than ready come game time.

The Curva Nord before a game                                 Photo Courtesy: Sky Sports

The Curva Nord before a game.                 Photo Courtesy: Sky Sports

Fans from the Curva Sud are making their voices heard.                         Photo Courtesy: Daily Mail

Fans from the Curva Sud are making their voices heard. Photo Courtesy: Daily Mail

Are you ready?

Comments are welcome.

Movie Review: Goal! The Dream Begins


If Hollywood has at least one sports film production, which leaves young fans of that sport open-mouthed and gets them dreaming, then for soccer this movie would be Goal: The Dream Begins (2005).

The movie depicts the path of young Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), an amateur soccer player, from the poor parts of Los Angeles to England, where – with the help of soccer scout Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane) – he obtains a try-out for the youth academy of Premier League team Newcastle United. Eventually, Santi breaks through the main squad of the Magpies.

Munez’s road to glory is by no means easy, as he has to leave his poor family behind. In addition, he does not have the blessing of his father Hernan (Tony Plana), who thinks that it is irresponsible and selfish of his son to chase a foolish dream instead of supporting his family. However, his grandmother buys him a ONE-WAY ticket, putting additional pressure on the talented young man.

All alone in a land unknown, Santiago does not have many people to support him other than Glen, who accepts him like a son. Eventually, he falls in love with Roz Harmison (Anna Friel), an assistant to the team’s nurse. With the help of these two people and fellow teammate Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), Santi takes on all challenges that come his way, such as discrimination and nostalgia.

Although a fictional production, one reason why Goal is so appealing is because it includes a lot of realistic elements. With the cameo appearances of Alan Shearer, Nolberto Solano, Kieron Dyer, and other of the then-stars (“legend” would be a more appropriate term for the first one) of Newcastle United and the flawless factual accuracy, through Munez the directors present each yound soccer fan with an idol that proves that sky is the limit.

Also, for the soccer-hungry older fans, the directors insert Munez into the action of Newcastle’s matches against Liverpool and Fulham, where he played against great players like Steven Gerrard, Milan Baros, Danny Murphy, etc. The scenes from these matches are as accurate as dramatic.

In fact, Goal played an immense role in my childhood and helped me develop the strong attachment to Newcastle United, as if I myself was born on Tyneside (the area where the club is based).

Interested? Well, you are in luck! Thanks to the magic of the Internet, not can I only present you with a trailer about this modern classic, but I can give you a link to the entire movie:

Enjoy! And if you really do, check out Goal II: Lving the Dream and Goal 3: Taking on the World, but the third one may be a disappointment.

Comments are welcome!

Better than Nothing!

Soccer players, just like any other people, differentiate in many ways. Not every soccer, for example, player gets to play in world’s best domestic (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc.) and international (Champions League, Europa League, Copa Libertadores, etc.) tournaments. Not every player plays for the national team of his or her country. At any level, that is. Not every offensive player can score 50+ goals each season like Lionel Messi. Also, not every goalkeepeer registers a shut-out performance on a regular basis (especially the ones whose team play against Messi’s Barcelona and Real Madrid).

Outside the field, not every player drives cars like these Not everyone dates or is married to women like these, either. And for God’s sake, not every soccer player is paid a six-digit weekly (!) wages. (If you ask me, none of them should be paid so much!)

Anyway, differences go on on. However, there is one thing that all soccer teams – regardless of salary, cars driven, or level of competition they face – have in common. And that is the motivation each player needs to give and do his best on that field. Such motivation comes from coaches and fans. And while every coach MUST have some motivational skills in order to get the position in the first place, there is a huge difference among the fan bases at different levels of soccer competition.

Speaking of which, second-division Italian team Triestina has been having trouble lately filling up its 32,454-seat Stadio Nereo Rocco. However, they still had to find a way to motivate the players, right? So they thought of this:

Critical situations call for drastic measures...

Critical situations call for drastic measures…

Kevin Ware vs. Cisse… and more (ATTENTION: Graphic content!)

A major “highlight”  (but was it really?) in sports this weekend was the compound leg fracture of Louisville’s basketball player Kevin Ware during the Midwest Region final game against Duke in the NCAA tournament.

Since I am more of a soccer guy, I immediately started comparing Ware’s injury with ones that I know have occurred on the soccer field. And now, after it has been reported that Ware has gone through a successful surgery and is already moving with the aid of crutches, I do not feel so guilty sharing the brilliant idea that the unfortunate player’s experience gave me. What will follow are videos of Ware’s injury situation as well as three gruesome injuries which occurred on the soccer field for you to compare and pick your favorite (sorry for the poor choice of words!)

Kevin Ware – University of Lousville vs. Duke (2013 NCAA tournament)

Oupa Ngulube – Carara Kicks vs. Mpumalanga Black Aces FC (South African Futbol League)

Djibril Cisse – France vs. China (pre-World Cup friendly)

Unknown player and game at the 3:32 mark of this video:

And finally, something to cheer you up:

So, what do you think? Can any one of those match Ware’s injury from Sunday?

Comments are welcome.


TV schedule: World Cup qualifiers – March 26

Coming soon...

Coming soon…

March Madness has been dominating the sports programming on TV in the U.S. for the past week or so. However, it is not the only exciting thing to watch. Beginning last weekend, national soccer teams from all over the world have renewed their campaigns to “punch their tickets” to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. After some dramatic (and controversial, on one occasion!) matches on Friday, the Tuesday schedule includes some mouth-watering clashes in which teams will have to go all-out to retain the World Cup dream.

Most of the intriguing matches are UEFA qualifiers which feature European soccer powers, including France-Spain (a must-win for the reigning champions after their home draw against Finland on Friday), Montenegro-England, and Netherlands-Romania. However, only the first one of those could compare to the high-stakes Mexico-United States match, which will kick off 22.30 ET, at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The teams are favorites for qualifying for the World Cup, but their recent performances have risen many questions. Both teams need the win  and keeping in mind previous editions all-time rivalry is added, it should be a cracker!

Here is the complete TV schedule for Tuesday qualifiers:

Which one will you be watching?

Comments are welcome.


Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund will have to fight for their semi-final spots

The ultimate goal...

The ultimate goal…

The draw for the quarterfinals in this year’s edition of the Champions League was conducted in Nyon, France last Friday. The fate of the remaining eight teams – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Malaga, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Galatasaray – was literally in the hands of Liverpool legend Steve McManaman, who conducted the draw. The first matches will be played out on Tuesday, April 2 and Wednesday, April 3. The second legs are scheduled for a week later.

In one of the quarterfinals, Spanish champion Real Madrid – another team McManaman used to play on – are considered strong favorites against Turkish counterpart Galatasaray. However, the Galatasaray squad includes the likes of Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneider and Burak Yilmaz, who will all constantly threaten the defensive line of nine-time cup holders Real . A big advantage for the Turkish side is that they will host the second leg of the tie, but against CR7, Özil and company that is often not a factor. Interestingly enough, the teams have met three times in history, with Galatasaray winning two of those games, including a 2-1 victory in the 2000 UEFA Super Cup match (Excuse the  bad quality!)

Real Madrid-Galatasaray: more of a game than people expect

Real Madrid-Galatasaray: Not one-sided as it seems

Another seemingly uneven matchup is Borussia Dortmund-Malaga, one in which the German champion is considered a clear favorite against the Spanish team, which is enjoying quite a ride in its debut season in the Champions League. Popular expectations are that Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mario Götze will tear the Malaga defense apart, but many people underestimate the “old dogs” who make up that backline: Martín Demichelis (age 32, runner-up in the competition in 2010 with Bayern Munich); Weligton (33); and captain Jesús Gámez (27 years old, but with more than 250 senior appearances for Malaga). The experience of these players will play a crucial role in Malaga’s attempt to eliminate Borussia.

On the other end of the field, Malaga has more experience, in the face of forwards such as Julio Baptista, Javier Saviola, and Roque Santa Cruz. These three will be supported by Spanish wonder kid Isco and Eliseu, midfielders who have proven that they themselves know how to find the net. In fact, they are the team’s leading scorers with three goals each.

Although Borussia Dortmund has a squad which, in my opinion,  is capable to repeat the 1997 Champions League triumph, when the team beat Juventus 3-1 in the final, I don’t rule out an upset in this tie. In order to do this, though, Malaga players will have to survive the hell of Westfalenstadion, where more than 80 000 Borussia fans put in quite a show for opposing teams week in and week out.

Would you like to see an upset in any of those ties? Why?

Comments are welcome.




Soccer 360: Barcelona will come up big on Tueday

The wait is over! Exactly two weeks after a dramatic first-leg game, Barcelona and AC Milan meet again – this time at the Kamp Nou in Spain – to finish what was started a fortnight ago. Milan has a deserved two-goal advantage coming from an impressive overall performance in the first game. With the final whistle in the first-leg game came plenty of questions by everyone with even little interest in soccer. Why did Barcelona lose? Did they underestimate the Rossoneri? Was there a hand-ball in the situation of Milan’s first goal? Where was Lionel Messi hiding all game long?

Milan defenders dealt well with Messi (in orange) in the first game. Can they do that again?

Milan defenders dealt well with Messi (in orange) in the first game. Can they do that again?

The most important question, however, has been the one raised prior to the second game in Spain. Can Milan finish the job in the second leg at the Kamp Nou? This question will be answered in the span of 90 – or perhaps 120 – minutes of soccer on Tuesday. Soccer 360 is bringing the latest from both teams’ camps and predict the outcome of what probably is the Game of the Week.

COACHES have the word:

“There is no doubt on Tuesday we have to attack because we have to score goals. But we also can’t get over-excited. We have to balance our need to go forward with being careful at the back.” – Jordi Roura, Barcelona’s assistant coach

“We shall have to see how the match progresses. If we get to a point where we have to execute a tactical revolution then we shall do so.” – Jordi Roura, Barcelona’s assistant coach.

“It would not be a disaster to go out at this stage because no one expected us to arrive here with a two-goal advantage. Everyone thought it would be an easy ride for Barca.” – Massimiliano Allegri, AC Milan coach

“They will put us under a lot of pressure, but we will need to be as serene as possible. They are so good at generating chances that when you play against them you have to be very good in defence and much better in attack. We know we have to try and score a goal and, if possible two, to feel comfortable.” – Masimiliano Allegri, AC Milan coach

PLAYERS have the word:

“We need 90,000 people who believe that we can get through this. Anyone who thinks that we can’t do it, please give your ticket to your children or friends.” – Gerard Pique, Barcelona defender

“The important thing is to play without pressure and be aware that we too can have our say. Milan have quality players and we could also impose our style on them, if we wanted to.” – Stephan El Shaarawy, AC Milan forward

“They will make life difficult for us, and I expect a difficult match. I don’t think that we should only try to defend our lead. We have plenty of quality and must attack and defend well. We should play our own game in possession and try to score.” – Robinho, AC Milan forward


The Barcelona squad was boosted by the return of key midfielder Xavi Hernandez. He returned to training this week after having missed the past two games against Real Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna. However, Barcelona’s head coach Tito Vilanova is expected to be away from the sidelines for at least another month. Vilanova is currently undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

Starting line-up: Valdes; Alba, Mascherano, Pique, Alves; Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi; Villa, Messi, Pedro

The visitors face more squad problems. Influential striker Mario Balotelli – five games, five goals since signing from Manchester City – will miss out due to participating in the tournament for his former team. Striker Gianpaolo Pazzini, who started alongside El Shaarawy a fortnight ago, will miss out due to fracturing his fabula in the league game against Genoa last Friday. Surprisingly, the scorer of the second goal in the first game, Sulley Muntari, will not start the game.

Starting line-up: Abbiati; Constant, Zapata, Mexes, Abate; Flamini, Ambrosini, Montolivo; El Shaarawy, Boateng, Niang


Barcelona has lost three of its past six games in all competitions, the other two coming in the hands of Real Madrid, both in cup and league competition.

The word that best describes AC Milan’s form recently would be ‘hot’, for the Rossoneri have not lost in the past 10 league games and have won four of its past six in all competitions.

However, Barcelona is definitely not Genoa or Chievo, and tradition doesn’t favor Milan. In its past 22 games on Spanish soil, Milan has won four, tied five and lost the remaining 15! One of those visits include a game against Deportivo La Coruna in 2004, when the Rossoneri lost 4-0, despite having a 4-1 advantage after the first leg. Hmmm, doesn’t that make you wonder?

In my opinion, the game at the Kamp Nou tonight will be very different than the one in Italy two weeks ago. I believe that the hosts will start attacking from minute one and will be inspired by an early goal. That would give them control over the game and force Milan to abandon their primary attacking mindset.

In short, I think Barcelona will advance to the quarter-final of the competition with a 3-0 victory, possibly after extra time.

What is your feel for the game? Will Messi come up big or will he be neutralized by the Italians once again? Will Milan’s attacking style pay off? Do you, neutral fans, want penalties?

GAME ON!!! Enjoy it!

Soccer 360: A goal at Anfield will send Zenit through

Will Zenit players celebrate this Thursday as well?

Will Zenit players celebrate this Thursday as well?

After the Champions League presented its lovers with some great soccer on Tuesday and Wednesday, it is now time to see what Europa League – the “uglier sister”, as I like to call it – has in stock for soccer-hungry fans. 16 second-leg matches will be played all around Europe today, some of them more intriguing than others.

In-form Gareth Bale and his Tottenham will cross the English Channel in attempt to protect their 1-goal first-game advantage over Lyon. After the humiliating 3-0 defeat at home, Napoli visits Viktoria Plzeň in what I think is a lost-cause match. But hey, I’ve heard Czech beer is worth the trip. There is one particular game, though, that is hanging in the air, despite the first-leg result. From all games on Thursday, Soccer 360 picks Liverpool-Zenit to preview and give its best shot at predicting the final score.

COACHES have the word:

“We need the patience. We don’t need to score early, we just need to score first even if that comes after 40, 55 or 70 minutes, I still think we have the power of the crowd and the players to get the result as long as we stay super compact.” – Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool coach

“I have got confidence in the players’ condition, their physical shape is at a real high level. We showed over there we can create chances and Zenit know it will be a really difficult game coming here. We have confidence we can score the goals required.” – Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool coach

“We have to play the game as if it was 0-0 in the first game. We have to forget about the 2-0 scoreline.” – Luciano Spalletti, Zenit coach

“Liverpool may push us back but we are going to follow the same tactics and strategy as last week.” – Luciano Spalletti, Zenit coach

PLAYERS have the word:

“We’re playing fantastic football and we’re performing really well, but it seems as if we’re taking two or three steps forward and then one back.” – Steven Gerrard, Liverpool midfielder and captain

“We have to show character from the beginning, especially in the first 15-20 minutes to get the people right behind us, but then they will lift us in the weak moments as they always do.” – Pepe Reina, Liverpool goalkeeper

“We know we need to score goals but we also have to play with a defensive mentality because to concede a goal will make it even harder for us.” – Lucas Leiva, Liverpool midfielder



Liverpool’s task to overcome the deficit from the first match will be harder because of key absentees in the second leg. Central defender Martin Skrtel is suspected of missing the match with a knee injury, which will probaly see Jamie Carragher pair up with Daniel Agger in the back. Striker Fabio Borini will be out for at least 8 weeks after dislocating his shoulder in Liverpool’s morale-boosting victory over Swansea City on Sunday.

Luis Suarez will have to be at his best for Liverpool to have a chance to advance

Luis Suarez will have to be at his best for Liverpool to have a chance to advance. Photo: Bleacher Report

In addition, winter signings Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho are cup-tied and won’t be able to make an impact. The latter might be replaced by Moroccan international Oussama Assaidi, who is back in the squad after returning from the African Cup of Nations.

On the other hand, Luciano Spalletti has his entire squad at his service and any changes he makes to last week’s line-up will be just tactical.


Liverpool lost only 1 of the last 5 league games they played. These included away draws against Manchester City and Arsenal. However, the club from Merseyside has won only 1 of its last 4. The sole victory coming against a reserve-filled Swansea City squad, which seemed concentrated on the Capital One Cup final against Bradford City this weekend.

Zenit’s only competitive game over the course of last two and a half months was the first match of the tie against Liverpool in St. Petersburg last Thursday. Last year’s Russian champion currently sits third in the Russian Premier League, 5 points behind leader CSKA Moscow.

Here are the highlights of Liverpool’s 3 minutes of slack that can cost them so much on Thursday.

Hulk (in blue) will be a main concern for Liverpool defenders on Thursday. Photo: The Telegraph

Hulk (in blue) will be a main concern for Liverpool defenders on Thursday. Photo: The Telegraph

Looking at the squads and taking into account last week’s game, Soccer 360 predicts a 2-1 consolation victory for Liverpool. What is your view on the game? Extra time? Penalties?

Comments are welcome.

Soccer 360: Bayern Will Take It All in London

Is the story of tonight's game in the stars? Soccer 360 thinks so.

Is the story of tonight’s game in the stars? Soccer 360 thinks so.

Without a doubt, Arsenal-Bayern Munich has been one of the most anticipated ties in the Champions Leagues’s Round of 16 since the draw took place on Dec. 12 last year. Ahead of the tonight’s first leg in London, Soccer 360 presents its Champions League-loving readers with the latest injury updates, coach and player expectations from both camps, as well as some statistics that might all help in the prediction of the outcome of the match.


COACHES have the word:

“We must play at our best and with belief. I believe in our quality. The fact is that in the last 11 games in the Premier League we have lost two, so we are on a good run overall.” – Arsene Wenger, Arsenal coach

“We have to put in our head that we have 180 minutes to qualify and not rush our game.” – Arsene Wenger

“It is vital to keep a clean sheet. 0-0 is not a disaster at home, but of course we will try to score goals.” – Arsene Wenger

“We’ve shown this already in the league and cup and Champions League, that we have this hunger and desire and motivation. Players really have motivation and that hunger for success and that’s really important for us going forward.” – Jupp Heynckes, Bayern Munich coach

“We are better defensively and at switching play [than last year, when Bayern lost final to Chelsea]. I do have faith that, if we play to our level, we can win.” – Jupp Heynckes

PLAYERS have the word:

“I don’t think Arsenal will play offensively and leave us a lot of room. It will be similar to our recent Bundesliga matches. We’re going there to win.” – Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich defender and captain

“Both teams have a lot of quality.” – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern Munich midfielder

“Bayern will be a tough game, but we are confident that on our day we can give anybody a good match…We will all have to be switched on on the night.” – Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal midfielder

“Bayern are flying in the Bundesliga. They have fantastic individual players like Robben, Ribery and Neuer in goal. They are very strong but we won’t be scared of them.” – Wojciech Szczhesny, Arsenal goalkeeper.


Arsenal face serious problems with their defense ahead of tomorrow’s class as starting center-back Laurent Koscielny has fallen sick. In addition, winter signing Nacho Monreal will not be able to play due to representing Malaga in the competition prior to his transfer. With fellow right-back Andre Santos exiled on loan due to his dreadful form this season, Carl Jenkinson could possibly return to Arsenal’s starting line-up.

Bayern will also be missing some regulars in the back as Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber face suspension and recover from long-term injury, respectively. They will be joined by veteran striker Claudio Pizarro, who is recovering from tonsillitis. A good news for the visitors is the return of Javi Martinez, who missed the team’s 2-o league victory during the weekend because of a bruised toe.


Arsenal will enter tonight’s match following a humiliating 1-0 defeat at home to Blackburn Rovers in the 5th round of the FA Cup. In the league, however, the Gunners haven’t lost in their last four games, winning three of them.

Bayern come  to London on a hot streak of 5-straight victories in which they have scored 13 and conceded 0. One of these wins was a lopsided 4-0 over Shalke 04, another participant in the Champions League’s Round of 16.


Arsenal and Bayern last met in the Champions League in 2005, in the Round of 16 again. Back then the Germans took a 3-2 lead from the first leg in Munich. A 1-0 Arsenal win in the second leg was not enough for the Gunners and Bayern advanced in the competition.

Soccer 360 predicts a 3-1 Bayern Munich victory in tonight’s match. What do you think the final score will be?

Comments are welcome.