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Original Issue

Hooked On Hoops

A March to Madness
by John Feinstein
Little, Brown and Company, $24.95

College basketball is so like a drug, it ought to come with a
warning label. It's every bit as intoxicating as booze (probably
causes as many headaches, too) and as addictive as nicotine. Be
warned then, this book is intended for the happily hooked. John
Feinstein spent the 1996-97 season in a basketball junkie's
nirvana, behind the scenes of the ACC. Seven of the conference's
nine coaches gave him access to their practices, locker rooms
and emotional detonations. (The two who declined were N.C.
State's Herb Sendek and North Carolina's Dean Smith, who told
Feinstein, "I wouldn't let my mother do that.") Though the
coaches in A March to Madness give off nothing like the shower
of sparks emitted by Indiana's Bobby Knight in Feinstein's
best-selling A Season on the Brink, each one is a fascinating
character study.

For the most part, they are a sympathetic bunch. Clemson's Rick
Barnes describes the constant "thumping noises" an ACC coach
hears over the course of any season: "It's the sound of people
jumping on the bandwagon, then jumping off, then jumping back
on." Win a few--thump! You're being offered a contract for half
a million a year. Lose a few--thump! The alumni suddenly
remember you recently got a divorce and therefore might not be a
very moral person. It's "not even what have you done for me
lately," says Virginia's Jeff Jones, the controversial divorce,
"but what are you doing now."

This is a world in which winning is the only thing. Duke's Mike
Krzyzewski tells his team, "When I was a kid I got into all
sorts of trouble because I had such a bad temper when I lost at
something. I'd go crazy." Sadly, he concludes, "I don't think
any of you [are] like that." Meanwhile, Maryland's Gary Williams
bawls out an assistant for insufficient perspiration: "If you
really cared," he screams, "you'd be sweating!"

On and on it goes, 456 pages stuffed with details. There are
bizarre pregame rituals. Clemson coaches watch the
blood-and-guts scenes from Braveheart, the Virginia Cavaliers
pass around a ball of masking tape the size of a softball (they
call it "the orb"), and, for some reason, Wake Forest coach Dave
Odom irons a shirt. The book contains minutiae not even the most
rabid ACC fanatic could care about. Do we need to know that the
new Hampton Inn at Clemson doesn't have a restaurant and that
Smith prefers Coke over Pepsi?

But there's a tension in A March to Madness that keeps the pages
turning--the tension in each coach's mind. On the one hand, he
feels he'll die if he doesn't win, and on the's only
a game. Every coach has his own method of keeping things more or
less in perspective. For Barnes, everything fell into place on
the day he met South Carolina's nonagenarian senator, Strom
Thurmond. "So happy to see you," said Thurmond, gripping his
hand. "So proud of what you've done. So proud."

Then, turning to an aide, the senator pointed to Barnes and
asked, "Who is this?" --Charles Hirshberg