Make It, Take It

By: Rus Bradburd

Witty and insightful, this isn’t the college basketball we hear about on TV. And Bradburd knows what he’s talking about.

Categories: All Books | Fiction | Young Adult


Witty and insightful, this isn't the college basketball we hear about on TV. And Bradburd knows what he's talking about.

Steve Pytel is an assistant coach and top recruiter for a university basketball program. His goals are simple. He wants to keep his job and be a head coach someday. Keeping his wife barely makes the list. The team staggers; everyone's days are numbered. Pytel was responsible for landing prized recruits Leonard Redmond and Jamal Davis. Pytel's duties now? Keep Leonard out of jail. Make sure Jamal ignores the advice of his preacher, sidesteps his girlfriend's pregnancy, and puts the ball in the basket. Good thing Pytel doesn't carry around a bagful of scruples. An inventive novel, Make It, Take It sneaks the reader past the press conferences, locker rooms, and huddles of college basketball. Without judgment or sentimentality, Bradburd lays bare the web of conflicts between players and coaches, blacks and whites, revealing the complex humanity of a team's inner circle. Here, every choice has a very real cost.

Rus Bradburd is the author of the controversial Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson (Harper-Collins/Amistad) and a memoir, Paddy on the Hardwood: A Journey in Irish Hoops (UNM Press). He spent fourteen years as a college basketball coach, working for legends Don Haskins and Lou Henson. A regular contributor to SLAM Magazine, his essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Houston Chronicle, and ChicagoÍs Daily Southtown. He is married to poet Connie Voisine and lives in New Mexico and Chicago.

Rus gives a thoughtful interview. Check out his conversation with Or his interview with Louie Saenz at KTEP.

If an NCAA school like UNM is going to give its coach a lifetime of riches, why canÍt the players have a lifetime of educational opportunity „ say, room, board, tuition, and books for life, even if that means a graduate degree?

Click here to read more from Rus' article for the Albuquerque Journal, "The Difficult Lessons of the Alford Era."

17 reviews for Make It, Take It

  1. Shelf Awareness for Readers
    “Ex-coach Rus Bradburd crafts a spare and intriguing story that illuminates the complex machinations required to stay afloat in the unforgiving world of this high-stakes ‘amateur’ sport. Ironic, acerbic and often distressing, Make It, Take It is fiction, but it feels more authentic than any ESPN documentary … With an ear for the music of leather on hardwood, Bradburd is a fan, no question—but Make It, Take It is both a crisply sardonic tale of frustration and a blistering indictment of the sickness inherent in the business of college basketball.”—Cherie Ann Parker Visit Website

  2. Bloomberg News
    “[A]n appealing novel … it’s engaging and imaginative, and includes one of the most unforgettable characters in (the admittedly lean genre of) basketball literature.” Visit Website

  3. S.L. Price, senior writer, Sports Illustrated, and author of Heart of the Game and Pitching Around Fidel.
    Make It, Take It reveals the truth—not just of college basketball, but the inner lives of men—with its wise, sharp, surgical dissection of a backwater program. It’s a fearsomely tough book, reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio—all these people with oddities galore in a sealed-off world they’re sure is perfectly normal. You can watch thousands of hours of ESPN and still be waiting for real insight into the how and why of hoops. Do yourself a favor. Read this instead.”

  4. Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Literary Supplement
    Make It, Take It is a novel … blissfully light on the dramatic-finish game details that so often derail sports novels. Set against a backdrop of college basketball, it is a compelling story of people and the ways in which they can rise and sink to various levels.”

  5. Sports Illustrated
    “[A] cool new piece of fiction … fun.”—Seth Davis

  6. Midwest Book Review
    “A strong pick for literary fiction collections with a focus on the world of sports.”

  7. Bookslut
    “If compelling fiction is about finding ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, then Bradburd has given us just that. The stakes are high from page one, and the change in pace throughout this novel-in-stories makes each extraordinary situation an easy one to digest.” Visit Website

  8. Alex Shakar, author of Luminarium, winner of the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction
    “Coach Pytel’s pivots to keep his job, his marriage, and his troubled players afloat are so much fun to watch that you may not even notice Bradburd’s hard-won wisdom until it socks you. For all the hilarity in these pages, Make It, Take It is a soul-wrenching indictment of how the game behind the game is played.”

  9. Dave Zirin, contributor to The Nation and author of Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down
    “Rus Bradburd has given us an original novel about college basketball that is compelling, unsettling, yet downright funny and sad at the same time. Make It, Take It is even better than his incisive non-fiction—and, frankly, that’s just not fair.”

  10. Antonya Nelson, author of Nothing Right and Bound
    “Rus Bradburd, like other tough visionaries, has selected a universe unique unto itself—college basketball. In it, he reveals quintessential American issues: race, power, corruption, and, sometimes, excellence. Make It, Take It casts light and shadow on both the coaches and the players. It also quietly invites the reader to consider the ways in which basketball reflects a country’s virtues as well as its lamentable flaws. This is a very savvy book.”

  11. Bob Ryan, basketball commentator for The Boston Globe and ESPN
    “Rus Bradburd’s compelling novel confirms just about all my worst fears concerning a sport that is very near and dear to my heart. College basketball is a messy business. I would be afraid to ask him how much of Make It, Take It is made up.”

  12. Slam Magazine
    “One of our favorite writers.”

  13. College Athletics Clips
    “Here’s a superbly accurate ‘fiction’ novel that details the lengths to which coaches, student-athletes and those around them will go to advance, survive and/or bury themselves.”—Nick Infante

  14. The Boston Globe
    “The themes here are compelling.”—Bill Littlefield

  15. Sporting News
    “An intriguing novel. It’s not a true story, but there’s so much that is real about Make It Take It.

    “There’s one problem with Rus Bradburd’s novel Make It Take It, which details the story of a fictional college basketball team through the eyes of its coaches and players: He wrote it too soon. If he’d waited another year, there could have been a character included who throws basketballs at his players during practice.

    ‘I think it’s a complicated world,’ Bradburd told Sporting News. ‘I don’t think the NCAA is evil, all coaches are evil, boosters are evil or the kids are thugs. I think it’s a complicated world.’

    Bradburd should know. He spent 14 seasons as a college basketball assistant coach, primarily at UTEP and New Mexico State, before deciding he wished to pursue a career as a writer. As it happened, his first book was a memoir about his own experiences as a basketball coach in Ireland’s not-so-pro professional league. His second was a biography of Hall of Fame basketball coach Nolan Richardson. And now this. So he’s writing, but it’s still about basketball coaches.

    ‘Make It Take It’ is his first novel, one of the few that have been set in the world of big-time college basketball.

    It is an unusual book in that it is told from a variety of different perspectives: the acerbic, on-his-way-to-alcoholic head coach; the naïve, religious recruiting steal; the recruiting specialist assistant and the careerist assistant coach who essentially is the main character, Steve Pytel.

    Their team is not a successful team. It’s pretty much a mess. It’s not designed to be an inspirational novel in which the team triumphs over adversity. It’s much more about the adversity, with some eye-opening anecdotes culled from actual events—one of which was the handiwork of a coaching legend.

    The most jarring story of all is the interchange between an assistant coach and the star recruit’s girlfriend, who coerces the coach into—nah, it’s better not to spoil the surprise.

    ‘History is written by the winners. I think literature is written by the losers,’ Bradburd said. ‘I think there’s an advantage to fiction. Even though there’s not that much literal truth—parts of it happened—you’re able to get at a truth that’s more honest with fiction. What the book does, I hope, is show people what a complex place college basketball is. Oftentimes there are no good choices.

    ‘People want to feel like they’re on the inside. But you can shine the camera on Penn State football all you want—it turns out we don’t know what’s going on in Penn State football.’

    Bradburd’s years of experience as a college coach left him with the feeling that ‘it’s an awful system’ that allows many coaches to earn north of $2 million while the athletes’ compensation is meager by comparison. He calls it ‘amateur sports for the players, and a Fortune 500 company for the coaches.’

    And yet Bradburd remains drawn to the game. Now teaching writing in the Masters of Fine Arts program at New Mexico State, he was asked a few years back to do some color commentating on Aggies games. He nearly scoffed because he’d gotten out of coaching to get away from being too close to the game, but wound up agreeing to do it and staying several years.

    ‘When you get human beings involved, it’s going to be flawed, and it’s going to be problematic. I can’t imagine it’s different from the used-car business or the Chicago police dept,’ Bradburd said. ‘I like Nolan Richardson better now that I know he can go off on a rant, and can be irrational at times. It’s why I hated the movie “Glory Road.” It turned Don Haskins into a saint. He wasn’t. He was trying to win basketball games.

    ‘I think the complexity of the college game—how difficult it is for everybody involved to do the right thing when there’s so much at stake—it’s incredible pressure. It’s not like being a Chicago cop or a soldier in Iraq, but it’s a complicated world. I think coming to grips with how complicated college basketball can be is sort of the first step to improving things—admitting it’s not a perfect system and that everybody is confronted with choices that are difficult.

    ‘There’s a lot of broken hearts on the way, a lot of ruined careers, a lot of ulcers and divorces.’

    It all makes for an intriguing novel. It’s not a true story, but there’s so much that is real about Make It Take It.” Visit Website

  16. San Antonio Express-News
    “The literary equivalent of a basket at the buzzer—a real nail-biter … Bradburd’s vision is…refreshing. [His] confident, savvy debut is more in the vein of North Dallas Forty, a letter from the locker room with no contrived winners or losers. The clear victor here is the reader.

    With March madness upon us, Rus Bradburd’s unsettling debut novel, ‘Make It Take It,’ is the literary equivalent of a basket at the buzzer — a real nail-biter. Bradburd, a coach at the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University for 14 seasons before turning to writing with a master’s of fine arts degree, seats readers on the bench next to the hundreds of assistant college coaches who labor in the shadow of the head coach. Steve Pytel is an aging, passed-over assistant whose marriage is falling apart because he’s never home, whose recruits need a baby sitter more than a teacher, whose job constantly teeters on the cliff’s edge at the whim of the aptly named Jack Hood, a portrait of coaching corruption and unethical—heck, illegal—behavior that college ball fans must hope is the exception and far from the rule. Bradburd’s vision — through Pytel—of big-time sports is cynical and rather bleak, which, in its own way, is refreshing. Where most sports books are triumphant and heroic, not to mention sentimental and sappy, Bradburd’s confident, savvy debut is more in the vein of ‘North Dallas Forty,’ a letter from the locker room with no contrived winners or losers. The clear victor here is the reader.” Visit website

  17. Midwest Book Review
    “A strong pick for literary fiction collections with a focus on the world of sports.

    The road to the big leagues is littered with many others on the same road and failing. Make It, Take It is a novel set amongst the world of college basketball and the corruption and greed that lies underneath it. Rus Bradburd, a college basketball coach of fourteen seasons, uses his extensive experience to dramatically analyze what a player faces in their efforts to get to the top, an effort that often takes more than hard work alone. Make It, Take It is a strong pick for literary fiction collections with a focus on the world of sports.”

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