As I dove into Rebound by David Borges, I was very pleased by the author's dedication to setting the scene. Before getting into it, I was worried that it might be a straightforward account geared towards broad audiences. Instead, Borges did a great job of appealing to sports fans looking for a good story as much as hardcore Husky fans by emphasizing the remarkably unfortunate circumstances leading up to the 2014 championship run.
The significance of UConn's National Championship run is not lost on most of us, but something about seeing it all put together in a cohesive story highlighted just how many different factors were working against the Huskies and how truly amazing the characters of this fairy tale were. Any one of these obstacles on their own would prevent teams with weaker constitutions from making the run which UConn completed in April of 2014.
There was the sudden retirement of Jim Calhoun, who left Athletic Director Warde Manuel with no other choice but to appoint Kevin Ollie into the vacated role on an interim basis. Ollie had no head coaching experience, being just two years removed from his time in the NBA.
There was the 2013 postseason ban, which allowed a couple of key underclassmen to transfer without penalty, and undoubtedly hurt recruiting when paired with the uncertainty of UConn's coaching situation.
Lastly, there was UConn's "new" conference. The stars refused to align for UConn in any way, shape or form during Hurricane Conference Re-alignment, and the Huskies were left behind by all of their old friends in something called the American Athletic Conference.
The book starts in earnest in the second chapter with the conditions surrounding UConn's postseason ban due to low APR scores. Because you don't have the Hungry Huskies without the involuntary famine of 2013.
"It's going to change the way we play" said Shabazz Napier, lamenting the misfortune of being punished for the actions of others, "not being able to play in the tournament... it's going to be tough." Those sentiments underscored Napier's emotional outburst after the clock ran out on the 2014 championship game-- reminding us that Ollie and the players who stuck with the program had their sights set on that day for two years.
Another storyline we had a chance to re-visit was Napier's development, reminding us that his success as a teammate and leader was not always such a guarantee. It was popular to quip "We have Shabazz and you don't" across the 2013-'14 season as a hat-tip to Napier's breathtaking skills and confident leadership, but Borges reminded us that there were reasons to believe it might never be that way.
"(After a loss) Napier eviscerated his teammates publicly again, telling reporters: 'I've got to question a lot of these guys' hearts...You don't quit...It looked like we gave up at the end.'"
He wasn't done, "at the end of the game, I told the guys, 'I've got to question a lot of your hearts.'" While these comments may have rubbed some fans the wrong way at the time, what we were actually seeing was the raw enthusiasm and drive to succeed which Napier brought onto the court night in and night out.
In case you need any more convincing, here are a few specific reasons to buy this book:
- Because you will get old and forget things. Reading this at least once a year during the off-season will ensure that you recall every major detail.
- Along those lines, you might end up having children someday. You might have some already. They will need to read this one. Bonus points if it's your child's first book.
- As a gift for any Kentucky fan you may know. Also Michigan State, Iowa State, or Villanova. There are no St. Joe's fans.
- While you're at it, send a copy over to that special Syracuse fan in your life. This is, of course, assuming you've already sent them Dayton gear.
- To read out loud and record for long road trips. In fact, if you're reading this Dave, I am more than happy to perform the book on tape.
I'm also not afraid to admit that I teared up a couple of times towards the end, so much so that I had to stop reading because I was about to start visibly crying in public while holding a book about sports. I dare you to finish the third-to-last chapter, turn the page to the next chapter titled "This Is What Happens When You Ban Us" and not react the same way.
All told, Rebound was an extremely informative and well-woven tale about a group of guys who suffered through adversity together and didn't run away because it was convenient. In the process these young men, led by an inspirational force of a head coach, grew to truly care about each other and reach incredible heights, proving scores of haters wrong every step of the way.
Buy it, read it, love it and tell us what you think!