Saturday, April 14, 2018

Amanda Ottaway's "The Rebounders"

Amanda Ottaway is an author and journalist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Washington City Paper, VICE, The Nation, espnW, Charlotte Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a few poetry anthologies. She is an International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) reporting fellow and a 2017-2018 Girls Write Now mentor. She is currently the Brooklyn courts reporter, covering the Eastern District of New York, for Courthouse News. Previously she worked at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C.

Here Ottaway dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, The Rebounders: A Division I Basketball Journey:
For me, one of the most intriguing characters in The Rebounders: A Division I Basketball Journey is head women’s basketball coach Deborah Katz.

She’s so complex I spend a good chunk of the book trying to figure her out. I still haven’t. But the first time I saw Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (incidentally, a movie adapted from a book), I knew I wanted that version of Streep to play Coach Katz if The Rebounders ever became a movie.

It’s because of the power.

Miranda Priestly, Streep’s character, oozes power. First of all, she’s brilliant. She also works constantly at the expense of everything else in her life, the way many high-level coaches have to operate. And because she works like that, she expects everyone around her to do the same -- like coaches do.

Anne Hathaway, who plays Priestly’s co-assistant, Andy, in the film, is forced to fully re-prioritize her life for her boss, which she does because it's such an incredible opportunity. But her relationship, friendships, social life, her own writing -- all bow to Miranda Priestly. All in, or go home.

I see similarities between Andy’s position and the schedules of Division I athletes. We loved basketball. But because of the financial bonanza of the scholarship and the awesomeness of the chance, we sacrificed for hoops almost every day.


Miranda Priestly does not yell. She does not throw temper tantrums or chairs or clipboards. She exudes a cool and quiet and terrifying power, translated by Streep’s withering gaze.

Coach Katz exercised a similar kind of power over us, and I think in a lot of ways Streep and Hathaway mirror the coach-player relationship.

Coaches are vulnerable. If they don’t win games, they don’t keep their jobs. But as a kid, as an eighteen-year-old, you feel like you’re more vulnerable than your coach is. She’s the grown-up. She’s the one who knows the athletic director. She could bench you for any reason, kick you out of the locker room, take away your scholarship. And because you are young and basketball is your life, it’s what you live for, what you love more than anything, and your coach knows that, getting benched is one of the most painful punishments there is. Losing a scholarship is one of the scariest things that could happen to you. So to us, that power dynamic felt uneven.

One of the main points I tried to convey in The Rebounders is that college coaches have more power over their young players than I think they realize.

We internalized everything our coaches said to us. Like Anne Hathaway, we listened closely and took them seriously and tried to please them and sometimes did not know how to, and that was scary. We also disagreed with them and sometimes got angry and lashed out at them. We all had a lot of money and emotion at stake.

Coaches, if you’re reading this, please be gentle with your players. You hold more sway with them than you probably know.

Meryl, Your Highness, if you’re reading this, call me.
Visit Amanda Ottaway's website.

--Marshal Zeringue