Boston Ball

Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Gary Williams, and the Forgotten Cradle of Basketball Coaches

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Pub Date 01 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023

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Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, and Gary Williams played no small role in the making of modern college basketball. Collectively, they’ve won more than 2,300 games and six national championships and reached thirteen Final Fours. All three have been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Pitino, Calhoun, and Williams each spent more than two decades on the national stage, becoming celebrities in their own right as college basketball and March Madness became a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Before Pitino became the face of the Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville programs, before Calhoun turned UConn into a national power, and before Williams brought Maryland to its first national championship, all three of these coaches cut their teeth in front of modest-sized crowds in the crumbling college gymnasiums of Boston during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Boston Ball charts how this trio of coaches, seemingly out of nowhere, started a basketball revolution: Pitino at Boston University, Calhoun at Northeastern University, and Williams at Boston College. Toiling in relative obscurity, they ignited a renaissance of the “city game,” a style of play built on fast-breaking up-tempo offense, pressure defense, and board crashing. Part of a fraternity of great coaches—including Mike Jarvis, Kevin Mackey, and Tom Davis—they unknowingly invented Boston Ball, a simultaneously old and new path to the top of college basketball. Pitino, Calhoun, and Williams took advantage of the ample coaching opportunities in “America’s College Town” to craft their respective blueprints for building a winning program and turn their schools into regional powers, and these early coaching years served as their respective springboards to big-time college basketball.

Boston Ball is the story of how three ambitious young coaches learned their trade in the shadow of the dynastic Celtics, as well as the story of how the young players—in their recruitment, relationships, and basketball lives—made these teams into winners.

Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, and Gary Williams played no small role in the making of modern college basketball. Collectively, they’ve won more than 2,300 games and six national championships and reached...

Advance Praise

“From Auerbach to Belichick, Boston has long been the home office to coaching titans in the pros. In this fascinating book, Clayton Trutor summons a time when the city was also home to three relentless college coaches whose frenetic, full-court approach mirrored the region and paved their way to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Clayton Trutor has crafted a wonderful must-read reminder that the Celtics aren’t the only ones responsible for Boston’s love affair with the city game.”—Ian O’Connor, New York Times best-selling author of Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time

Boston Ball is a fascinating journey through an underappreciated time and place in the history of college basketball.”—Pat Williams, co-founder of the Orlando Magic and author of Who Coached the Coaches

“In the early 1980s the proverbial ‘pro sports town’ of Boston was home to three remarkable young college basketball coaches. . . . Clayton Trutor brings that era alive and reminds us of a time when these future Hall of Famers were unproven, ambitious, and hungry for more.”—John Gasaway, ESPN writer and author of Miracles on the Hardwood: The Hope-and-a-Prayer Story of a Winning Tradition in Catholic College Basketball

“From Auerbach to Belichick, Boston has long been the home office to coaching titans in the pros. In this fascinating book, Clayton Trutor summons a time when the city was also home to three...

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Featured Reviews

I saw this book a few months ago on a list that somebody compiled about the best upcoming sports books and when I saw it, I immediately was intrigued and threw it in my Amazon Wishlist. I use that Wishlist to keep track of books I want to read. Right now, I have 23 books on it.

I had no clue that those hall of fame coaches, started there coaching careers in Boston. Jim Calhoun at Northeastern, Rick Pitino at Boston College, and Gary Williams at Boston University. All of them were extremely successful in Boston, but they are probably more known for their coaching careers at Uconn, Kentucky, and Maryland.

Not only does this book dive into a brief biography of all three, but it also provides a lot of detail on the seasons, games, and the recruitment of players. I was a bit overwhelmed with some of the details and found myself skipping ahead in the book to see how much longer I had in that chapter. But overall, I enjoyed it.

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While most basketball fans think of the NBA’s Boston Celtics when one refers to Boston as a “basketball town”, that wouldn’t tell the complete story. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s there were three colleges in Boston – Northeastern, Boston College and Boston University – that were also putting together very good basketball programs. The coaches at these schools were Jim Calhoun, Gary Williams and Rick Pitino respectively. All three of these coaches are well-known for their success elsewhere, but their time in Boston was equally impressive. Those coaches and their Boston programs are highlighted in this excellent book by Clayton Trutor.

Through hundreds of interviews with various people involved in those programs, including many former players, a reader will learn much about how all three coaches not only plied their trade at these smaller schools (save for Williams at Boston College since they became part of the Big East), but also had success when they were not expected to do so. It was an even bigger hurdle to gain recognition and draw fans for Pitino, as Boston University is considered more of a hockey school than basketball and often had to cede the arena to the hockey team. This didn’t detour Pitino, nor did a similar situation at Northeaster give Calhoun many problems. All three coaches took over their programs under less than ideal circumstances but got their teams multiple NCAA tournament invitations.

There are other aspects of the book that while keeping the central theme of the basketball programs, the reader will enjoy. There are some history lessons about the city of Boston at that time, a nice (?) description of the conditions of the Boston Garden are included and plenty of game action for all three schools. As a lover of the college game during that era, I found this book to be full of very interesting stories and information on the earlier careers of three legendary coaches and the programs they led to the “Big Dance”

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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