From New York Times bestselling author Mike Lupica comes a story about a young basketball player confronting the truth about his hero and grappling with right and wrong on and off the court.
Gramps is Lucas’s hero, which is second only to the fact that he is also Lucas’s basketball coach. Gramps coached the team to victory in the championships last year, and when he decides to come out of retirement to coach another season, Lucas is thrilled. This season will absolutely be the greatest yet.
So when his English teacher challenges the class to write a biography of the person they most admire, Lucas can’t think of anyone he’d rather write about.
Except...Gramps is being cagey. He avoids every question Lucas asks, and gets angry every time Lucas brings up his past as a hotshot basketball player. Lucas can’t help but wonder—is there something Gramps is trying to hide? And if there is, will Lucas be prepared to face the truth about the man he thought he knew?
With basketball championships fast approaching, time is running out for Lucas to decide.
Reading Group Guide
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“‘You and I are the best team in town,’” Lucas Winston likes to say to his grandfather, Sam. Both live and breathe basketball, and since his dad died when Lucas was young, Gramps is an even more important presence in his life. Lucas loves playing on the Claremont Wolves, the seventh-grade team that Gramps coaches. As the Wolves’ season progresses, it looks like great coaching and the team’s hard work will lead to the championship. But then Lucas’s research for an English assignment shockingly turns up something from the past that could destroy what’s best in his life. Join Lucas in his best season on the court and his hardest season off the court in this story about basketball, friendship, and second chances.
1. Lucas’s relationship with his grandfather is central to the story. Discuss his statement: “‘You and I are the best team in town.’” What makes them a good team? What do they have in common? How does the fact that Lucas’s father died long ago affect the bond between Lucas and Gramps?
2. What kind of person is Lucas? What makes him a good teammate? What qualities does he show as a basketball player that he also shows elsewhere in his life? Talk about his love of reading and how it relates to his love of basketball.
3. Lucas is described as stubborn and persistent. How are those qualities related? When are they beneficial? How can they sometimes get in the way? Discuss times when Lucas shows each of these qualities, and what the consequences were.
4. What does Lucas’s mother think and feel about her son? Give examples of her words and actions that express her feelings. Find places where she gives Lucas advice, and discuss whether you agree with her. What is her relationship like with Gramps?
5. Lucas and Ryan are close friends as well as teammates. What do they like about each other? How does Lucas help Ryan with the biography assignment? How does it get them into trouble? Why does Lucas refuse to keep helping Ryan? What does it reveal about Lucas’s character?
6. Why is Ryan so worried about getting a good grade? What is his reaction when Lucas refuses to keep helping him? Whose take do you most agree with? How does the situation test their friendship? How is the problem resolved? Relate their conflict to what happened between Gramps and Tommy when they were young.
7. What makes Gramps a good coach? How does he treat the boys? Why does he avoid the terms “first unit” and “second unit”? Why does he have Lucas and Neil coach during a practice, and what’s the effect? Why does Gramps believe it’s important for Lucas to know the history of basketball?
8. Ryan’s mother, Mrs. Moretti, serves as assistant coach for the Claremont Wolves. Why does her background inspire Lucas to say, “‘I want to play like a girl’”? How is Mrs. Moretti helpful when Gramps leaves and later faces problems with the league’s board of directors?
9. Describe the relationship between Lucas and Maria. What does he like and admire about her? When he goes into the room where she’s playing the piano, why does he think, “This is her court”?
10. Although Lucas’s life seems to be going well when the book opens, the author uses foreshadowing to suggest problems are ahead. Some of the foreshadowing takes the form of cliff-hangers, sentences at the ends of chapters that leave the reader in suspense. Find examples of these and other foreshadowing, and relate them to what happens later.
11. How does Lucas find his father’s letter, and what does it reveal to him? It’s clear that Lucas’s father learned something problematic about Gramps. What does the letter show about his reaction? What parts of the letter show similarities between Lucas and his father? How does the letter lead Lucas to find out about the Ocean State scandal?
12. What big mistake did Gramps make in the past when he was young? Why did he do it? When one of the team members asks Gramps if he is sorry for what he did, he says, “‘Sorry for who I was. But it’s a funny thing: I’m who I am now because of who I was.’” What does he mean by this? How did his mistake affect his future choices?
13. When Lucas begins researching Gramps and his past, he starts “to think that maybe he wasn’t working on a biography at all, but a mystery.” What makes him think that? In what ways is doing any kind of research like trying to solve a mystery?
14. Why is Lucas so angry and hurt when he finds out about Gramps’s past? Why does he feel like Gramps has been lying to him? How does Lucas’s mother feel about it? How does Lucas start treating Gramps, and how does Gramps react? Would you have reacted the way Lucas does? Explain your answer.
15. What prompts Gramps to go to California? Why do you think he doesn’t tell anyone where he’s going? Describe the time he spends with Tommy. Discuss why Gramps says, “‘Telling Tommy I forgave him was more important for me to say than for him to hear.’”
16. Describe the board meeting to decide whether to keep Gramps as the team’s coach. What are the arguments on each side? What does Lucas have to say to the board? What role does the team play? Do you agree or disagree that it should be up to the team to decide? Explain your answer.
17. Analyze this advice that Gramps gives to Lucas and how it relates to the book as a whole: “‘The key to real happiness in this world is appreciating what you have, and knowing what you want. Everything else is just noise.’”
18. Discuss the ideas of making mistakes and getting second chances, which are explored throughout the book. What are some of the mistakes? What are some of the second chances, and how do they come about?
Basketball in the Past
Have each student research an aspect of basketball history to share in a presentation. First brainstorm possible topics as a class, such as basketball origins; history in other countries; history of racism in the game; girls’ and women’s participation at all levels; rules and changes in rules; scandals and other controversies; the Olympics; and the role of television. If possible, students should include photographs with their presentations.
Teachers, Teachers Everywhere
The word “teacher” usually means “schoolteacher,” but different types of teachers are everywhere. Have students think about all the different people who teach them things. Compile a list as a class that includes people like coaches, music teachers, a sibling who teaches a card game, a grandparent who teaches how to fix a bike, and others. Hold a discussion about what makes someone a good teacher, relating the topic to the class list and the novel.
Hanging off a Cliff
Cliff-hangers can create suspense and uncertainty to keep readers turning pages. Invite students to work in pairs to write a story of six to ten very short chapters. They should quickly introduce characters and put them in a tense situation. At least half the chapters should end with a cliff-hanger that foreshadows dramatic future action. Students should exchange stories to enjoy, and discuss why these lines hooked them.
Why Does Cheating Matter?
Ask students to meet in small groups to discuss what defines cheating and why it matters, using examples from the novel and adding others they know of. They should discuss why people cheat, who’s harmed by it, and why actions like point-shaving are considered a crime. Have them talk about the fact that at some colleges, students must pledge not to cheat and also pledge to turn in cheaters they see or know of.
Your Own Daily Digest
Lucas is skeptical when Mr. Collins suggests he keep a journal by writing at least a couple of paragraphs every day. It turns out to be “way more fun” than Lucas imagined. Ask students to keep a journal for a few weeks to see if they enjoy it too, writing about whatever interests them. After a few weeks, ask students to talk about their experiences, including any benefits and drawbacks they observe.
Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a youth librarian for seventeen years who chaired the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. She now gives all-day workshops on new books for children and teens. She tweets at @kathleenodean.
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Mike Lupica is the author of multiple bestselling books for young readers, including the Home Team series, QB 1, Heat, Travel Team, Million-Dollar Throw, and The Underdogs. He has carved out a niche as the sporting world’s finest storyteller. Mike lives in Connecticut with his wife and their four children. When not writing novels, he writes for Daily News (New York) and is an award-winning sports commentator. You can visit Mike Lupica at MikeLupicaBooks.com.