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October 30, 2009

Movie review (+ trailer): 'More than a game'

More than LeBron James' high school basketball team

More than LeBron James' high school basketball team

You don't have to care about sports to get sucked into "More Than a Game," Kristopher Belman's documentary about what may have been the best high school basketball team ever.

That would be the varsity crew at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, where a few years ago, a handful of friends and a dedicated coach were annual contenders for the national championship.

Since one of those kids was future NBA great LeBron James, "Game" has some star power. But Belman resists the temptation to make this "The LeBron James Story." Employing lots of old photos, video and recent interviews with the participants, he spreads the glory around, allowing each of the five principal kids and their coach, Dru Joyce Sr., plenty of face time.

It's one of those rags-to-fame tales (only James has gone on to riches) that the world of sports dearly loves. Four of the boys (James, Dru Joyce Jr., Willie McGee and Sian Cotton) were childhood friends who began playing in a Salvation Army gym and became a force in the world of amateur basketball. The four opted to attend a parochial high school rather than the predominantly black public school, where they thought they wouldn't play together. Later, when their coach moved up to a college gig, Joyce's dad took over.

Though they had fine individual talents, it was clear they were above all a well-oiled team who instinctively knew what the other guy would do in any situation.

But then they were joined by transfer student Romeo Travis, who says that he was in it strictly for his own glory and that he found the other four starters too "touchy feely." Perhaps Travis' me-first attitude rubbed off on the others, for despite Coach Joyce's warnings that the team was sliding into complacency and arrogance, they were beaten in the finals by an underdog squad.

There's plenty to both cheer and ponder. Dru Joyce Jr. was so short that other teams collapsed in laughter when he walked onto the court. His devastating three-pointers quickly sobered them up.

The film's real hero is the coach, who left a corporate job to work in a high school and who says of those glory years: "It wasn't about basketball. I needed to help them become men."

REVIEW

Three stars

WITH: LeBron James, Dru Joyce, Willie McGee, Romeo Travis and Sian Cotton

RATED: PG for mild language

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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