53 pages 1 hour read

John Feinstein

Last Shot

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery (2005) is a sports and mystery novel for young readers by John Feinstein. A sports journalist, Feinstein has written for a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, Golf Digest, and Sports Illustrated. He is also the author of 45 fiction and nonfiction books about sports. His debut nonfiction book, A Season on the Brink (1986), focused on the 1985-86 college basketball season of the Indiana Hoosiers and their controversial head coach, Bobby Knight. He is a regular commentator on various sports shows including The Tony Kornheiser Show and formerly hosted his own show for CBS Sports Radio.

Last Shot, Feinstein’s first book for young readers, incorporates real-life college basketball players, coaches, and figures into a fictional scheme to fix the result of the 2005 college basketball Final Four. His book won the 2006 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Young Adult Mystery. It delves into the themes of teamwork, illusion versus reality, and money’s role in compromising the ethics and morals of collegiate athletics. Last Shot is the first volume in the six-book Sports Beat series of sports mysteries. This study guide uses an ebook edition of the book published by Yearling in 2005.

Plot Summary

It’s 2005, and Steven—most people call him Stevie—Thomas is a 13-year-old aspiring journalist from Philadelphia. Due to his excellent writing, he wins a contest sponsored by the US Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), so he gets to go write articles about the Final Four in New Orleans at the Superdome. Stevie adores college basketball and idolizes sports reporters like Mike Lupica and Tony Kornheiser. Stevie’s dad, who loves sports, accompanies him to New Orleans, where they meet the other winner, Susan Carol Anderson. She’s with her dad and is the same age as Stevie but much taller, so she looks older than he does. She is from North Carolina and likes the Duke Blue Devils, which upsets Stevie because he thinks Duke receives too much attention.

Two established sports journalists—Dick Weiss and Bill Brill—guide Stevie and Susan Carol through the hoopla of the Final Four. Each day of the Final Four, Stevie and Susan Carol have to write an article that will run in a smaller newspaper. With Weiss by his side, Stevie learns how money and media dominate the yearly sporting event. They meet a scalper and the ebullient ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale. Stevie also meets the longtime coach of the Duke Blue Devils, Mike Krzyzewski—Coach K—and discovers he’s a nice person.

For his first article, Stevie intends to write about Chip Graber, the star of the Minnesota State team coached by Chip’s dad. Weiss tells Stevie that countless articles will focus on Chip, so maybe Stevie should look for a different story. As Stevie searches for a unique angle, he and Susan Carol encounter the Superdome and its numberless security guards and argue flirtatiously about college ball.

Near a loading dock, Stevie and Susan Carol stumble upon Chip and a mysterious man who tells Chip that Minnesota State has to beat St. Joseph’s University and then lose in the championship against Duke. As Stevie writes his article about the frenzied atmosphere of the Superdome, Susan Carol writes down the details of the interaction between Chip and the suspicious man in a gray suit. Unsure who to tell or who will believe them, Stevie and Susan Carol take it upon themselves to investigate who’s blackmailing Chip and why. They lie to their dads, and Susan Carol gains access to restricted rooms and areas. They identify the mystery man as a Minnesota State professor, Thomas R. Whiting, who, ironically, teaches a class called “Ethics and Morals in American Society Today.”

Eventually, Stevie and Susan tell Weiss and Brill about the pending scandal, and the veteran journalists encourage them to keep digging. They figure out which hotel the Minnesota State team is staying in, and Susan Carol coaxes a room key out of a radio engineer so they can get by security. In the engineer’s hotel room, they find a room list for the players, so they learn Chip’s room number.

Security protects Chip’s room, but Stevie tells the guard he’s Chip’s cousin, and Susan Carol says she’s Stevie’s girlfriend. Stevie drops Whiting’s name, so Chip realizes he needs to play along with the lie. When they’re alone, Chip tells Stevie and Susan Carol that people doctored his transcripts to make it look like he flunked more classes than he did, which means he shouldn’t be playing this season or in the Final Four. The fake records make Chip and his dad look like bad people when they’re not.

Since Chip doesn’t have a copy of his real transcript, Susan Carol and Stevie track down the recently retired Dean Wojenski, who can verify Chip has too many Fs. Amid the transcript drama, Chip has to play in the Final Four against St. Joseph’s, a college in Philadelphia. Chip makes a game-winning three-pointer, and since Duke beats Connecticut in the other game, Minnesota State plays Duke for the championship.

With the Grabers’ integrity on the line, Chip, Stevie, and Susan Carol drive to Wojenski’s Mississippi home. He tells them Steve Jurgensen, who is supposedly upset because Davidson once chose Chip’s dad over him for a coaching job, might be behind the scheme. Jurgensen is now a wealthy member of the Duke University Board of Trustees. As Chip, Stevie, and Susan Carol drive back to New Orleans, Jurgensen trails them.

Back at the Superdome, Stevie talks to Brill, who tells him about Stuart M. Feeley, the software billionaire who is Duke’s board chairman. Brill is scheduled to interview Feeley, and he lets Stevie and Susan Carol tag along. When they are alone, Susan Carol tells Feeley about Jurgensen and his scheme, and Feeley promises to confront him. Supposedly, Jurgensen tells Feeley to call the FBI, because he and Whiting will still release the fake transcript, and Chip won’t be able to play.

Chip plans to confront Jurgensen with Stevie and Susan Carol in a hotel room away from the Superdome. As a precaution, Susan Carol emails Bobby Kelleher, the head of the USBWA, and tells him what’s happening and where they’re going. Whiting, Wojenski, Feeley, and Feeley’s beefy assistant, Gary, are in the room. Jurgensen isn’t there. As it turns out, Jurgensen isn’t a bad person: He was a decoy. Feeley is working with Whiting and Wojenski, and they have around $5 million at stake. To make sure Chip doesn’t play well and Minnesota State loses, Gary binds Stevie and Susan Carol with duct tape. He also has a gun, so if Chip tries to help his team win, Stevie and Susan Carol might die. Jurgensen secretly followed Chip, Stevie, and Susan Carol, and he bursts into the hotel room and saves them. They make it back to the Superdome with around 12 minutes left in the championship game. Susan Carol lets Chip know they’re fine, and he can play his best. Chip hits another game-winning three-pointer, and Minnesota State wins.

The men involved in the scheme lose, and Stevie and Susan Carol work with an FBI agent to bring them to justice. For a final twist, Jurgensen explains that the president of Minnesota State, Earl Koheen, orchestrated the fix so he could become Duke’s president. Stevie and Susan Carol successfully solved the sports mystery. Since Last Shot is the first of a series of books starring them, they’ll soon have to solve another mysterious sports case.