SL Interview: Keith O’Brien’s Year in Kentucky High School Basketball

The season-in-the-life genre has yielded several classic tales about youth sports: Buzz Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights,” Madeleine Blais’ “In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle,” John Feinstein’s “A Season on the Brink.” These writers immersed themselves in the culture of the teams they were following and, perhaps more importantly, in the communities that obsessively supported these teams. What they discovered was simultaneously triumphant and troubling.

In “Outside Shot: Big Dreams, Hard Times, and One County’s Quest for Basketball Greatness” (St. Martin’s Press), journalist Keith O’Brien journeyed to rural Kentucky to follow the fortunes of the boys basketball team of Scott County High School during the 2009-10 season. Like Bissinger, Blais and Feinstein before him, O’Brien immersed himself in a culture and a community that to outsiders might seem totally alien. The result is equally triumphant and troubling.

Wrote reviewer Bill Littlefield in the Boston Globe: “‘Outside Shot’ is being compared to the spectacularly successful ‘Friday Night Lights’. . . . The comparison is legitimate in that both books are about young athletes celebrated in their communities who see sports as a path to a new life, and both communities are made up of the quietly desperate who get more excited about high school sports than they do about anything else.”

A former reporter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, O’Brien left his staff job at the Boston Globe to research and write “Outside Shot.” SportsLetter interviewed him by phone from his home in New Orleans.

— David Davis