Marketing and evaluating the talents of basketball players who haven’t even hit their teenage growthspurts can be big business for some AAU coaches. In Play Their Hearts Out, George Dohrmann tells the story of one coach, Joe Keller, who put his career on the shoulders of middle school phenom Demetrius Walker. Listen to the interview and read Bill’s thoughts on the book.  

In order to write his book about an exceptionally dishonest, self-aggrandizing, greed-addled, superficial pig who coached several youth basketball teams, George Dohrmann had to spend considerable time in the company of that coach, Joe Keller.

Dohrmann, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on fraud in the world of college basketball, should get another prize for hanging around Joe Keller as long as he did, even if he sometimes had to hold his nose.

In Play Their Hearts Out, Dohrmann explains how Keller managed to convince the shoe companies that they should be marketing their product by giving scores of sneakers to the best ten-year-old players in the country. NIKE, Adidas, and the others didn’t require much convincing. The idea was that even at ten, these “can’t miss” NBA prospects would become role models for the thousands of wannabes they were blowing by in AAU tournaments all over the country. When the players who’d partnered with Keller stopped being prospects, he dropped them, bad-mouthed them, and brought other children into the business. Then Keller, whom Dohrmann characterizes as a dunce regarding the game of basketball, moved on to create basketball camps catering to parents sure their sons are destined to become the next LeBron James.

It would be inaccurate to blame everything that’s dirty in youth basketball on Joe Keller. As George Dohrmann points out, other promoters like Keller as well as high school and college coaches, geeks who celebrate the achievements of pre-teen players in trade magazines, the aforementioned shoe companies and the slimeballs who represent them, and even the Commissioner of the NBA are also at fault. But certainly one of the achievements of Play Their Hearts Out is the demonstration of just what a soulless, shallow, reprehensible jerk one guy swimming in this particular pool of sludge can be.