‘The Heart of a Champion’ - By Gus Alfieri
265 pages – All-American Sports Press
Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur
Few figures in the world of Sports have accomplished what the legendary St. John’s basketball star, Gus Alfieri, has … whether as player, coach, or memoirist.
In the interest of full disclosure, it must be stated (and proudly so) that this reviewer is a personal friend of the author, whose compelling new book, ‘The Heart of a Champion,’ is the subject of the following review.
That said, I would also point out that my relationship with Gus Alfieri brings with it several advantages when it comes to critiquing his factual account of mutually-shared instances. Chief among them is the unique opportunity to vouch personally for the accuracy of the author’s recollections. They are spot-on, and capture the flavor of the events depicted perfectly.
Sports celebrities have been known to embellish their accomplishments, and for the most part these exaggerations constitute innocent embroideries that can be overlooked. In the case of Alfieri … the Smithtown neighbor with whom I graduated from St. John’s University in 1959 … no such accommodation of hyperbole is necessary.
If anything, my friend consistently understates his considerable athletic achievements. As a national champion basketball player, his inclination, first and foremost, is to acknowledge his teammates … as a State champion coach, he quickly credits his players and assistants … and as an author, Gus Alfieri attributes the success of both his wonderful books (‘Lapchick’ was his first) primarily to friends and family.
Knowing the man as I do, this self-effacing attitude comes as no surprise. Gus has always been supremely confident, while maintaining a quiet air that puts those around him at ease, and that generosity of spirit comes through vividly in ‘The Heart of a Champion.’
This beautifully written and liberally illustrated volume (I counted 28 photographs with explicit captions) is one of the smoothest-reading sports books I have ever come across. Unlike many memoirs of sporting or show business personalities, Alfieri’s recollections are purely his own … and so is the writing. The English Literature professors we shared in college (virtually all of whom are now dead) would be proud of their Dean’s List student.
Gus hasn’t succumbed to the siren song of bestowing preferential treatment on the most famous of his subjects. In other words, he isn’t a name-dropper. The high school boys he coached at St. Anthony’s during Long Island’s Golden Age of Basketball are given every bit as much (and more) coverage in this book than are the hall of fame celebrities he knew so intimately. Dean Smith (North Carolina), Lou Carnesecca (St. John’s), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), and commentator Mike Francesa … they all share the pages of ‘The Heart of a Champion’ with ‘Friar’ teen standouts like the supremely talented Ken Rood, Ken Kolakowski, and Tom Hicks.
I get the distinct impression that this rags-to-riches story of Alfieri’s rise from modest Brooklyn roots to the pinnacle of schoolboy coaching, would resonate well with Hollywood producers and directors. It’s a success story whose many magical facets can be told effectively only by the person who lived them. In the case of the legendary St. Anthony’s coach, that individual happens to be a highly gifted author … and more importantly, a world-class shaper of character.
There are any number of ‘blurbs’ that have been penned concerning Alfieri’s ‘The Heart of a Champion,’ and most of them seem directed to would-be basketball coaches. But this book is infinitely more than a coaching manual. It’s a guide to the pursuit of excellence … no matter what the goal … regardless of the obstacles. As Gus’s own adored mother was fond of saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of eleven novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. It maintains that each wrote the other’s most famous work. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com