Coach’s Biography a Slam Dunk

Mike Boone, The Gazette

If everyone who loved Jack Donohue buys a copy of Dream Big Dreams, the biography will be a bestseller. And the second printing that Donohue’s biographer, Mike Hickey, is hoping for will be – to coin an appropriate cliche – a slam dunk.

Hickey coaches the women’s basketball team at Champlain College in Lennoxville. A former coach at Sir George Williams University and Concordia University, Hickey is a disciple of Donohue, who coached Canada’s national men’s basketball team from 1972 to 1988.

Full disclosure: Hickey is a friend of mine. His brother, Pat, gave me my first job in journalism and I got to know Mike when I covered university basketball for the Montreal Star. After we figured out, in short order, that we were fellow anarchic spirits, locker-room interviews blossomed into late-night discussions in downtown saloons. Hickey was a delightful drinking buddy until a few bumps in the road put him on the wagon.

Hickey attended “an Irish wake, minus the booze” in Ottawa after Donohue had succumbed to cancer two days before Good Friday 2003.

“I left the church,” he recalls, “and decided right there I was writing a book.”
Hickey talked to Donohue’s widow, Mary Jane, about his idea.
She was enthusiastic and promised full access to the family (the couple had six children) and to Donohue’s papers, which took a while to sort out.
“Jack was a pack rat,” Hickey says. “The guy made thousands of dollars giving motivational speeches on organization, and his own stuff was a mess.
“It was a gold mine. But there was no order to it.”

Wringing order out of the chaos, Hickey plumbed the motherlode and began talking to more than 100 of Donohue’s friends, colleagues and former players – including the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was Lew Alcindor when Donohue coached him at Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan.

Like everyone who played for Jack Donohue, Abdul-Jabbar had fond memories of a coach whose influence transcended basketball. In addition to man-to-man defence, Donohue – who had a master’s degree in education – taught Life 101.
He was a great wit, a masterful raconteur, a relentless dispenser of bonhomie.
Telling the life story of a New York City Irishman, right out of Central Casting, became a labour of love. Hickey, an Irishman from Long Island, wrote the manuscript in six months and then spent two years vainly pursuing a book deal.

“Everyone I talked to thought a biography of Jack was a great idea,” he says. “But none of those people were publishers. I ended up with some great rejection letters from people who said, ‘We love what you’ve done, but it doesn’t fit our niche.’ ”
After “going to the dictionary to find out what ‘niche’ means,” Hickey ended up publishing the book himself. He’s printed 3,000 copies and is trying – thus far in vain – to get Dream Big Dreams: the Jack Donohue Story on to the shelves of major book chains.

For now, it’s available at Nicholas Hoare on Greene Ave. and at the Concordia bookstore. The book costs $25 and can also be ordered online at the website http://www.dreambigdreams.ca

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