The theme of managing time and learning to be responsible is one every coach watches young adults go through. Some can manage heavy loads and others can't. When Coach Mandrake threatens to kick Theo off the team if he doesn't perform, I didn't really think buy it. Coach knows Theo is inexperienced and it seemed that it was only the team's second game - I never did get a clear indication of how far into the season they were. Mandrake also spends time pointing out Theo's mistakes when he should have been pointing out the strengths he could build on. By the time he does it is on page 178, but then he implies that if the team loses on Friday, Theo would be off the team. I know the author was trying to up the tension for Theo, but it was contradictory. I don't coach basketball but what I've observed is that most basketball coaches will go out of their way to develop a kid that has height and potential.
A nice tie-in with teamwork was Theo's observation that his science club team didn't work as well together as his basketball team. They were too individualistic. The end shows how the basketball team worked together to try and overcome a taller, stronger team and how Theo realized that he could use his intelligence and creativity to try and break the opponents down. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. That was another reason the Coach threat didn't jive with me. Players take more risks when they know they are supported by the coach and they can be creative. Of course, I am a female and I only know girl sports which is quite different than boy sports. And I've never coached boys. I'm no expert so take my musings as is... just musings.
The characters are engaging from Theo's internal struggles with growing up and not wanting his dad to treat him as a kid to him grieving the death of his mom and his family trying to move on. Brian is Theo's sidekick and adds great humor. The girl, Rain, is strong-willed and not afraid to speak her mind or follow the crowd. She's unpredictable and interesting as a character. Gavin looks like a self-centered jerk, but he has an introspective side that actually helps Theo deal with his basketball woes. What begins as a one-dimensional, racist twit turns into someone that is insecure and bluffs his way with others to cover it up.
The plot maybe tries too hard to hit different ethnic backgrounds having minority characters dealing with racism. There was comments regarding the Asian boy, Jewish boy, Muslim family, and being a female. While I really liked the rapport between Brian and Theo and their discussions, I thought the Muslim boys were somewhat stereotypical with using violence against their cousin. I really liked the BIB "Because I'm Black" jar that represented not making excuses for your skin color. When Theo talks to his dad about the game and blames the kids in the stands for his poor performance because they were calling him names such as monkey, his dad made him put a dollar in the BIB jar. Theo's mom started the jar as a way of not using racism as an excuse. She once blamed a high charge from a repairman on being female. Theo and his dad told her to put a dollar in the jar. The jar wasn't just for Theo but the adults as well. It is a good reminder to not be angry and point fingers at others but take responsibility for actions. Name-calling in sports is meant to rattle a person and Theo had to find a way to deal with his anger. Today, racism in European soccer exists with fans tossing banana peels at black players on opposing teams. One soccer player picked up the banana and ate it, using humor to try and make the tosser look foolish and show he didn't care. Racism is ugly. People have to find a way to deal with it in a healthy manner.
There are some funny lines in this book. When Theo has a confrontation with a kid in the cafeteria he observed that "Everyone returned to what they were doing as if nothing had happened. Theo thought everything in middle school was like that. Students went through the day like pets on a leash. When something shiny or loud caught their attention, they all looked and barked for a few seconds, then continued walking until they passed the next shiny or loud thing." I have some noisy middle schoolers stampeding by my library right now. This book is a "skyhook" winner shot.