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PUBLISHED: 12:51 PM on Wednesday, July 5, 2006
'Eagle Blue' follows basketball in Northern Alaska

Yes, basketball fans, the NBA final game is over. The mourning clothes have been cleaned and put away for the fans of next year's losing team.

Still, you can rest, knowing that basketball won't ever fade completely away.

In thousands of gyms and millions of courts and concrete driveways, there are pickup games starting every summer evening around the country.

Including areas in Northern Alaska, near the Arctic Circle.

In Alaska, as in many small, remote towns around the U.S., basketball isn't just some thing to play during the winter.

It's the only thing. There, even the smallest schools in the tiniest towns embrace the sport. In "Eagle Blue" by Michael D'Orso, you'll read about one of them.

Folks in the Lower Forty-Eight can only imagine the kind of cold that comes to Fort Yukon, Alaska.

When winter arrives and daylight hours dwindle down to just a few a day, the temperature can fall to minus-50 or more.

At 40 degrees below, gasoline turns sluggish, and moisture in a gasline can be dangerous.

That's why the Fort Yukon Eagles basketball coaches carefully watch the temperature on the morning before game night: low temperatures mean no flights out to the hosting team's town, and the game gets postponed.

For years, the Eagles played on a less-than-optimum basketball court.

The floor buckled.

The lights hung loose from the ceiling, thirty feet above the floor.

There were two showers in the locker room, but the one that worked offered only cold water.

Still, for six consecutive years, the boy's basketball team - the crown jewels in Fort Yukon's community - made it to the regional championships.

But in the 2004-2005 season, the team's chances were in doubt.

The coach had burned out on the job and had resigned.

Many returning team members had bad grades and were ineligible to play.

Several had dropped out of school, a common occurrence in Alaskan bush communities.

Alcohol and drugs were big problems in this town of mostly Gwich'in Natives. Politics and budgetary problems were plaguing the town.

But when 14 boys showed up on the first night for practice, Coach Dave Bridges - who had agreed to come back to the job - was pleased and surprised.

Some very talented boys wanted to play basketball again.

Some newcomers wanted to learn the game.

Could the Eagles team finally take a victory in Anchorage?

You know how the entire gym gets eerily silent and almost breathless during a deciding shot at a high-school game?

That's the feeling you'll get as you're reading "Eagle Blue." There are no dead balls in author Michael D'Orso's book.

You'll be completely unable to resist the excitement when he describes the games, and you'll want to reach for a pair of mittens when he takes you to the frozen backyards and buildings of this remote Alaskan village.

If you live for the thunk-thunk-thunk of the dribble and the silent swish of ball through net, then you'll want to capture this book.

"Eagle Blue" is a sure-shot for any buckets fan.


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